Feminist Radio in Venezuela: Interview with Yiniba Castillo 📻
My last memory of Yiniba Castillo was of her voice; she stood powerfully on the auditorium stage representing our seventh grade class during the annual Gaita competitions years ago, and it is her voice that draws me back to her today. Yiniba is one of the founders of Empoderadas FM, a feminist radio program in Venezuela, and ProyectoM, an organization and platform dedicated to women's rights and empowerment. I talked to Yiniba about their contraceptive campaign, "Where's The Pill?," navigating oppressive and corrupt Venezuelan politics, and focusing on a closer feminism.
Stephanie Orentas (SO): How did Empoderadas FM and ProyectoM start?
Yiniba Castillo (YC): First it was ProyectoM. Before it became what it is, it was an impulse to share what I was thinking. I was focused on my thesis, had no classes at school, stressed and bored simultaneously. Thinking about what I would do after graduating. To release frustrations and cure boredom, I changed my twitter (which used to be very active) to @yinibafeminista and began to share [and] talk about the injustices one encounters every day. However, I noticed discussion could become personal and I wanted to separate my name from my feminism. The moment ProyectoM came to mind, I created a group chat on WhatsApp with all of my friends from college who I knew would be interested in participating [and] that was the best idea. My imagination, my aspiration had not gone so far as theirs. Suddenly, there were ideas to create a legally established organization, to plan events, have a website, raise funds, contact press, artists, have campaigns, etc. Since that day, we keep working towards growth.
Empoderadas FM began thanks to a media tour we did with ProyectoM. From May to June last year, we had a campaign called, “Where Is The Pill?”, in which we sought to diffuse the severity of the shortage of contraceptives in [Venezuela]. We went on every radio and television program we could, but we were left with a sensation that we weren’t saying everything we wanted to, or speaking with enough freedom. Then one of the members of the foundation, my friend and "partner in crime" who was on tour with me, said "So, what if we had our own program?" and obviously, this was a beautiful idea. Thanks to the financial support of their dad, my stepfather and friends of both, we could get the radio space and get customers to keep it. We talk about feminism every day, different issues that may arise, to make people see that there are more world views than those imposed on us since childhood, to open your mind is good. Un-learn and re-learn.
SO: Tell us more about the “Where is the pill?” campaign.
YC: “Where is the pill?” was our first opportunity to go out into the ring. We had already done a mini-campaign about International Women’s Day in 2015, but it was only for a day; we were mostly thinking about becoming a legal entity and what to do after that. During that time, a dear friend, who was my professor at university and a feminist, too, although at the time she preferred not to have “modern” labels placed on her (because her ideology is postmodern). She called me and told me something like this, “you’re a feminist, no? and have an organization, no? So why haven’t you done anything for the contraceptive problem in this country?” and I almost felt scolded. It was true, I had been incapable of worrying about that because my aunt is a gynecologist and she would give me so many boxes of the pill that I didn’t even know who to give extras to. At that time this problem wasn’t in the media or visible. So I told her we would do it.
After analyzing the situation, I realized this was not going to be easy. I was 21 then, single, I was going to look bad asking for contraceptives. Not because it is wrong to ask, but because in this society with Judeo-Christian morality women should be virgins until marriage. And I’m not saying “look bad” because I’m individually worried, but because they would not take me seriously. At 21, my friends wouldn’t dare to talk openly about sex. Little to none protected themselves with something that wasn’t a condom, something the man puts on in the moment, to assume they aren’t sexually active. Who of our age range (which has always been our demographic) would support us like this? This society punishes women who are sexually active.
But it wasn’t only that. Venezuela is a country with every kind of problem. There is no water, no food, no medicine. People are dying of cancer or HIV without antiretrovirals and treatment, and I was going to ask for contraceptives. For what? To have sex at 21 and not be married? It was too complicated.
At first I wanted to throw myself into rebellion… something declaring we want to have sex and have a punk feminist campaign to clarify that virginity wasn’t ours and we do not care if people look down on us for needing the pill, but fortunately, everyone else in the team didn’t like this idea and we created “Where is the pill?” and used it as an institutional campaign, with histories that back it up in order to understand the urgency of the situation, with figures and predictions of what would happen if the rate of unwanted pregnancies grew, and the most important part, with an information campaign with respect to other less popular methods that could supplant the pill because you could still find them in pharmacies, or long-term methods, which you would only need one every 3, 5 or 10 years.
With that we went to any radio or television program that would open the door to us. We sent press releases to various regional newspapers, we made fliers and passed them out or left them where they let us, we made buttons, and of course, we took to social media. All of that lasted about a month and a half. We stopped it to do other things. Our intention was not to get the president release some dollars (because he wouldn’t do it and with the current food shortages it was silly to ask), but to inform the public about the situation so everyone could understand and know alternative methods.
I would like to clarify something for those outside of [Venezuela] who might not understand. I apologize ahead of time if it’s obvious. When I said our intention would not be for the “president release some dollars,” it’s not because we hoped that contraceptives would be free and paid for by the state. It is different. In Venezuela there aren’t any contraceptives (or food, or medicine, nothing) because the state is the only one capable of selling dollars. If someone wants to exchange their bolivares for dollars they need to go to the state. In Venezuela virtually no medicine is created, and the few that is made still needs imported chemicals; who ever makes it, needs dollars, and who ever wants it, imports it. They need to exchange the bolivares won to dollars to continue with the economic cycle. The problem is that the government doesn’t have enough dollar flow for all of the sectors because they’re broke, because of the fall of petrol prices, debts with China and Cuba and because obviously, since they are the only ones managing that money, there is excessive corruption. That’s why it’s a bit complex to ask for a solution. It’s a structural problem in every sense. Too complex to solve in one go.
SO: How did the media tour go?
YC: The response was positive. Better than expected. We saw some flushed faces when we spoke about female sexuality so openly, or when we talked about abstinence not being a solution, but not much more. When I said we didn’t have enough freedom to speak freely, it was because many times the interviews are just not good. They get distracted asking other things or the interviewer interprets what you say differently. Sometimes we had very little time to talk about the situation or we spent too much time talking about why we’re feminists. Or the interviewer wasn’t convinced by the campaign and the interview was pointless. Anyway. For that same complicated reason of morality and the situation in this country, the campaign was not easy, but we have always considered it a success.
Thanks to that campaign we grew in popularity, and we started getting called for interviews from other cities, people asked us for data and pills, recommendations. We managed to position [ProyectoM] as the serious organization we wanted to be.
We’re relaunching this campaign. Right now we’ve closed everything up with Women’s Day and we want to continue with it [and focus on the zika virus] because the zika virus is serious and the government is not taking action. There isn’t even enough media coverage. Of course, it wouldn’t be the same. The alternative methods that we spoke about before practically don’t exist anymore. It would be more of calling out the government and exposing an unsustainable situation. In addition to demanding the expansion of grounds for therapeutic abortion, which has been the response to zika for countries like Colombia.
SO: How did you all get connected with each other? Who are the members in the foundation and who is your partner in crime?
YC: My partner in crime is Estefanía Reyes, she is a journalist and political scientist. The members of the foundation are Madelein Rossell (who studies law), Paola Albornoz, Ender Benavides, Ivanna Marquez, Andreina Chirinos, Katny Ferrer y Andrea Monsalve, with the support of my sister in everything graphic design, Yiniba Camila.
Most [of us met] in college. We were in two gender studies courses together throughout our college career, one called “Interculturalism and Gender” and the other “Gender and Recognition”, while studying political science at Universidad Rafael Urdaneta. The rest have come to work with us through recommendations, by reaching out to us, or just by coincidence. We have a very diverse group, everyone has different abilities. We have people coming to us wanting to contribute, but don’t know how. In the end, those who join us know what they want to do and plans with how to do it.
SO: How do they overlap with each other?
YC: ProyectoM legally has a President, a Vice-President, a Secretary and a Treasurer. It is what is in the Statute. Actually, things are a bit more horizontal, or at least I would like to believe. My job is to create, convene meetings, handle the instagram. My partner in crime is the media specialist, but is always coming up with ideas, and usually makes the best alliances. She is also the producer of Empoderadas. Another member handles the legal side because they’re a law student; they’re also enthusiastic about financing, which is also a great contribution. We have three members helping in the graphic aspect. Others collaborate in all the previous tasks and depending on the specific activities that arise, new tasks are distributed.
At Empoderadas FM, my partner in crime is a producer and I’m the host representing ProyectoM, but we also count on a journalist and broadcaster with experience that supports us in an area in which we were, or still are, beginners.
SO: Since when are you on the air?
Since July 2015. In December we celebrated 100 shows. Today we’re around 140.
SO: How is Maracaibo, or Venezuela in general, responding to feminist radio?
YC: [laughs] Well, Venezuela, I don't know. In Maracaibo it’s been going well. We used to broadcast live from "Periscope" on a daily basis and that was also going well, we had fans from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. Our colleagues in the station respect us and we receive feedback that tells us there are people listening to us and soaking up what we say. The best thing is that we have met so many talented people thanks to the program. I can’t think of a better idea to create allies.
I remember a moment when I suddenly felt we were losing time with this work. Those pessimistic weeks. And in one day I received three comments from strangers about the program. A mother who told me that she had been a teen mom, thanking us for educating and talking about those issues; another woman congratulating us on talking without holding anything back and a man who congratulated me for openly saying I watch pornography [laughs]. It is difficult to talk to a microphone on a daily basis without seeing the reaction that it causes, but at least when we go into despair, someone is there to cheer us up.
SO: Tell us about your interview with Tamara Adrián...
YC: Tamara is a sun. We got the interview with her thanks to Desirée Barboza, member of Voluntad Popular and who we interviewed on our first show. She told us to go see Tamara in the headquarters of the party here in Maracaibo since she had come to visit to present a documentary in which she participated. We waited for her there for three hours. We were the first to arrive at the meeting. After a while, those who she had convened began to arrive. All LGBT activists in their communities. Leaders, who began planning "open’s" or gay parties, and now use those logistical skills and innate capabilities to lead and defend the human rights of their own. It was a fascinating meeting. In these meetings, Tamara intends to remove homosexuality, transvestism and transsexuality from marginality and add them to the public and political life. Organize the LGBTI. Tamara was surrounded by press. I got most of the interview we broadcast on air by leaning in with my cell phone while she answered the questions of others. When the meeting ended, I went and told her of the program, mostly to record a greeting and to ask her the last few questions I had. She didn’t look at me. I felt she was tired, impatient, even bored of the same questions. I told her, "we are a Feminist program," as she was looking at her phone, she turns her gaze to me and says, "look", and shows me a photo of her wearing a shirt that says, “Feminism: the radical notion that women are people,” and smiled at me.
The producer of the program has interviewed her a couple of times, both for the program and for the newspaper where she works. Tamara has her number on her cell phone and when she answers she says, “Hey Maracuchita,” and I die of jealousy. I admire her a lot.
SO: How do Venezuelan politics affect Empoderadas FM and Proyecto M?
YC: Well, I can’t say that we’re directly affected. Just as any organization in the country that hasn’t made enough noise to make the government uncomfortable. We haven’t suffered any censorship, and doors haven’t been closed. This government boasts a feminist ideology; we haven’t grown closer to it because we don’t want to seem aligned with this party. That being said, in this country there are no statistics and it’s very complicated to work without them. Every time we want to talk about a problem, we have to rely on international numbers – many of them outdated – and add them to our everyday experiences because we live in a communicational bias from another planet. We do not have access to information.
In every case, Empoderadas FM is the most susceptible to censorship, but we have been able to say what we want. Alas, there is always someone watching you when you call [president] Maduro a “mijisto,” or when you even think of mentioning something along the lines of “dictatorship”.
Indirectly, we are affected on a daily basis. The situation has a double face because as people, we are outraged, and as an organization, it prompts us to work. They call themselves feminists because they use an alleged inclusive language, as if [using two gender pronouns] would suffice to change reality. Under all that is a country with a huge teenage pregnancy rate that is still rising, a sexual education lead by Judeo-Christian morality, huge problems for the access of contraceptives, the zika virus not having enough sanitary control (we can’t even find the repellent here), or having abortion methods coherent with reality. We have femicide and rape in large amounts. We lack rules that regulate street harassment or cyberstalking; even a law to protect women who experience domestic violence, as if gender violence was only possible by a friend or husband.
In addition, there are not enough women in public power. Chavistas also boast having sought out equality by putting women in the Supreme Court or in departments like sports, but in the end, they are women who follow the ideology of a patriarchal party. Chavez is the all-powerful father. Only recently did the National Electoral Council do something coherent for women, which was the resolution that forced parties to make their nominations to the assembly of an equal number (50/50) (noting that the same Chavista government eliminated this law in 2005), then there’s the opposition, the supposed democratic light to this dark crisis, saying that it’s unconstitutional and only a ruse to falsify election results (which could be true, but for the love of any God you believe in, it was fair).
So well, after that, there wasn’t an equal Assembly. Only 36 women of about 60 deputies. And there are still those who dare to speak against parity. And there’s always one Chavista saying that contraceptives can’t be found because of the economic war. Ultimately, there are difficulties, sure, but there is also a lot of work.
SO: What's next?
YC: I would love for ProyectoM to become something large, even international. I think we’re very young, we’re discovering the world and because of that we have a hard time distinguishing who we want to help. For now we have all the women in mind, but we know it’s impossible. We have focused on various fields and will probably continue to do so until we’ve “matured” and choose a concrete fight, so we can focus on that.
For now I see ProyectoM as feminism for girls, young women; friendly and quotidian. It could create a great community through a portal-like blog, where we have conversations about our problems, our fights, and through this sharing, we create physical spaces of discussion and work. An almost mandatory work we have done, to be able to do the rest, is to clear the name of feminism. To present feminism in a friendly way is necessary and it’s something we have done well. Many feminists before us have conformed themselves with the academic or artistic, which in the end becomes two elite practices far from reach for the population. We want a close feminism. We’re working on that.
With Empoderadas, I don’t know. I don’t know how far it can go. Making it digital, podcast style, is a short term goal. Videos, I don’t know, I’ve been thinking that’s a terrain already covered. Always like an arm to ProyectoM to make that closeness feminism. That’s the idea.
SO: What do you mean by “close feminism”?
YC: “Close feminism” is a feminism that climbs down from the altars of social science. We got to know feminism through college. At first, it can seem as a very complex academic philosophy. We read Fronet-Betancourt, Beauvoir, Millet, Comesaña, Sartre, Ricour, Dussell. We understood reality but it wasn’t easy to explain. Science and philosophy are elitist. They like being elitists. They like speaking in a way that everyone thinks they’re talking about something too complex to understand. Feminism exposed in that way is destined to stay elite and isn’t useful because if it doesn’t reach society, it doesn’t change. Within the elite there is clear misogyny, but outside of it is where it really gets ugly. Where there are women dying and no one understands it’s unjust. We have been looked down upon in science. Like one who simplifies too much what is complex (Who are you to speak of this” things like this). Alas, shoemaker to the shoe. We do our thing, we think it’s important and they do their thing, which of course is also important. In the end, the objective is always equality.