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Indigenous Women in Bolivia Have a Voice

Tania Ayma Calle and her son

Tania Ayma Calle (36) – Bolivian Journalist

“I have been just a bridge, a platform where women and indigenous people have been the real protagonists.” This is how Tania describes herself as a journalist, social activist and radio owner who has transformed the lives of over 1, 500.000 people through her network of radio journalist in a country where women are subject to triple discrimination: being a women, being indigenous and being poor.

Tania arrived in El Alto from Oruro in 1992. El Alto is a settlement built by miners and workers from La Paz, and indigenous migrants from the countryside, who represent 80% of the population. Also as an indigenous person who had personal gender struggles during childhood, Tania soon realized how the lack of employment, services, education and health in El Alto affects everyone, but has a greater impact on women. “Girls were not allowed to eat as much as boys at home,” remembers Tania.

Inspired by her father who was a pioneer in the 70’s using popular communication to support indigenous movements in Oruro, Tania decided to democratize communication by creating a space to promote the voices of indigenous communities – especially women in El Alto. However, she is not limiting her efforts to just this region, and currently she is working on her dream to have a nationwide radio program.

Tania’s first challenge was her own culture. Together with the daily challenge of just surviving, women are excluded from many cultural, social, and political spaces; historically, they have been taught to remain silent when faced with endless injustice.

In 2003 Tania decided to use one of the less conventional approaches, at least among indigenous Bolivian women, to give them a voice: the radio. Radio Atipiri is a project of the Center for Education and Communication for Indigenous Communities and Peoples (CECOPI), an organization also cofounded by Tania in 1997. From Monday through Saturday Radio Atipiri’s signal reaches the department of La Paz and even as far as the southwestern area of the department of Oruro.

“Radio stations in El Alto are still biased in their politics. They don’t allow native languages like Quechua and Aymara to be spoken in their participative radio slots, as they don’t understand them very well” says Tania. In contrast, on Radio Atipiri people speak the language they choose: Aymara, Quechua. “The radio does not need to have professional voices. Most of our women do not have formal education; that is why they speak in two languages at the same time,” says Tania. Just after five years broadcasting, Tania has taken Radio Atipiri to be the 4th most listened radio station in the region, mainly because of her ability to provide critical analysis of women daily events.

Tania understands that in order to ensure the sustainability of the communicational program through this and future generations, capacity-building workshops need to be provided. To overcome the high illiteracy rates in the region, Tania based her training on oral tradition, using pictures rather than the written word, and is guided by personal testimonies and experiences. The elders of the region participate in programs that promote the recovery of the people’s oral memory. Young people make hip-hop or rap programs in Aymara. Women write soap operas or act out dialogues that share their experiences in sexual reproductive health, gender relations, and violence.

One of Tania’s main satisfactions is the women reporters’ workshop. The training is not just about collecting information, but about registering and sharing with others the most pressing demands of women. These are demands and needs that would otherwise find it difficult to get access to the public sphere. The women reporters have no tape recorders or any other kind of equipment. They simply bring the information direct to the station where it is transmitted, or they call in their pieces over the phone. To date, Tania has trained an average of 200 women per year. The reporters learn to interview their neighbors, write and edit articles, use broadcasting equipment to broadcast their own experiences.

Besides the cultural challenges and the lack of support from the government, Tania also faces lack of funding opportunities. In its more than five years of operation in El Alto, the project has achieved a lot with very few resources. To overcome this challenge, Tania has sought solutions among female reporters and international and national institutions.

Without the luxury of being able to offer salaries to the women reporters and other participants, Radio Atipiri initiated sewing workshops. The productive workshops teach participants how to sew polleras, the skirts traditionally worn by women in the region. The skirts are sold to bolster household budgets and the project itself.

“A key component to keep the program rolling is to create alliances,” reasons Tania. Radio Atipiri is a member of the Andalusian Association of Municipal and Community Radio and TV Stations (EMA-RTV), and for the past three years PCI-Media Impact has provided training to them on how to use media and storytelling to better engage their community on the most urgent issues. “It is curious how sometimes our work needs to be validated abroad to gain attention at home,” says Tania.

“Openness to creativity and to inclusion has been the key to successfully reach our main target – indigenous women,” said Tania and also added, “the experience working with Media Impact using their Entertainment – Education methodology confirmed to us the need to move forward from traditional formats and the need to reinforce our cultural values in the message to ensure our listeners engagement.”

Tania’s dream of having a national broadcast is taking form. She is providing reporting workshops to indigenous communities in other parts of the country. “I dream of an inclusive nationwide radio program that promotes diversity as a whole, and not one that creates more differences among the different races,” Tania commented.

The radio must survive from day to day. It is the commitment of Tania, and all the individuals working on what they consider to be "their" project, that guarantees that this media outlet transmits their dreams and the demands of indigenous women into one voice made of many voices. “It doesn’t matter if only the life of one woman is touched by the program, for sure this woman will change the life of her sisters and daughters. That is how we will achieve our goal,” concluded Tania.



Maria Howe's picture

Bolivia's Voice

I enjoyed this article and getting exposed to the plight of Tania Ayma Calle. This is a big endeavor and much has been achieved. I hope her efforts continue to gain followers and eventually more support.

jap21's picture

Hi D

I am Bolivian, and am delighted to welcome a voice that speaks about my beautiful country! This is a warm story about resilience.

And let me tell you, I am proud of Bolivian women in general and the guts that we have to overcome all kinds of difficulties. It is so good that you let the world know about her.

I would just add one more thing: as a country, women in general have obtained better positions now, especially indigenous or with indigenous ancestors, like in this case. And it has been through a lot of hazzle. Not easy.

It is good to know that her last name is Ayma, just like our President´s mother´s las name! As you can see, it is now good to have these names in Bolivia (good and big change). And the government is working hard in making media available to indigenous peoples both in urban and rural areas, through buying more than one hundred radio stations that now work for the government.

I am sure that Tania Ayma does not let political slogans interfere in her everyday communication with women. She looks so nice and vibrant! We all need to praise good initiatives like hers.

Maybe sometime, I will get to know her when I go to the big city, hehe.



Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America

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