Source: Al Jazeera

Local women's voices have begun to be heard over a community radio station now broadcasting in Complexo do Alemao, a clump of favelas or shantytowns on the north side of this Brazilian city that were ruled until recently by armed drug gangs.

Gender issues, social and health matters, local environmental problems, employment and women's rights are the focus of Radio Mulher, or "women's radio station", which began to broadcast this month.

Before going on the air, the participants received a year of training about the workings of a radio station, including general courses for all, as well as specific training in different areas depending on each woman's role in the station, as determined by each individual's strengths and talents.

The new community radio station operators are aiming to "exorcise" difficult experiences that plague many girls and women in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and other cities in Brazil. "What are our ghosts? Sexual abuse and rape," Anatalia dos Santos, one of the first 28 women to receive the training, responds without hesitation.

The radio stations wants to tackle these and other thorny issues "that no one wants to talk about, like beatings from husbands, economic dependency on men, mothers who have to raise their children on their own", she said.

"Women appear to be more resilient and combative, but they weren't raised to get a job, to be successful, to make it on their own," said dos Santos, who works as a nursing aide.

Because of this, she said, many women in Complexo do Alemao and other favelas are trapped by the reasoning that "better to live badly with him than worse off without him".

Dos Santos belongs to Mulheres da Paz ["Women of Peace"], as do the rest of the women at the radio station, which broadcasts in the Complexo and surrounding areas on 98.7 FM.

Women of Peace, a Ministry of Justice programme, recruits community leaders to mediate in conflicts among local residents and try to create a peaceful haven in the favelas.

Anthropologist Solange Dacach, Women of Peace field coordinator in Rio de Janeiro and at the radio station, said that one major focus of the initiative is working with young people in the favelas, because they were the chief victims of violence in Brazil.

"So many young people were being killed in drug-related turf wars," she said.

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