For ten years, Radio Atipiri has been training female reporters as a way of helping change Bolivian society. DW Akademie trainer Camilla Hildebrandt spoke with station director Tania Ayma.
When Radio Atipiri first went on air in 2006, the 42-year-old station director Tania Ayma came under heavy criticism. "They can't even speak properly!" people said. Ten years later, students from as far away as Mexico, Denmark and Germany are coming to El Alto - Bolivia's second largest city and one of the most dangerous - to learn more about Radio Atipiri's communication strategy. Communication doesn't just happen in the media; it's part of everyday life, says Ayma. "And we've had a big hand in that change of thinking."
DW Akademie: From the start, Radio Atipiri has focused on giving women a voice, especially indigenous women. What has the reaction been like?
Tania Ayma: Our goal has always been to make communication more democratic. That is to say, to give people the opportunity to actively participate in our programs and have better access to the media. But that's still difficult for the indigenous Aymara people, especially for the women. Our society's incredibly macho, so we're strongly encouraging women to play an active role in the media. We believe that communication can really help to improve community life.
Over the past ten years Radio Atipiri has trained hundreds of women as citizen reporters. What has the station's approach been?
In the 1970s my father began training citizen journalists, especially in the rural areas. But back then, only men were being trained. Women just didn't have time because they had to work in the home as well as in the fields. My father's work, and changes in Latin American media and society since the 1960s, have taught me that we need to support those who have never had a voice.
And in Bolivia, these are the women, children, young people and the elderly, and especially people with indigenous roots.
That's right. We've had incredibly positive feedback since we launched our first course for female citizen reporters. We started off with short courses and workshops, but are now offering longer training sessions. We've found that the most important aspect of our work has been helping women overcome their fear of speaking out in public. Some of our participants have even gone on to become senior managers. Indigenous women have some powerful role models, like Bartolina Sisa, for example, a strong and assertive woman from the 1700s. She's one of their heroes and there's now a national organization of rural indigenous women known informally as the "new" Bartolinas.
Do the women have a stronger sense of self since being involved with the radio?
Yes. Some of the women here can't speak or write in Spanish, so we've offered oral training in the Aymara language. For the first course, women walked for up to five hours just to take part. The women feel much more confident now. They've started going to school, have gathered the courage to speak with their husbands and have started reflecting on their family life. Many are now working as reporters and journalists for other media. They're out there, being communicators.
Radio Atipiri is a station that's open to everyone, but that concept was heavily criticized at the beginning.
Yes, you'd hear people saying that the young people at Radio Atipiri weren't speaking properly or that the women couldn't speak Spanish. But people who are so elitist about communication will always see things that way. I just answered that my team needed some time. And these days, students are coming from as far away as Denmark or Mexico to learn more about our concept – about the fact that communication doesn't just happen on the radio, but that it can bring about fundamental changes in our lives.
Bolivia has the highest rate of violence against women in all of Latin America. How is Radio Atipiri trying to change this?
The first step is information. Most women aren't even conscious of the fact that they're permanently exposed to violence because it's become the norm. Secondly, the laws and preventive measures introduced by the government aren't enough. Law 283 guarantees women the right not to be subjected to violence. But here in El Alto, for example, there is not a single women's shelter that's financed by the government. We're conducting an on-going prevention campaign at Radio Atipiri. Violence against women is an issue that's part of every program we broadcast, and we're also producing a soap opera on the issue.
One often hears that El Alto is the most dangerous city in Bolivia and that is has major social problems. Why do people who live here love the city so much?
For me, El Alto is a city that's always looking ahead, a city where you can literally always start from scratch. Many women here have never had a formal education, but they come up with ways to earn money and are able to feed their children without any support! Sure, this city has a lot of problems. But more than anything, the city of El Alto is a real fighter - just like Radio Atipiri.
Radio Atipiri is one of six radio stations in El Alto taking part in a DW Akademie project sponsored by the UNIR Bolivia Foundation.