By AL for APCNews TOULOUSE, France, 04 August 2006
First it was radio, then the internet. First women’s organisations, then the community. The story of CEMINA, a Brazilian communication and gender organisation, is one of growth, change and openness. Its radio telecentre work captivated the APC Betinho Prize jury in 2005. APCNews spoke with Silvana Lemos, coordinator of the Cyberela network on the past, present and future of an initiative that has been changing the lives of many men and women in vulnerable areas of Brazil.
Radio is one of the most popular types of media in Brazil, a country the size of a continent where an incredible metropolis and small isolated communities that lack access roads, coexist. There is a tradition of community radios of which different social movements have known how to take advantage. Women’s organisations did no less: what better medium is there to give the women in the country their voice, to break the isolation and reach the shanty towns and forgotten villages of the Amazon or Sertao?
The human rights of women, including issues relegated to the private domain, such as sexuality and domestic violence, stopped being whispered and are now discussed out loud in public spaces created by and for women. Hence, the creation of the first CEMINA radio programme, Fala Mulher in 1990. Some years later, with the boom of new technologies, the organisation took on a new challenge: to strengthen and multiply the work that they had been carrying out via radio.
It is not only a matter of adapting Fala Mulher to the internet. Although radiofalamulher.com is a success and has met the objective of promoting the internet and the work of the cyberelas (the name used for radio communicators), CEMINA has incorporated new technologies in an original and creative way through the radio telecentres.
Silvana told APCNews of this evolution: “We began with a project (that consisted of) using technology to improve the radio communication of women […] Since in an immense country like Brazil the difficulty to connect was very great, especially in places as difficult to reach as the north and northwest, we came together with the federal government and we obtained a super satellite connection. Then we said, why not include the communities and not only women’s associations, in other words, the female communicators and their community radios?
The challenge was great: “all of a sudden we had the immense responsibility of managing the telecentres,” continued Silvana. The CEMINA training experience for radios was recycled and adapted to these new community centres that arose from local radio stations that we managed by groups of women. Then, as experience demonstrated, running a radio is not the same as a large endeavour, like a telecentre. Efforts were then directed toward training for sustainability: from the resolution of daily problems, like replacing a computer that breaks, to long-term planning.
Economic sustainability became something crucial as “we have a pilot project to train women to offer services in these communities [for example, digital graphic work] and for this to generate economic benefits.” It is the only way for them to “maintain these digital inclusion spaces,” she explains.
How does the community react to these new spaces? What is its impact on the life of the people that constitute it?
Silvana has thousands of stories to tell. “An interesting occurrence happened in a community close to the highway BR-101 [which cuts across the whole country]. The local community radio transmitted the information that the deadline for truckers to renew their driver’s license was coming to an end. All of a sudden, the truckers that drove through the region began to enter the city and use the telecentre to comply with the procedure,” she stated.
From the economic sustainability of the telecentre to the benefits of the whole community there was a small step: “in the city of Solidão, in the sertão of Pernambuco, where there is no public transportation and the closest bank is 30 km away, people need to pay for private transportation to move from one place to another and have access to certain services […]. In a city where a family of ten people earns 100 Reales a month, these kinds of expenses are excessive.”
Concrete initiatives, from the perspective of local development, helps to reverse these types of situations. Through an agreement with the Rural Workers Union’s gender secretariat, several women were able to offer some of the public services that used to be offered by the municipality through the telecentres but at a much lower price.
The uniqueness of the radio telecentres lies precisely in the relationship of mutual cooperation between the community radios and the telecentres themselves. “In Sertão, where roads are often not even paved and where there were no television stations, people only accessed information through the community radios. With the arrival of the telecentre and the connection [the communicators], they began to become informed of what was happening, for example, in terms of the public policies in their state. [Later] they would transmit this information via the community radio so that people would know what was going on,” notes Silvana.
Regarding the immediate future, Silvana sees the lack of funds as one of the greatest challenges the project faces. One of the central points was the exchange of content through the radio Fala Mulher: “We had a team that produced a daily programme, that added information to the website, and that way we stimulated networking,” she explains. In this manner, they discussed and disseminated the human rights of women and each radio telecentre, located in twelve different states, shared its point of view.
Due to lack of resources this task became voluntary and the sole responsibility of members of the network. She goes on to state that, “the return rate is low… The productions that we receive alternate, at one moment, the staff from Palmares was sending audio material, at another point the staff from Goiânia, but contributions to the network are scarce.”
In any event, Silvana firmly believes that they are resulting in a social transformation. And she is not alone. Besides the APC Betinho Prize, which it considers a “super acknowledgement”, CEMINA exceeds itself yearly by obtaining new national and international prizes (the most recent is the Austrian Ars Electronica prize http://www.aec.at/en). “I think we are pioneers in working from this perspective in Brazil. We are probably building a history and making a difference. Receiving a prize means that our work is legitimised,” she concludes.
Photo: Cyberela (radio communicator) editing a radio programme