When Houda Mahamat Malloum first applied to work as a journalist in her native Chad, she was turned down because of her gender. But she persisted, and became the only female member of a small group of journalists-in-training at the Internews office in Abéché, eastern Chad.
There, Malloum learned reporting skills and digital sound editing. Now she is a full-time host, reporter and producer at La Voix du Ouaddaï, a community radio station set up by Internews in Abéché to serve refugees from Darfur as well as local Chadians.
In this conservative Muslim society, the 25-year-old journalist often faces disapproval for her choice of work.
“People in Abéché criticize girls who work with men, but I close my ears so as not to hear it,” Malloum says. “I am proud of my work, and my parents are proud of me, too.”
As well as presenting the news at noon every day, Malloum produces Internews’ weekly radio show, “She Speaks, She Listens.” The program focuses on violence against women and girls, covering taboo subjects such as rape, female genital cutting and forced child marriage.
Girls are commonly married off as young as 10 years old. It was the episode about child marriage that evoked some of the strongest responses, and which touched Malloum the most, she says.
“The young girls that I interviewed said they couldn’t continue to live as they wanted because they were married too young. They are now parents, they couldn’t continue to study, they couldn’t work,” Malloum says. “It’s not just a problem for them. It’s a consequence for the development of the country also.”
Another episode focused on the problem of attacks on Darfuri women and girls who must leave the refugee camps to gather firewood, competing with local villagers for this scarce resource. Malloum’s hope is that her radio programs will help alert local authorities to the problems of violence against women, and at the same time encourage the women to protect themselves.
“As a woman, I feel as if it were me who had lived through those moments,” she says. “It’s difficult. African women suffer a lot. If there is a possibility to help them, to give them everything they need to help them avoid those risks…”
Malloum says she still struggles to come up with good questions when she’s faced with a difficult interview. She dreams of continuing her journalism training abroad, and ultimately becoming a foreign correspondent.
Malloum has already seen what an impact good journalism can have, especially for her fellow Chadian women who are often vulnerable and isolated.
“The women are really happy with the show,” she says. “They learn a lot, and they are often surprised by what they learn. That’s journalism.”