Maria (Nina) do Socorro de Magalhães

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow since 1996
This description of Maria (Nina) do Socorro de Magalhães's work was prepared when Maria (Nina) do Socorro de Magalhães was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996 .


Through community radio stations that focus on gender, the environment and sustainable development issues from women's perspectives, Nina Magalhães is creating new job and life opportunities for rural women in Brazil.

The New Idea

Because most rural women depend upon the radio as their primary source of information and contact with the "outside" world, Nina Magalhães is using radio as a vehicle for generating discussion about issues that impact women's lives on a daily basis. In contrast to predominantly male commercial stations, Nina's Friburgo Community Radio, which she founded in 1992, trains women to become community station broadcasters, technicians and managers. In addition to creating job opportunities, the programs, which are designed and produced by and for women, promote life styles grounded in gender equality, respect for the environment and sustainable development. The intention is that, by increasing women's access to and command of media communication, Friburgo Community Radio and its spin-off community stations across rural Brazil will help build and enforce women's self-respect, eliminate old paradigms of female subordination and introduce new social viewpoints.

The Problem

With a population of 215,000, Nova Friburgo is the economic center of Rio de Janeiro State's Atlantic rainforest highlands. Urbanized and industrialized (textiles, nonferrous metals, transportation machinery and foodstuffs are among its primary exports), Nova Friburgo is also a major producer of vegetables for the state. Commercial agricultural production in Nova Friburgo, as elsewhere, involves intensive use of pesticides, which threaten the health of the local population and contaminate the soil, rivers and fauna and flora. Socially and politically, Nova Friburgo tends to reflect the traditional views and values of the descendants of its Swiss-German colonizers, who have often resisted progressive efforts to empower women and protect the environment.
In turn, women in Nova Friburgo, not unlike their counterparts throughout Rio de Janeiro State and most of Brazil, are typically responsible for day-to-day family matters, such as raising children, working in home vegetable gardens and collecting domestic waste. However, because of geographic isolation and limited educational opportunities, these women tend to lack the training, cultural awareness and familiarity with concepts and alternatives that might otherwise improve their daily lives, such as those provided by the feminist (gender equality) and environmentalist (sustainable development) movements.
In the age of multimedia communications, radio does reach women, especially rural women. However, most radio stations are commercial and their broadcasts generally reflect the patriarchal Brazilian culture, perpetuating patterns that exclude women from strategic and executive jobs and discriminate against them in program content. Brazil's new communications law, which legalizes formerly unlicensed community radio stations, opens new possibilities for women-controlled broadcasting and creates opportunities for qualified female professionals.

The Strategy

Nina's goals for increasing women's participation in radio broadcasting stem in part from her experiences with the Rural Environmental Education Program, a nonprofit organization that she founded in 1989 in Nova Friburgo. Since its inception, the Program has promoted environmental education, including organic farming workshops, campaigns against deforestation and the indiscriminate use of pesticides, preservation of water resources and basic sanitation, directing its message especially to families of small farmers, rural schools and neighborhood associations. After the local commercial radio station decided to limit Nina's "Exchanging Ideas" program, she launched Friburgo Community Radio in 1992.
Friburgo Community Radio's experience in recent years demonstrates the feasibility of community broadcasting as a vehicle for strengthening women's access to mass media and for discussing gender and sustainability issues. It has gained popular acclaim for the many issues it confronts, as an ecumenical, informative, educational, musical, environmental and feminist medium. Its discussions of gender equality, social justice, employment, income generation and quality of life have expanded listening women's intellectual universe. Nina's community radio also spreads simple yet practical ideas, which include baking enriched whole meal bread, cultivating a family organic vegetable garden and becoming involved in community ecological campaigns.
Friburgo Community Radio is also stimulating community participation in the debate about local sustainable and civic development, and in its operations. A consulting council, with representatives of thirty citizens' organizations, will help provide direction for the station's efforts. Fifteen neighborhood correspondents, linked to community organizations, are responsible for the Neighborhood Community program.
Nina's strategy includes using radio to promote employment opportunities for women. The station has male and female directors, but there is a clear female majority. Using gender-mixed teams for management and programming, Nina is providing training in broadcasting techniques, including management, production, programming, technical operation and locution, to women who will in turn create and direct their own community broadcasting stations. Friburgo Community Radio is using several programs, such as "Exchanging Ideas," "Woman's Time," "Neighborhood Community," "Community Under Discussion" and "Community News," as experiments for broadcasting training and production. Eight women are training as the future producers and announcers of "Woman's Time." In the last half of 1995, there were three training courses involving twenty-five people.
Nina's objectives include broadening the station's technical and socio-political range, enabling it to respond to a wider range of community concerns and making the station economically self-sustaining. Now broadcasting four programs daily, Nina is hiring (and training) professional staff, expanding hours and program content and relocating to permanent facilities. She is also forming a permanent management and program team, with significant participation from women.
Beyond Nova Friburgo, Nina aims to spread the concept to other Brazilian areas. She participates in numerous conferences and encounters on community radio. Nina is alrady training groups from the São Paulo Women's Education Network, which operates in eight states.

The Person

Nina's social activism and interest in mass communication stem from her childhood and university experiences, as well as her professional interests. Born in rural Pernambuco, in Brazil's poor, hot and arid northeast, Nina's large family moved to town when crops failed. Even in a small town, Nina vividly remembers sitting home at night with her family, listening to the radio and imagining other worlds. As a teenager, she became hooked by the magic of creation and the broadcast of live sounds when she participated in a radio broadcast.
As a university student in Recife, Nina, a born leader, became involved in the student movement opposing Brazil's military dictatorship. After arrests and police threats, Nina left Brazil for Germany and then France, where she studied rural anthropology and began her slow return to her roots. She came back to Brazil in 1980, first to Rio de Janeiro, where she lived with one of her sisters, and then to more tranquil, rural and home like Nova Friburgo, where she quickly realized that she could draw on her expertise in rural anthropology to link gender, communication, sustainable development and environmental protection in a creative way.
"I give great importance to environmental questions, in my work as an educator and communicator, in my daily and personal life," says Nina. She founded her first organization in 1989 to implement these ideas. "An unforgettable experience," recounts Nina, was her 1992-94 coordination of the UNIFEM project entitled "Earning using Non-Pollutant Technologies," which provided her with key insights into "...the difficulties, values, and beliefs of rural women."
Nina also participates in numerous environmental, broadcasting, communications and development organizations, many of which focus on women.