How do you encourage a traditional society to adopt new ways of thinking about family health?

By creating an appealing and recognizable story that shows the value of doing so.

From ‘third daughter’ to empowered woman

Mehendi is the anchor and star of that story – a young woman whose family and life history reflect old and new attitudes towards gender, marriage, sex, and maternal and child health.

From being an inconsequential third daughter in a traditional and poor family that would have liked male children, she becomes an empowered woman in charge of her own life and wellbeing.

The story of a woman who anchors a radio show is told in a 37-part radio series called ‘Khirki Mehendiwali’. The format is thus a show-within-a-show, starring a woman who believes deeply that empowered women help create a strong community, and encouraging her listeners to aspire to their own empowerment. The series runs for fifteen minutes three times a week, with an omnibus edition on Sundays.

With an assortment of dramatic elements – music, humour, narrative, characters and health information – ‘Khirki Mehendiwali’ presents a set of familiar problems and suggests ways to get around them.

The bullying mother-in-law, the wicked moneylender, and village politics are all successfully negotiated by Mehendi.

With personal grit and the help of supportive family members and health workers, she fights her way to a job, a relationship between equals, and a healthy and satisfying life.

Dr Anita

A no-nonsense obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Anita, acts as Mehendi’s friend, philosopher and guide, providing crucial information about maternal and child health.

In various episodes Dr Anita – who also provides information via Mobile Kunji – covers issues such as registering a pregnancy, breastfeeding, family planning and recognising maternal danger signs. She offers tips on handling a newborn baby and on providing good post-delivery maternal care. Other characters reinforce these points.

Mehendi’s uncle advocates equal gender and family relationships, and loving respect for women and girl children.

The show delivers information in an entertaining human story sprinkled with jokes and songs. It also encourages further discussion about health through listeners’ groups.

Lively and creative, ‘Khirki Mehendiwali’ is part of BBC Media Action’s wider mass-media strategy to shape demand and practices in ways that improve social and health behaviour.

Working with existing social circumstances, the show effectively delivers quality health information in an accessible way to rural Indian women.

Read more