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Female-Focused Baghdad Radio Station Seeks Support

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Middle East has at least one radio station with programming entirely for women. Radio al-Mahabba was started last year, and broadcasts 16 hours a day out of downtown Baghdad on subjects of interest to Iraqi women: domestic violence, health, the new constitution. The station was hit last year by a car bomb whose target was a nearby hotel. Late last week, Bushra Jamil, one of the founders, was on Capitol Hill here making the case for her station's continued existence.

Ms. BUSHRA JAMIL (Co-Founder, Radio al-Mahabba): Out of the money, all the millions that went to Iraq to support democracy and freedom, we did not get a penny. There are people on the ground who does not want us to survive.

MONTAGNE: Bushra Jamil came into our studios in Washington, D.C. to talk about her station's first rocky year and what lies ahead. Good morning.

Ms. JAMIL: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Describe for us a typical program.

Ms. JAMIL: We have a popular program, which is called Good Morning al-Mahabba. They start by telling the news, but they say it with comments, and encourage people to call and talk to us about what they think about the events.

MONTAGNE: When women called into the station, what kinds of questions are they asking?

Ms. JAMIL: Some women ask about their own personal problems. For example, forced marriages, which young girls, between 12 to 16 years old, are suffering from. We also get a lot of questions about finishing graduate degrees. So it varies, really. Which means that our station actually is talking to women across the population, despite their backgrounds or ethnicity or religion.

MONTAGNE: How much of a concern is there for security? The station was bombed.

Ms. JAMIL: We don't let fear gets into our hearts. Otherwise, we won't be able to do anything. This was the agreement that we made at the beginning with everybody: no fear.

MONTAGNE: Is the station struggling now because of the lost transmitter? That is, you're paying really high prices to rent another transmitter.

Ms. JAMIL: This is the main reason. Our transmitter was hit last October. It was the whole station. But we managed to fix everything except for the transmitter. Now we work with a rented transmitter, which is less powerful. And to be able to get advertisement and commercials, and to be able to get our projects funded, we need to cover a larger area. And the plan is to expand to cover all Iraq. And we want to be heard in other Arab countries.

We are broadcasting, for the time being, in three languages: Kurdish, Arabic and English. And we don't mind adding Farsi to it and get ourselves heard in Iran.

MONTAGNE: Is there a moment, since the station has gone on the air, that for you was indicative of what it is you're hoping the station can do?

Ms. JAMIL: It happens regularly. In our legal program, one lady called. She was crying over the phone, saying that her husband beats her all the time. She has children. She doesn't have a job. She doesn't even have education. And she wanted to know what can she do? And he told her you can go to court. You can file for divorce if you want. When she said, you know, I love him. I can't do that. Soon we received another phone call from another woman who was talking about this problem.

And then another phone call, and they asked to pass their phone numbers and names to this lady so they can talk together and help each other. To me, this was a kind of movement. Something, it does not exist yet in the Iraqi society: having people working together to solve a problem was really something great. Wow. We made it.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Ms. JAMIL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Bushra Jamil is one of the founders of Radio al-Mahabba, which means love in Arabic.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Unidentified Woman: (In radio clip) Al-Mahabba FM. (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.