Challenging macho culture and violence in Peru with radio theatre
The 800,000 tourists who annually pass through the Urubamba Valley on their way to the Inca city of Machu Picchu, Peru, get to see idyllic little communities alongside the railway tracks. But appearances can be deceptive. Macho culture has put down strong roots and behind closed doors, many women are subjected to domestic violence. But thanks to local radio station La Salle, with its programmes on the taboo issue of violence against women, the situation is changing.
Changing a culture takes time
“The whole thing is cultural, inherited. ‘My grandfather hit my grandmother, my father hit my mother, and I hit my wife,’ so to speak. It takes a long time to change attitudes, and the next generation will probably also pass on this behaviour,” says Dante Sanchez Santos.
Dante, who was born and raised in the neighbouring province of Calca, works as a producer and presenter at the village’s local radio station, Radio La Salle. A narrow, black fire escape leads up to the studio, where broadcasts have been under way since four in the morning. And despite the earliness of the hour, many people have already tuned in.
70 radio stations spreading knowledge in local language
Radio La Salle is part of network of 70 radio stations that broadcasts informative, bilingual educational programmes across the inaccessible Andean countryside. The network’s radio broadcasts are the only means of reaching out to the population.
The programmes address local issues in the language of the inhabitants, Quechua, and a lot of people get involved.
Programme on oppression of women provokes reactions
But when a year ago a radio series started addressing the issue of the oppression of women, the reactions were unexpectedly strong. Angry listeners called the programme’s live phone-in and threatened Dante, saying the station shouldn’t interfere in people’s private lives.
“We’ve analysed the reactions, and our interpretation of them is that we’ve managed to shake things up and disrupt machismo.”
Radio play and studio discussions with specific tips for women
Each section of the newly produced series of programmes starts with a radio play in which the plot is based on real-life events but actors lend their voices to the fictional characters. After that, the topic of the day is followed up in a studio debate, with guests from organizations such as women’s shelters and the public prosecution. The aim is to strengthen the women and guide them in how they can claim their rights in practical terms.
“The debate is essential as it opens discussion on an issue that is a reality in many people’s lives but few people want to touch upon. We encourage the women to look for support and try to give them specific tips. For example, we explain how to report assault and what the subsequent process is like,” says Dante Sanchez Santos.
Reaches into homes
Behind the radio production is a collaboration between the radio network and Diakonia’s partner organization, the Flora Tristán women’s centre.
“We reach into homes where people are living with violence. The aim is to achieve a culture in society in which violence against women is no longer acceptable or considered natural,” explains Katya Zamalloa, one of the leaders at Flora Tristán.
Violence against women seen as a triviality
But violence does not only exist in the home. The whole society is steeped in values that involve men having power over women and the right to control them. The Cuzco area has the second highest comparative figures in Peru where violence against women is concerned.
Because despite legislation against such violence being in place for thirty years, it is not complied with in practice. To a large extent, this is because the police, prosecutors and judges – those who are supposed to ensure compliance with the law – are a part of the system themselves. They generally have a tendency to trivialise the women’s experiences, and the few women who pluck up the courage to go to the police station, black and blue, to report an assault are often met with suspicion.
“The police officer on duty might say, ‘But that’s just a little scratch,’ adding knowingly: ‘You must have done something to deserve it,’ says Katya Zamalloa, imitating the usual procedure and continues: “And when the husband has given his version of events, it usually ends up with the woman getting the blame for the assault, after which she withdraws her statement.”
Shows that influence is possible
The radio series shows that it is possible to influence machismo. In the current break between the first and second seasons, many people miss the programmes, which formed a platform for discussion. Listeners have been in touch, wondering when the next season is due. Women’s shelters and others working on behalf of women have also become aware of the void. They have also been able to discern a slight increase in the number of reports of violent crime against women, and even if the number of unreported cases is sizeable, the increase is considered to stem from the series.
Workshops for young people
But the work on changing attitudes will take time. And to be able to influence attitudes at an early age, Flora Tristán is focusing on arranging workshops for young people.
“We quickly noticed that it was natural for the young lads to control their girlfriends. What they wore, which friends they hung out with. I usually say that we need to start in the cradle,” says Katya Zamalloa, who is aware that the work on change will not take place overnight and that women also perpetuate machismo.
“There are cases where young girls have reported their boyfriends for assault. The lads think that a little fighting is part and parcel of a relationship, that it strengthens it,” says Dante Sanchez Santos. He believes that as long as it is rooted in socio-economic conditions, the situation will continue.
“But we can’t just sit back and watch. We need to keep raising these issues. Society needs us to do so.”