Vox Populi

'Outer Voices' radio project lets women be heard


Less than 10 percent of American news is internationally focused, and much of this percentage emphasizes war and violence. Women’s voices are grossly ignored, although in many circumstances, women have offered real alternatives to violent conflict. Longtime Sonoma County resident Stephanie Guyer-Stevens has met these women, heard their stories and started an organization that makes their courage, innovation and ideas available to the rest of the world. Her Outer Voices is a nonprofit organization that creates audio profiles of female activists in the Pacific Islands and Asian Pacific Rim. It is based on the belief that women in the developing world bring significant but often unacknowledged social change to their villages, towns and nations.

In a world torn with violence and misunderstanding, organizations like Outer Voices offer the possibility to reconnect with hope and courage, facilitating the chance to make a difference. Stevens chose radio to highlight these stories because she felt that it is hard to learn from events when the means for change are never discussed.

Anyone can tune into a station in America and hear a programmer’s perspective on some distant conflict, gossip that the listener can pass on as if human lives were never lost. The difference is in Outer Voices, which documents the work of female activists and showcases the evolution of their ideas, proving that change is possible. Each piece provides an invaluable perspective rarely found in media today, the source and motivation behind real social change.

As she began her training in radio, Stevens discovered that the best way for an amateur to become successful was to find the most highly qualified team, and to learn from them. Her friend Susan Davis, senior producer of National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation, introduced her to NPR’s Art Silverman, who spent a week with Stevens in Washington, D.C., teaching her the fundamentals of identifying and broadcasting a story through sound.

When she returned home, Stevens met sound engineer Robin Wise, who trained her in recording techniques and the proper use of a microphone. She also introduced her to Catherine Stifter, and the two of them became audio and script editors for the first piece, “The Hula Lesson.”

For three days, Stevens stayed at Roselle Bailey’s halau in Kauai, recording ancient chants, as well as conversations and personal stories of the diverse group of internationally known dancers who meet at the halau every year to learn and dance. Claire Schoen, Outer Voices‘ editor and an independent radio producer, recounts, “I have had a real luxury being able to listen on another part of the world. [Outer Voices] has allowed me to be an armchair traveler.”

After identifying a story through the hula recordings, Stevens, Wise, Schoen and Jack Chance, Outer Voices producer and sound recordist and executive producer of Mountain Music Project, began to draft the hour-long broadcast. As Schoen describes, “It was a three-tiered editing process. We would send it back and forth to each other to create a working script, and Robin would rough out the audio in a series of drafts–a very different way of working.”

Through each successive piece, Stevens and her team developed this same technique to create four unabridged hour-long broadcasts. Each story is presented in this format to limit interviewer commentary, allowing the women to tell their own stories. Unlike mainstream-media techniques, this humanizes global conflict and activism, making solvency more tangible. Altogether, Outer Voices has produced four audio broadcasts. In addition to “The Hula Lesson,” they have created “Girls from Cambodia,” “Kawthoolei” (Burma), “Story of Lata” (Solomon Islands) and a fifth piece on Vietnam and Laos, which is due for release in 2009.

Board of directors chair Christopher Szecsey says, “The mission of Outer Voices is critical–to promote women’s rights, which are human rights, by identifying emerging and successful women leaders in the developing world, by giving them a voice in the Western world, especially through its media.”

Outer Voices exists to help these women be heard, so their unique methods can continue to make a difference. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Prize winner and elected president of Burma, best summarized the relationship between women and conflict by once saying, “To the best of my knowledge, no war was ever started by women, but it is women and children who have always suffered most in situations of conflict.”

Seeing their communities suffer, women have embraced the power of social change, growing from nurturers of the home to nurturers of justice. Stephanie Guyer-Stevens and her extraordinary team facilitate the global spread of their innovative ideas to influence the global community towards positive social change.

To learn more about ‘Outer Voices,’ go to www.outervoices.org. Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write [email protected]