ICT policy: far from gender neutral
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA, 26 November 2004
Women’s organizations are dealing with so many priority issues, it’s hard to see information and communication technologies (ICT) as anything more than a tool to facilitate their work. For this reason 16 members of the APC Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) came together in early November in Cape Town, South Africa, to map out key gender and ICT issues for the APC WNSP’s upcoming Gender and ICT Policy website. The site development workshop intertwined capacity-building with participatory site planning methodology, enriched by country perspectives from a myriad of points around the globe.
Participants of the workshop came from Argentina, Brazil, Czech Republic, England, Jordan, Lithuania, Mexico, Malaysia, Philippines, South Africa and Zambia.
The envisioned site, aimed at women’s organizations worldwide, will connect women’s rights and their relationship to ICT, especially ICT policy. "The site won’t necessarily make every woman who visits into an empassioned gender and ICT advocate", said Erika Smith, workshop participant, "but it will illustrate how ICT, and ICT policy, are far from gender neutral. And as women explore the issues, and see the links, the site will offer tools for them to get even more involved in the world of ICT policy."
"We are used to ‘ICT-speak’ and sometimes in the WNSP we talk about universal access and e-governance as if everyone spoke on the same terms", she continued. "People don’t necessarily see the link between universal access to women’s safety or secure online spaces."
Jac S.M. Kee, from Malaysia, added, "For example, a local organisation that works on issues of violence against women and related matters like displacement, personal safety, mobility and economic security will be able to see the implications of ICT in this matter. Such women’s organizations need to be able to control and manage technology so that they can have "safe" content on the internet – support for survivors as well as information on how survivors can make sure their internet usage is safe by deleting caches and histories in browsers. Hopefully, as women’s organisations explore their own issues on the site, the urgency of engagement with advocacy on ICT issues that prioritise gender will become more evident."
The emphasis on building knowledge from conversations that connect the local and the global was also reflected through the process of the workshop. "Our experience with women’s movements has shown us that we need the local perspective to make ICT relevant, so for this initiative we have local content providers based in Malaysia, Jordan, Brazil, Zambia and Lithuania, who are linked to women’s movements or organisations in the region", said Katerina Fialova, coordinator of the Gender and ICT Policy Site Project. The meeting provided an invaluable opportunity for the website development team members from these various geographical locations to meet and engage in exchange of skills, knowledge, experience and perspectives.
"It was exciting to be able to come together face-to-face and see the different strategic uses of ICT that women implement in order to achieve their aims”, says Dafne Plou, WNSP regional coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean. “This site should be a place where women find resources to nourish their activism and at the same time, understand the need to have a gender perspective on ICT policies at any level in order to achieve women’s advancement and gender equity in the ICT field, too".
"I’ve participated in a lot of workshops to build information architecture," commented Graciela Baroni Selaimen, content manager for the Latin American and Caribbean Region based in Brazil, "but this process was unique." Dafne Plou agreed: "it was truly rooted in consensus where everyone’s experience and ideas were considered."
The site also promises to be an excellent tool for policymakers, as it will offer sample language from national ICT policy plans, and a gendered lens for assessing indicators, and ICT issues such as universal access, e-government, e-learning, trade, etc.
The APC WNSP has chosen ActionApps as the site’s content management system. Workshop participants were able to participate in developers and trainers tracks of the ActionApps Camp held one week prior to the Gender and ICT Policy Site Development Workshop, and were fully briefed on the range of opportunities that ActionApps offers. "We invited specialists in writing for the web to our workshop so that we could express the Women’s Programme’s perspective on ICT in more accessible language”, says Jenny Radloff, APC Africa Women Coordinator. “Their first question was if the content management system we planned to use would ‘permit’ such a variety of content as we’ve planned for the site. They were surprised to hear of a content management system that could be so easily adapted by us, as users rather than technicians, and flexible enough to cover all our content needs," she says.
The site will be launched during the 49th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in March 2005.