Justice Champions of Change:

How harnessing the power of the media achieved a justice transformation


Our Justice Champions of Change series highlights a range of ways to transform the provision of justice. By helping empower prisoners to manage their own legal cases, establishing justice centers and ombudsman services closer to people, and persuading the legal profession to support people-centered justice , change-makers have shown that there are a number of approaches available to those who want to improve how justice is delivered.

Our latest Champion of Change, Lurdes Barbosa Cárdenas, uses radio programmes to trigger the cultural shifts that are needed if new justice-related policies are to have a lasting impact on people’s lives. The award-winning NGO she founded, Mujeres en Frecuencia (which translates roughly as FM Women), has reached millions of Mexicans with its programming and messages on gender equality. Established in 1999, the organization deploys creative communication strategies to address discrimination against women and girls, increase awareness of the law among communities that have been excluded from its benefits, and help promote a culture of lawfulness that benefits those who have traditionally been vulnerable to abuse.

The Task Force’s Alisa Jiménez spoke to Lurdes about her work and about the continuing relevance of radio and its ability to deliver messages to people.

Lurdes Barbosa Cárdenas

Alisa: Can you explain the aims of Mujeres en Frecuencia?

Lurdes: Our objective is to promote the active participation of people in resolving social problems by empowering them to be agents of change. We think people can resolve problems in their communities, and we promote participation by disseminating information via community media that reaches masses.

Alisa: What type of problems do you help address?

Lurdes: We have three main areas of work. One is promoting access to justice for women and girls, the second is combating gender-based violence, and the third is promoting the human rights of vulnerable populations.

Within these areas we conduct four types of work — action-oriented research into social problems; advocacy for policy reforms to assist vulnerable populations; community-based workshops; and radio programming.

Alisa: Your goal is to not only educate, but also empower the individuals who receive these messages, why do you use radio?

Lurdes: Radio is a medium that is relatively inexpensive to use and reaches large numbers of people. In Mexico there are communities — especially indigenous ones — that don’t have access to other media such as the internet or TV. The radio can reach communities that have few resources, and because we have agreements with public, community and indigenous radio stations, we can transmit our messages to millions of people in a short time without having to pay to do so.

Our aim is to transform the culture and values of society, so we use the medium that reaches the largest number of people, and we try to encourage that medium to broadcast content that strengthens women’s rights.

Alisa: Your work reaches those who live in the most difficult conditions, supporting them to seek solutions. How does your approach differ from the way other organizations work?

Lurdes: In Mexico there are very few organizations that use the media for campaigns, but we believe that because most of our social problems have been part of the culture for a long time, we should use the tools that are most effective in bringing about cultural change.

And we think the media is the most effective channel for this. People learn a lot from the media. It has a huge influence on daily life and social interactions, and it can make certain ways of living attractive to people. We think we can use the power of the media to construct a new culture of equality, respect, justice and lives free from violence.

Alisa: Can you tell me about the content of your campaigns?

Lurdes: One of our most successful campaigns is called “Let’s Talk Justice with Doña Justa.” Its aim is to disseminate information and increase understanding of Mexico’s new penal justice system among women and girls in rural and deprived areas. Justice has traditionally been a distant prospect for such people, and we believe that if they have a greater understanding of the law they will be more likely to access justice.

The radio series consists of fifteen 25-minute episodes. Their titles give you an idea of what each one is about — for example one is called “You are not alone,” another “Step by Step to Rights,” and another “Dignified Treatment is My Right.”

Alisa: Doña Justa not only has a wide reach, but also teaches the law in plain language so that those who the law is written for understand. How do your other activities reinforce your radio campaigns?

Lurdes: Our focus is on promoting active participation within our society so the model we created doesn’t rely only on radio broadcasts. We also generate action by working in communities to embed the messages people have heard on the radio, in order for them to see themselves as change makers. We prepare follow-up materials and have volunteer promoters who hold workshops in communities, where they use these materials to reinforce the messages.

One of our programs, for example, was broadcast on 287 radio stations and reached 20 million people. Then we distributed the follow-up materials among 1200 volunteer promoters and they are working with them to generate change in communities.

Alisa: What strikes me about your work is the way in which its tailored not only in its content but also in the practice used to disseminate it, to the justice needs of the people. What have the results been?

Lurdes: The programme has reached 15% of Mexico’s population, including people living in very remote rural areas and in indigenous communities who are hard to reach with other interventions. Since the program started, many women in indigenous communities in Oaxaca, for example, have approached municipal authorities to denounce cases of violence or to claim benefits, fully empowered and confident with the knowledge of their laws and rights. Women in Hidalgo State who have been victims of violence have taken our materials into communities to help other women, planting roots for a real culture shift. All around the country we have many cases where we receive phone calls from women who listen to the programs and tell us about their problems. We then direct them to the most appropriate justice center.

Alisa: What are you most proud of?

Lurdes: We receive a lot of positive feedback, asking for more radio programs or more follow-up activities or telling us that our campaigns made listeners more aware of their problems and better able to resolve them. Another radio program we ran for schoolchildren called “Super Justina in Action,” which aims to educate children about their right not to be harassed at school, has greatly helped to reduce bullying. It has been very satisfying to see girls and boys who told us that because of our programs they learned that they shouldn’t use violence in their interactions with others at school, or that they shouldn’t be quick to accuse people who have the right to the presumption of innocence.

Alisa: What type of obstacles have you faced?

Lurdes: The main one is economic. We are in a difficult situation in Mexico because the new government is withdrawing funding for civil society. This has left organisations like ours that relied on public funds in crisis. We are considering new fundraising strategies, although Mexico doesn’t have a culture of personal donations so it’s hard. We still have 3,000 sets of materials we want to distribute, but we don’t have the resources to travel and distribute them in our community workshops. We’re working on a proposal to hold an art auction to finance what we need. It’ll be held this month and we’re looking for artists and galleries who can donate their works to us. It’s our first auction.

Alisa: Can you tell me one thing you want people to know about the work you are doing?

Lurdes: Our message is that women can be empowered to prevent and eradicate violence and to access their rights if they have the right tools. In particular, they need to know how the justice system works, which will enable them to file a complaint promptly, secure protection, get a lawyer and access other assistance. We believe that if women understand the justice system, they will access the resources it gives them to help face problems in their daily lives.

Alisa: Yes, we discuss these issues in the Justice for All report, which emphasizes the importance both of improving people’s journeys through the justice system, and of empowering people and communities to prevent injustice. Finally, can I ask you what your ambitions are going forward?

Lurdes: I have many, but one is to work with Latina women in the United States. They have a lot of similar problems to Mexican women, and we think our materials and workshops would be useful for them. We are currently looking for partnerships with US organizations that will enable us to do this.

To read more justice Champions of Change interviews, visit: https://www.justice.sdg16.plus/champions-of-change.