Women in an Indigenous Guatemalan city are defying the government and maintaining their cultural roots using the airwaves.
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Ixchel Radio, based out of the mainly Indigenous Guatemalan city of Sumpango Sacatepequez, was launched in 2003 by three Indigenous men, who "felt the need to reach out to [the] community," according to its founder Anselmo Xunic.
Since then, the station, which operates in Spanish but provides information in the dying Kaqchikel language, is run mainly by women.
"One of our priorities was to involve more women in media because we realized they are not really present," Xunic tells Al Jazeera. Ixchel Radio now has one of the highest number of female reporters among the country’s community radio stations.
Of the station’s 16 volunteers, who keep the station running from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., half of them are women, including 25-year-old reporter and host, Amanda Chiquito.
"There is no media that represents our community," Chiquito says. Ixchel helps fill that void and addresses topics important to the 50,000 mainly Indigenous people of Sumpango such as education, social justice, health and government corruption.
Importantly, it also discusses local Mayan culture, which wasn’t easily accessible to the region’s population prior to Ixchel arriving on the air. "There wasn’t a media outlet that could inform us and keep our culture and language alive," says Amanda.
But staying on the air hasn’t been easy since the station started 15 years ago. Guatemalan law requires radio station to purchase a license to the tune of about US$28,000. Those who operate without state certification are considered clandestine by the government and risk being shut down.
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In 2006, Radio Ixchel was forced off the air and Xunic was accused of drug trafficking by the government. Finding no evidence against the radio founder the station returned to the waves after a few months.
The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, AMARC, says that in Guatemala and Peru, community radio station organizers can be indicted for "aggravated theft" or "theft of frequency," which the organization says is illogical because one can’t steal a frequency, and the Guatemalan government knows this. The 2009 Guatemalan Peace Accords state that community radio stations have the right to exist.
More than 100 community radio stations operate in Guatemala, but overwhelmingly the waves are monopolized by local and internationally-owned commercial stations, which don’t address Indigenous issues and can be "biased, discriminatory and racist," Chiquito says.
Despite government pressure to push community-based stations off the air, they started an association bringing together the women reporters and broadcasters from all parts of the Central American country.
"When we do radio, we can express ourselves freely there; we can talk without worry. And through the radio, I find out that I have the right to express myself freely," says Maria Escalon Ruiz, a volunteer in Radio Juventud, another community station.
"I, as an indigenous woman, have the opportunity at my fingertips to communicate myself in a different way, to bring information to the community in a different way, that’s something that motivates me," Chiquito adds.