Palmira Velasco is a journalist and Director, Association of Women in Media (Associacao da Mulher na Comunicação Social – AMCS), Mozambique. Former editor of Demos, Palmira was the first Mozambican woman editor. At present, she is also Treasurer in the AMARC (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters) International Board.
In an interview with Kanchan K. Malik during AMARC 11 in Accra, Ghana, Palmira recounted the journey of her association with Rádio N’thiyana, which means ‘women’ in the local Makhuwa language.
Kanchan K. Malik (KKM): Please tell us about the beginnings of the community radio N’thiyana.
Palmira Velasco (PV): N’thiyana which means ‘women’ in the local Makhuwa language is a community radio run by the Association of Women in Media. This community radio station was established in 2000 and I am running it since 2004. It worked one year as an experimental radio and then we got a licence from the government. Our community radio is the first one made by women in Mozambique for women.
KKM: It’s an all-women run radio?
PV: Who started the radio station? Our women! So, it means, that at the decision making places, [there] are all women. What we do is, we train young female journalists, and also established what are called listeners’ clubs… where most of them are women. And what we do is we train women in local language because some people, they can speak and they can read the Bible in local language but they are called people who don’t know how to write and how to read, because our official language is Portuguese. So, we train these women also in local language, on different issues, like HIV/AIDS, elections, start up industry… and other different issues. What we do to gain [sic] men, women and young girls for the station is: call them for training. When we coordinate this – they come themselves and they say, no we don’t have women. Sometimes they say, oh we have women, but she is pregnant, she has baby she can’t leave husband or children. We say, it’s ok, fine. She can bring the child and someone will look after the child and we pay all the expenses. That is the way we manage to get women.
KKM: So, these women are from different places in Mozambique where you have community radio stations?
PV: Of course. We have around 100 community radios in Mozambique. So we do training in regions: south region, central region and north region. We call all [the women] together to come to the training and also we train them in basic journalism: how to interview, how to use recorders, how they can moderate the debates. We do among us, women. So, they become confident. We do ‘live’ training. Most of our trainings we do at radio station. We have the practical and also the theoretical. That is the way we manage to have girls confident to do radio.
KKM: You said this was the first radio which was started by all women. Out of the 100 stations, how many stations are run by only women?
PV: Just one.
KKM: Any idea if women are participating in those other stations?
PV: They do, but most of the time they just leave it because they are volunteers, or not paid, or their husbands say ‘don’t go, because you are not paid.’ Sometimes there is also sexual harassment at the radio station. Younger girls sometimes don’t stay because… I will tell you a story in my community radio. We had one guy, when he came, he was a gardener. After two years he asked, ‘aunty, I want to try to do radio.’ I said, ‘ok fine, I will give you a chance.’ He was one of the best reporters I had. He didn’t have any background but he was very good in local language and he became an editor at the radio station.
But I didn’t know he used to ask girls to have sex with him to get in the studio, because normally when the volunteers come, they spend one or two months at the newsroom, writing and to go to the field, and during these two months we train them how to speak, how to use the microphone, how to use the equipment. But I noticed most of them, are staying only four-five months. I asked ‘what’s going on?’ “Ah no… she is not preparing,” he told me. And again when one left, I went to another radio to call her. What happened? She said, ‘he asked me to sleep with him.’ So, my decision was to take this man out. I said, ‘no, you can’t stay with us. Go out.’ So, there are so many problems women are facing.
KKM: Tell me about the kind of programming that you have at your station?
PV: Yes, we have different programmes. Health programmes, women’s programmes, we have what is called community voice. We do a vox pop. We just go with a recorder and ask women, what do you think about transport? What do you think about road? What do you think about waste/garbage? It is one of the most popular programmes. And we also have another programme, where people without telling their names, anonymous, they tell their stories: For example, ‘My husband left me with two or three children who are not registered, he doesn’t give me money, and he brought another wife.’ We then open the lines so people can counsel the lady, saying ok, you can do this and that. We have a lawyer who comes at the end of the programme to say what she must do to solve the problem. So, this is also one of the most popular programmes. And we also do drama in local language. We play the drama after 10 O’clock or after 9 O’clock because we want women to go to the fields, and when they come back, do their domestic work, and then in night they can listen to radio.
KKM: How many hours in a day do you broadcast and are the women’s programmes only in the night when they come back?
PV: 19 hours a day. No, for us all programmes have gender perspective and we also have open lines. So, women can call, women and men, but mostly our women, because it’s in local language.
KKM: How did you come into radio? And how has it changed your life?
PV: Yeah, originally, I was a print journalist. I started my journalism when I was 22. It was my first job. Then I became an elected chair person of Association of Women in Media in Mozambique. So we started a community radio because I understood that women can’t write and read in Portuguese. So, the radio is better because they can speak in local language, so they can understand, they can participate. This is how I became a community broadcaster and station manager – for us there is no difference – women’s media association and station.
KKM: Can you share with us the story of a girl who has joined with you, who came from a background which was not very privileged, and then through radio she now feels more strong and empowered?
PV: Yes, so many stories, because some of the girls, they started with a child programme. So they grow up at the radio station. The parents supported them. We have a story of a girl. The parents didn’t want her to go to radio station, because she did not pay attention at school. So we said, no, we want her to come; she was seven years old; when they come to do radio, we also teach them how to read nicely, because we have extra lessons. So if they read nicely and write nicely, so they can do well at school. This way we convinced her father… apart of going to school in the morning, Saturday they have lessons at the station. We had a younger boy who was teaching them how to read nicely, and pronounce. So, that is the way she became confident. So, this is one of the experiences.
KKM: What is the typical background of the girls who join in the radio? To which community do they belong?
PV: All of them can come, even if they speak Portuguese or national language. because we find so many people who don’t know to speak in national language. Myself, I communicate well in Portuguese. But, in my mother tongue I can understand, but can’t write. This is because when Portuguese colonised Mozambique, they didn’t allow us to use our national languages. So, any girl can come to our station. If she can speak fluently in her local language, she is welcome.
KKM: What does coming to AMARC 11 mean to you? Is it your first time?
PV: I think it’s very good because I can exchange experiences. Yes, it’s my first time. I like it because I met other women and other associations and heard different stories. You know the environment of each country, the culture, so this is really very nice.
Note: I thank Annapurna Sinha for her help with transcribing the interview.