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Podcasting in Egypt - how feminist activism has emerged through shared stories

After more than a decade of teaching audio production to my college students in Cairo, it finally dawned on me that podcasts themselves can serve as teaching tools that highlight lessons in Egyptian society. I realised this because so many of my female students selected feminist topics or took feminist standpoints in their narrative nonfiction podcasts.

Though in the past I’ve written about how I teach audio, I’d never thought to focus on the content of my students’ podcasts. The idea of podcasts as digital activism resonated with me, particularly from a perspective of telling real life stories.

With two decades of podcasting out in the world, there’s an ever-growing number of research articles about podcasting in Africa. But there is a need for much more academic analysis, which is why my co-author Yasmeen Ebada and I designed a research study to focus on feminist-leaning podcasts and Egyptian female podcasters. Digital activism is, after all, part of the decade-old fourth wave of feminism.

We wanted to learn how the students adopted their knowledge of feminism, about the development of their feminist identities and about how podcasts were used for digital activism. Though we focused on four female podcasters as case studies, our research also provides context about when Egyptian women become aware of cultural and societal inequities, as well as when they begin to manifest their feminist ideals.

Feminism in Egypt

Patriarchy, which presumes that men are superior to women, is baked into Egyptian society on all levels – cultural, social, economic and political. Young women who speak out on just about anything for just about any reason are considered brave. The repercussions could be life altering, despite the relatively comfortable class status of university students.

Feminism in Egypt is not a new phenomenon. Young Egyptians have many role models who span decades of feminist activism. These range from the activist Huda Sha'rawi – the godmother of Egyptian feminism – to author and physician Nawal El Saadawi, and contemporary feminist writer Mona Eltahawy.

Read more: Nawal El Saadawi: Egypt's grand novelist, physician and global activist

And add to that list Nadeen Ashraf. As a college student, she reignited the feminist activist flame in the summer of 2020 in Egypt. She used Instagram to document the sexual harassment and assault cases of a predator. Her case garnered international attention and prompted authorities to react swiftly.

Our study

Our research was built on a sample of four publicly available podcasts produced by female students at The American University in Cairo, where I’ve taught since 2009. We took a qualitative critical analysis approach to examine narration, sound bites from interviews, music and other podcast production elements.

The feminist identity development model was a good fit for the research project as it allowed us to better understand our podcasters’ knowledge of feminism and their intention to select a socio-cultural topic for their podcast. The model covers a five-step process from passive acceptance to active commitment.

Our findings

Feminist pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) includes encouragement through professor and peer-led discussions. This enabled the podcasters to provocatively dissect traditional gender and socio-cultural norms.

Among the topics of the narrative nonfiction podcast episodes were stories of family involvement in matchmaking to get young women married into a well-off family. Another podcast addressed women’s participation in the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

Four Egyptian female podcasters. ohioradiogirl on SoundCloud58.8 MB (download)

Our podcasters embodied diverse feminist perspectives, displaying multi-dimensional feminist origins. These included black, western and post-colonial feminist views. Their lived experiences are a welcome contribution to the Egyptian digital sphere as they provide a counter-narrative to traditional patriarchal norms.

The podcasters also fully exhibited the use of podcast affordances – such as sound and music, as well as tone, inflection and other nuances in delivery and narration – to enrich their nonfiction stories. Elements of storytelling strength were included in our analysis, focusing on the narrative and audience engagement. These are also some of the guiding criteria for RadioDoc Review, which offers critiques of audio content.

Why this matters

We found that our Egyptian female podcasters utilised multiple feminist ideals in their podcasts. This research demonstrates the power of podcasts as a tool for digital activism. Speaking about their experiences and opinions allows young Egyptian women to exercise an otherwise muted voice in society. Podcasts are a vehicle for this.

The limitations of this research is that our podcasters were mostly from the same social class and had a high level of education. A more diverse pool of podcasters would be ideal for future research on this topic.

The emerging field of podcast studies will continue to birth a wealth of insights about African society. As educators and scholars, we strongly encourage young African scholars not just to engage with research output on podcasting in Africa. They should also actively seek out collaborators and opportunities to globally amplify the work of the African podcast community.

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