By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, May 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Huddled around solar-powered radios, generations of Miskito women in Nicaragua tune in almost daily to the first and only radio station dedicated to women's rights in their native language.
Airing from dawn till dusk six days a week along the country's impoverished north Atlantic Coast, the radio station is being hailed by U.N. Women and campaigners as a key way to reach remote indigenous communities plagued by violence against women and girls.
The radio station reaches 115 Miskito villages and helps tackle social taboos and gender-based violence, says U.N. Women, which backs the project run by indigenous rights group Wangki Tangni.
With about 300,000 people, the Miskito are Nicaragua's largest indigenous group.
Each radio show is one hour long, addressing issues such as reproductive health, domestic violence, rape and human trafficking.
Since the radio station was launched a year ago by Madre, a U.S.-based women's rights organisation, social attitudes are gradually changing, promoters say.
"We're talking about issues that weren't talked about before. We talk about all types of violence - sexual, physical, economic and psychological," said Vilma Washington, one of the radio broadcasters and a traditional Miskito judge, known as a wihta.
"We encourage women to report crimes and not to be silent. Women say they feel less lonely, and they phone in to share their testimonies about domestic violence," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Violence against women and girls in Nicaragua has been described by U.N. Women as a "national epidemic."
Nearly half of all reported incidents of violence against women take place in the home, mostly rape and domestic violence at the hands of relatives, husbands and boyfriends, according to 2017 government figures.
"We also talk about drug and alcohol abuse and how this affects the family and children, including domestic violence," Washington said.
Miskito men are tuning in, often lured by a show that plays traditional music. Women say their husbands have changed as a result.
"One woman called us to say that her husband didn't let her leave the house and that she was suffering domestic violence. She said she was a prisoner in her own home," Washington said.
"Her husband listened to the show and realised she had rights too, that she had the right to leave the house and meet with other women."
The station also discusses human trafficking, a growing problem that particularly affects indigenous women and children, campaigners say.
"The rise of drug trafficking in the region over the last ten years has intensified violence against Miskito women and girls, resulting in human trafficking and increased incidents of rapes and murder," said Yifat Susskind, head of Madre.
"Drug traffickers use their routes to traffic girl children as well as drugs," she said.
Traffickers prey on poor indigenous families by offering false promises of good jobs, often as domestic workers or farm labourers.
"Women and children are forced into sexual exploitation and forced labour," Washington said. "On the show, we talk about the risks that parents have to look out for."
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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