“They are now leaders in their communities”. That is how Silvana Lemos, coordinator of the Cemina Digital Inclusion Project (Proyecto de Inclusión Digital) called Cyberela Network, describes the sixteen communicators that are part of the network. ”The fact that they are the ones that are bringing their cities into contact with computers and the internet provides them a degree of credibility that they were unaware of before. It increases their self-esteem and resolve in their activities”. The Cyberela Network is formed by communicators that work in community radios in over twenty Brazilian cities, most of which are in the interior.
Radio can be transformed into tools to overcome the women's digital divide
The radios - all of which are led by women - received donated computers and software to edit audio material and got support for training and paying broadband providers. The objective of this is to improve the quality of radio productions and facilitate the exchange of information via the internet. Cemina affirms that radio-telecentres are spaces that can be transformed into tools to overcome the digital divide, especially for women, thus simultaneously contributing to overcoming poverty and social inequalities. The link of ICTs to the radios further facilitates the opportunities of access for less favoured groups, such as the illiterate portion of the population.
The radio and telecentre activities focus on subjects related to the human rights of women and have a great impact on the communities where they are located. Most of these radios are the only source of information on subjects such as domestic violence for example. The power of the radio to mobilise, in addition to online activities and ongoing contact with other networks of women gives them strength and provides support to deal with simple issues that are inexistent in other types of media in the community.
Self-censorship may keep women quiet in the cases that confront religious or community principles
However, not all the subjects of the feminist and women’s movement’s agenda are tackled on air - when it involves issues like the right to an abortion, for example, voices are often silenced. Self-censorship. “The power of the Church is very strong. The religious character of Brazilian culture still entails pressure from which women are not so easily freed,” recounts Silvana.
“Self-censorship, in the case of issues that confront some religious principles, like the right to an abortion, is an undeniable fact.” The popular communicator, Tatiana Neves, coordinator of the Boca de Mata FM digital station, (Estación Digital de Boca da Mata FM), a radio station located in the interior of the state of Alagoas, tells of the usefulness and importance of the radio for women in the region. Through it, they can listen to professionals that tackle subjects that are not easily accessible to women in their daily lives: women’s health, sexual and reproductive health, female attorneys discussing their rights and defending victims from violence against women, psychologists offering listeners support through interviews and question and answer sessions.
In this community of 25 thousand inhabitants, that is 70 km away from the state capital, the communities are brave enough to tell women not to keep quiet in cases of violence, to advocate for them to file charges and ask for support. “They have the audacity to ask women not to silence cases of violence, rather than pressing charges and seeking support. “Many of the listeners wind up coming to the radio station and reporting online, they share how they defended their rights,” explains Tatiana.
Abortion, pornography and prostitution - the subjects commented only “off the record”
Do they talk about all the issues that might interest women? “There are some subjects that are only commented “off the record”, when the microphones are switched off,” comments Tatiana. Abortion, pornography, and the prostitution of girls are some of the issues for which we have to choose words carefully, although we do refer them to websites where they can find in-depth information on these issues. We recommend reading the Cemina website and, for the abortion issue, we refer them to the Catholic Women for the Right to Choose website.”
The danger of speaking openly about taboo subjects is creating negative reactions in the community, and building resistance or prejudice against the hard won and serious work done to date. “We need to learn to deal with the limits culture imposes on these societies,” affirms Silvia Lemos. “We have the conviction that our role is to give these issues visibility and work on them, showing women that there are support networks to combat all types of rights violations and that there are fewer threats when we make ourselves heard as a group.”
It is a long process for women to fearlessly express their voices and realities
According to Silvana, these female communicators are facing many challenges - their intense activities at the radio-telecentres are under scrutiny in their homes; many of them are leaving their cities for the first time to speak at events. Husbands and work colleagues react and question the work they are undertaking. Despite all this, they remain active in their leadership role. Silvana states “what we want is to train them even more each time, strengthen them to challenge stereotypes and taboos - to fearlessly express their voices and realities, without self-censorship, even though this involves putting up with established cultural patterns. This is a process. We are on our way.”