PRAGUE, Czech Republic, 01 March 2005
Champagne may be cheaper than bottled water in Kazakhstan but using information and communication technologies (ICTs) is also expensive. It costs $120 USD a month just for a telephone line when the average monthly wage is $150 USD. Members of Podrugi Crisis Centre, the first organisation to work against domestic violence in Almaty, feel "lucky" to even have the line, which is digital and therefore more stable, compared to partner organisations fighting against violence who have only analog lines.
The high cost of telephony and technical services is a principal barrier to ICT access for women networking against violence in Central Asia, as well as language, training, and gender stereotypes about women’s use of technology. However, the barriers have motivated Podrugi to become a pioneer in combining ICTs with their struggle against gender violence. "They decided if they wanted the situation to change, they’d have to do it themselves," comments Katerina (Kaca) Fialova of the APC Women’s Networking Support Programme (WNSP), after a recent visit to Kazakhstan to support Podrugi’s ICT work.
Podrugi was one of 10 grant winners of the Global Knowledge Partnership’s (GKP) 2004 Seed Grant and Small Innovative Projects Fund (SGSIP). Their project aims to introduce ICTs into the Podrugi Crisis Centre’s work, with a special focus on youth participation. As a result, Podrugi has been able to launch a website, and has scheduled online forums, conferences, and distance-learning to eliminate violence against women. GKP has asked the APC WNSP to accompany several of the seed grant initiatives as gender and ICT consultants, using GEM – the WNSP’s tool "Gender Evaluation Methodology for ICTs".
Though frequently dismissed by authorities and the general public, violence against women is a serious problem in Kazakhstan, where 540 women died due to spousal abuse last year. Members of the Centre comment that domestic violence is not understood as a concept by school children, despite the violence they experience in their homes. The public questions why "home fighting" should even be contemplated in legislation. The Podrugi Crisis Centre has worked hard to offer women and children solutions and support. Podrugi was founded by its Director, Nadezhda Gladyr, eight years ago, and has helped to set up several centres around Kazakhstan, which work together in the Union of Crisis Centres of Kazakhstan. Podrugi assisted with building crisis centres in the neighbouring country of Kyrgyzstan, as well. They run the only help-line in all of Almaty, with 1.5 million citizens. The help-line is also used for their ICT work.
Access to ICTs
It’s not just the exorbitant price of telephone lines and technical services that are a barrier to adopting ICTs, frequently such services don’t even exist. Podrugi staff learned it was easier to become trained in publication production than pay the high fees of typography services, and have decided to apply that lesson to ICTs. Recognising their lack of skills and knowledge in ICTs, they plan to get trained themselves, to then train partner organisations.
Language plays a significant role in Podrugi’s and other centres’ barriers to using ICTs. There are few ICT training materials available in Russian, and staff had never heard of many different types of software that could facilitate their work, much less free and open source software (FOSS). Kaca commented: "In Almaty I finally understood how much language can isolate people. They were in real need of any resources concerning gender and ICT in Russian. They want to build their knowledge and capacities in gender and ICTs, but are not sure where to turn for information." Podrugi staff members were keen to learn about all aspects of ICTs: how to facilitate online discussions; how to promote their website; ICTs and public relations; and how ICTs – websites, games, mobile phones – have been used to address the violence issue among youth.
Podrugi’s plan is to prepare simple guidelines for their partners and site visitors about how to use chat (or online forums). They also plan to run ICT training for their partners in the regions with whom they need to communicate regularly as phone, or face-to-face communications are too expensive.
Gender Evaluation Methodology for ICTs
A hugely innovative tool, the Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM) for ICT initiatives and ICT evaluation is a gender analysis tool developed by APC WNSP for practitioners who share a commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment in ICTs. It can be used for both evaluation and planning purposes.
The Podrugi Crisis Centre’s take-action style was clear when Kaca visited the organisation in early February, and found that Podrugi staff had not only already begun work on evaluation plans using GEM for their GKP project, but that one staff member, Irina, had actually translated the entire GEM kit into Russian. Generously, Irina has offered to share the translation with the rest of the gender and ICT community and it will soon be available on the GEM website.
Many gender and ICT issues emerged in Podrugi’s use of the GEM tool, but technophobia and privacy and security were especially emphasized as key gender and ICT issues. Technophobia has affected partner participation in online conferences, as many staff members in the crisis centres across Kazakhstan are women. Girls see cybercafes as “boys’ territory” and have limited access to ICT tools.
Privacy and security and ICTs were also a concern for Podrugi’s staff. Team members compared the security of different types of communications, such as phones, internet, and face-to-face.
Age and gender can affect people’s ability to report or seek help in situations of domestic violence. Young boys and girls who’ve been affected by family violence prefer to contact their mothers or friends, mostly because they are not informed about the existence of professional help. Though in terms of security, it is better to seek professional help in crisis centres when the aggressor is part of the child’s immediate environment.
“Podrugi has noted that boys call their hotline much less frequently than girls, in part, they suspect, because boys feel embarrassed speaking to female hotline staffers,” recounts Kaca. “Podrugi hopes that the anonymity of reporting cases of violence through the internet will increase boys’ ability to seek help.”
The centre’s staff are keen to incorporate evaluation learning’s into their ICT practice, as GEM encourages, and to share results with partners and youth that are participating in their trainings and online fora.
They see ICTs as a new and priority direction for their organisation in the struggle against gender violence. It’s no surprise that the initiative and spunk of an organisation that brought domestic violence to public light in Kazakhstan eight years ago is now embracing ICTs in order to eliminate it.