By Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente
Global Press Institute
In the suburbs surrounding the city of Buenos Aires, three women use community radio to broadcast a weekly segment that gives voice to stories concerning women. They aim to increase the public’s consciousness about topics that receive little coverage in mainstream media as well as to promote community solutions. At the same time, the program helps the broadcasters confront issues they face, such as domestic violence.
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA – The radio studio is small and has an artisanal feel. The walls are wood, and the worn table in the middle of the room tells of many years of use. Around it, three women prepare to go on the air in a working neighborhood in the suburbs surrounding Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital.
One of the three women, Vanina Montes, prepares mate, an infusion traditional to Argentina that people share in a circle. Montes pours hot water in a container holding yerba mate, which is then drunk through a straw.
Accompanying her are Cinthia Esquivel and Mariana de Pinto, her colleagues on the radio show, “Sin Careta,” which means, “Without a Mask.” They broadcast from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. every Saturday on a community radio station called FM La Mosca, which airs from a cultural center in the same neighborhood where Montes grew up.
Montes, 36, has deep eyes and long, dark hair. She says that her life has been difficult, but one of her existential engines keeps going: her passion for communication. Her other passion is her children.
“To me, the radio opened my head,” she says. “It confirmed for me what I intuited from my own life experience as a woman and as a human being. I realized that when you don’t get involved, the news and its protagonists are only words. Doing radio obliged me to accept that there were people behind the facts, people like me.”
In addition to being a mother and a radio broadcaster, Montes also works as a secretary for a union and volunteers in a home for at-risk youth. She grew up in the neighorbood of Piñeyro in a suburb south of greater Buenos Aires, a zone traditionally linked to the union workers’ struggle.
Montes is divorced and has two kids. Because she is from a humble neighborhood and struggles to scrape together money to afford a babysitter, she has had trouble obtaining full-time employment. She is also a survivor of domestic violence.
But Montes defines herself as a fighter by nature, a defender of human rights and an activist for gender equality. She talks of having discovered in her own life the search for equality, the power of communication in a community and the force of people united behind one objective.
“My pains made me realize that I had to defend my rights,” she says. “Radio is my passion and the air that I breathe. Many times I was on the verge of leaving it, but I continue here.”
Community radio is a growing phenomenon in Argentina that enables citizens to express themselves. The Sin Careta trio uses its program to promote gender equality, a topic that doesn’t always receive space in mainstream media. The program also strives to unite the community in a collective search for solutions to these challenges facing women.
At the same time, the broadcasters say that participating in radio promotes their own development by offering them a platform to express themselves and confront issues they have faced. Listeners and community radio experts say programs like this can incite real change.
There are 3,000 radio stations registered in Argentina, according to the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters.
One of these is FM La Mosca. The community radio station aims to be a space of meeting and freedom, says director Javier Romero. Local citizens can broadcast their own programs on the station for 40 pesos ($9) an hour.
“The radio is available for whichever neighbor who wants to come and make use of the airwaves in order to exercise their right to the freedom of expression,” he says. “It’s a meeting place for students, professionals and workers around the reality of the neighborhood and the country.”
Sin Careta aims to promote gender equality, to create a space for gender-based violence reports, and to provoke a critical reflection among neighbors and listeners about women’s rights in Argentina, topics that receive little coverage in mainstream media.
Women may broadcast the Sin Careta program, but their target audience is both men and women. The program is also open to audience participation via phone and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
The three broadcasters each bring a different perspective regarding gender to the program.
De Pinto is a 38-year-old woman with a dark complexion, bright eyes and light brown hair. Like Montes, she also lives in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, in Lomas de Zamora. She has four children and is finishing her high school education. She works as a babysitter as well as a socio-communal operator of gender and the promotion of human rights, a certificate she earned through a training by the provincial Ministry of Education, which enables her to promote women’s rights in her neighborhood.
For her, it’s important to show the world the feminine view of reality.
“The radio is a meeting point, and the program in particular is a space to explain reality from the point of view of women because, as such, we go through similar experiences, and the battle unites us every day.”
De Pinto says that incorporating gender into people’s routines helps to democratize daily life, to cast a critical eye on how what happens in the political, economic and social arenas affects women and to generate debate. It also helps women listening to know that they are not alone.
In the same vein, Esquivel emphasizes the importance of community radio as social patrimony.
“The radio is a place where you can help people to develop, and at the same time, you develop yourself,” she says. “Those open-door politics of FM La Mosca and of Sin Careta function in both directions: for listeners and for us.”
Esquivel continues that the program is a platform for important topics that receive little coverage otherwise.
“There are many stories and news that are outside the agenda of the big monopolies, are the black sheep of massive communication,” she says. “Well, here they have a space of free expression. Every Saturday, we open the microphone to the particularities of people. We also do it to our own particularities, to our own stories.”
The women of Sin Careta also aim to bridge the gap between problems and solutions. Instead of just broadcasting information about problems, they also strive to inspire action among the community.
Montes says that, for her, it’s impossible to keep her arms crossed in the face of an injustice reported on the radio.
“If I hadn’t been on the radio, the news would be, for me, only information,” she says. “But here, women of all ages come reporting domestic violence, workplace harassment, sexual abuse by a relative. It’s not possible to listen to these stories, to repeat them and to go home. The frivolity leaves you, and your commitment is born.”
The program addresses human rights issues concerning women. Topics range from workplace harassment to sexual abuse to the disappearance of people.
Last year, for example, the program helped locate a local adolescent named Melissa Cacheda who had gone missing, Montes says.
“The mother of the girl had been traveling for a month to all of the television channels so that they would pass around the photo of her daughter,” she says. “But they told her that it wasn’t a conventional news story.”
So Montes says the mother turned to Sin Careta, which mobilized the community to look for the girl. They wielded all available media: Sin Careta with its 40-block radius, other community radio stations and social networks. And they found her.
“The day that Melissa appeared alive, we felt that it was a success of the people, of many anonymous people who called the radio and told us they had stuck photos of Melissa in their neighborhood,” she says. “The radio let people know that they can do something, that the community can and should act. From Sin Careta, we are here to drive that participation.”
The women of Sin Careta intend for it to transform the community – as well as themselves. They each aim to overcome their own problems through the communication that the program provides.
For example, De Pinto says she went from being a listener of the program to being a broadcaster a year ago because she felt that Sin Careta could afford her the opportunity to express herself during a complicated time in her life.
“In that time, I was living a complicated period of my life, redefining many things,” she says. “I went to the radio to socialize, and I stayed.”
Like Montes, De Pinto is also a victim of domestic violence. She has reported her husband for physical and psychological abuse but continues to live with him while the court rules on her case. Sin Careta gives her the opportunity to verify every Saturday that she is not alone in her problems, as listeners share similar stories.
“Here, I can express how I am, even without formal journalism studies,” says De Pinto, speaking in a clear and serious voice. “I come and share my experiences and opinions with people who listen to us, who are like me with the same problems. That helps you to find solutions to your own reality. I have strengthened myself in order to confront my personal experiences through the interaction on the radio.”
For Esquivel, her battle is not against domestic violence, but against a serious illness, which she prefers not to discuss in detail. She avoids eye contact when she talks, looking to the side or fixing her pupils on the floor. Pale and thin, she hardly smiles.
A widow, Esquivel lives alone and doesn’t have a job. So Sin Careta has become a space where she can express herself, connect with others and gradually resume her life.
“The radio is a rebirth,” she says. “It is my only activity in this moment, but I know that from here I construct a platform to reconstruct my personal life and a project of new life.”
Malena Haboba is a loyal listener of the program. She is part of a movement called Mujeres del Sur, which unites citizens in the suburbs south of the capital in their fight to promote women’s rights, prevent violence and legalize abortion. For Haboba, the new model of social activism through the media is fundamental in the construction of real democracy and the recognition of women as subjects of communication.
“These initiatives done for the love of the cause deliver new visions about women,” she says. “They are women talking personally, describing the society as it is, but simultaneously taking charge of their part in the process of change.”
Laura Elizalde, is a journalist, former university professor of social communication and member of Comunicadores Populares en Red, a network that connects women in popular communication to implement media education and promote the right of information in their neighborhoods. She says that community radio programs like Sin Careta show that change is possible if a civil society is connected.
“The impact of community radio shows that the social mandates can be changed,” she says. “Each person has the right to be informed and, above all, to inform, to be a subject of communication and to be recognized by it.”
Elizalde adds that radio also strengthens the social tissue and cohesion of the community where it’s present.
“To be able to express ourselves, to share experiences and knowledge, to find solutions, to enhance diversity – all this is important,” she says. “The community radio does more than give a voice to those who don’t have a voice. It makes people conscious that we all have a voice and that we all have to empower each other.”
Montes explains that all those concepts are synthesized in the name elected for the program, which was not chosen at random. The expression “sin careta” is used in Argentina to signify words said to one’s face in a direct form and without lies.
“We are here as we are, without masks, without poses, without pretensions, with our daily charges, our words, our hopes too,” she says. “We talk to the neighbors, women and men, from the honesty of who we are, without a mask.”
The story was originally published by Global Press Institute. (c) Global Press Institute 2012