For hundred of Central American women living in rural or urban low income areas, access to information is limited. Disconnected from the information gateway due to poverty, low literacy, restricted electricity connections and access to communication technologies such as computers and internet, radio is often the only medium available. In the last decades, community radio stations have been enabling isolated communities across Central America to voice their own concerns. This type of radio has created a non-commercial platform, where women produce the content they hear on the radio. While the impact of community radio stations varies, they often give isolated villages a means of education, self-expression and communication, while also promoting the community’s history and traditions.
The women’s movement in Central America has long recognized the power and the role that community radio has played. As early as four decades ago, women’s groups actively engaged this medium to address issues such as human rights and sexual education. As a result, community radio has played a pivotal role for women’s movement in Central America. On air, women have discussed issues such as gender discrimination, sexual matters as HIV/AIDS prevention and abortion. They have shared income generation ideas and explored ways to improve education. Local organizations such as Puntos de Encuentro in Nicaragua and Movimiento Manuela Ramos in Peru have provided critical public forums for discussions on effective ways to end violence against women and access to justice and legal support through radio programming.
The idea of using both older media such as radio and newer information and communication technologies has gained momentum in Central America over the recent years. Women agree that Internet, telecommunications and broadcasting services can help to promote women issues. However, they argue that media and technology remain largely state controlled or with purely commercial motivations. In a region with high rates of gender based-violence, illiteracy, restrict access to technology, massive female immigration in irregular circumstances, unemployment, sexual and labor exploitation and trafficking, and a increasing population of young women in vulnerable conditions, the challenge of women’s movement is colossal.
‘I never imagined I would lead a radio programme’ Reyna Tejada, organizer and coordinator at the Collective of Honduran Women (CODEMUH), said as our plane took off Heathrow airport to continue our speaker tour, now headed to Vienna. ‘When I arrived in Choloma (the city where CODEMUH and most of the maquila industry in Honduras are based) to work in a factory I was a very shy girl from rural Honduras’.
Faced with state oppression, particularly since the coup d’etat in 2009, and with patriarchal oppression that keep women’s voices down, Honduran feminist groups like CODEMUH, found in community radio a tool for education and advocacy and also to empower women. In Reyna’s words, ‘having a radio programme is a dream come true for CODEMUH: now we can reach larger audiences.’
It wasn’t an easy journey though.
Three members of CODEMUH, ex-maquila workers, were trained as radio speakers and producers who, in turn, trained others past and current maquila workers. Some of them though, particularly those working at maquilas find it difficult to arrange time to go the studio. Others have given up in the face of increasing insecurity in Choloma’s streets. CODEMUH broadcasts in the evening and it’s not safe to walk around nighttime in a country with the highest homicide rate in the world. But some continued, Reyna amongst them. When the cost of life became so expensive that affording transport to and from the studio was a luxury they found a way around it and now CODEMUH broadcasts from its office and connects with the radio station’s studio by internet and phone.
Through community stations Radio Progreso, Radio Uno, La Voz Lenca, Radio Guarajambala and Radio Exclusiva CODEMUH reachs to all 19 Honduran provinces with two weekly programmes: ‘Voices of Women’ and ‘This is how women talk’. CODEMUH, Reyna explained, has gained much publicity and recognition with these programmes’, particularly in a country where radio is still the main mass media, ahead of TV and newspapers. ‘We offer analysis, always from a gender perspective, and an alternative discourse to that of state-controlled radio stations that belong to monopolies run by the makers of the coup d’etat.’ They also discuss women’s issues, such as reproductive health and violence against women, announce CODEMUH’s activities and give space to women artists, workers and victims to speak for themselves.
Obstacles to continue broadcasting arise not only from limited economic resources and a hyper-violent context. The government of Porfirio Lobo and the oligarchs, businessmen and land-owners he represents don’t approve of the demands and denounces from communities. Community radio is not only crucial for the women’s and feminist movements in Honduras. It is also vital for campesinos, indigenous peoples and in general dissident voices, the voice of social struggles. That’s why community radios have become the target of the national agency responsible for telecommunications, CONATEL.
Reporters without Borders have recently addressed this body to denounce harassment to community radio stations affiliated to the Honduran Council of Popular and Indigenous Civic Organizations (COPINH). In 2012 CONATEL ordered Radio Guarajambala FM to switch to another frequency, although it has been broadcasting on the same frequency since its creation in 2002, and to reduce the strength of its signal. Failure to do so would cost Radio Guarajambala a €40,000 fine. Previously, in 2011 CONATEL had announced a draft resolution designed to suspend the granting of frequencies to low broadcast-strength radio stations. These decisions are in line with CONATEL’s self-proclaimed mission to ‘promote private investment and competition in the telecommunications sector’.
The COPINH radio stations believe that the threats, censorship attempts and direct attacks they often receive (including power supply cuts by state officials to force the radio off the air) are directly linked to coverage and open criticism of issues such as the murders of campesinos in the Aguán region, the seizure of land from the indigenous Lenca, and corruption in the Intibucá region.
General elections are scheduled in Honduras for November 2013 and dissident voices must be silenced. If journalists in alternative media won’t surrender to administrative, legal and physical harassment they can expect the threat of death. Indeed, a total of 33 journalists have been killed since the coup d’etat.
It is in this context that CODEMUH continues to fight for women’s voices to be heard on the air, and successfully so. Radio Progreso, one of the community radio stations hosting CODEMUH’s programmes, is so impressed with their work that they have asked Reyna to become a correspondent for Choloma and on gender issues in the radio’s main news programme. It might be a 2 minutes slot but Reyna knows that thousands of people, from the urban and the rural, are now regularly listening to a gendered analysis of the news.