BANGKOK, THAILAND 7 November 2005 (Dafne Sabanes Plou)
It is interesting that during this new Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) Forum that is being held in Bangkok, Thailand, numerous workshops and even an intervention at the plenary have been on scientific and technological advances, which are bringing along great changes regarding nature and the conception of human life. There were however also interventions on the modification of life that can seem aggressive and once again oppressive for women. In the two workshops presented by the Center for Genetics and Society and Our Bodies Ourselves, both from the United States, great concerns arose relating to genetic testing, choosing the sex of babies, selective abortion rendered possible thanks to ultrasound technology, and the technology to select sperm to produce boys or girls.
The women’s movement knows just how handy new ICTs can be when it’s time to coordinate its own movement, lead campaigns, lobby, and have political effect. Nevertheless there are difficult access barriers for these technologies that are not limited to infrastructural or cost-related issues, but are trapped by power relations and inequalities that leave these tools out of the reach of millions of people, most of which are women. The workshop that tackled this subject during the 10th Feminist Encounter held in Serra Negra, Sao Paolo, Brazil, aimed to raise awareness about the relationship between gender and ICTs though an open dialogue with the participants, composed of a majority of journalists, community radio producers, social communicators, and women’s and feminist movement activists.
On the internet, you find websites in hundreds of different languages and dialects, in all shapes and designs. If diversity in audio, photo, text or video content is the living proof that the internet is a space for true expression and creation, certain web development standards need to be applied for the content to reach and be shared by people at the margins of mainstream communication channels. During a well-attended workshop entitled ‘Inclusive development and ICTs/universal design for all’, hosted by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) in Varna, Bulgaria on October 9, 2005, Hiroshi Kawamura of the DAISY Consortium presented a set of practical tools that can make the internet work for the rest of us.
APC members meeting in Bulgaria in October elected their new executive board until 2007. For the first time, the APC chair is a woman and more than half of the eight member-board are women. This is good news for an organisation where traditionally governance has been a male-dominated arena. Continuing another positive advance established in the previous board where each region APC works in was represented, in the new board, once again representatives come from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe and now North America.
From demoing cantennas (low-cost antennas made out of used cans), to community wireless training programmes, highlighting gender issues, to joining a citizens’ summit, the Association for Progressive Communications is chalking out plans for its participation in the second World Summit on Information Society at Tunis in mid-November 2005.
Manal and Alaa Bit Bucket — www.manalaa.net — an Egyptian blog set up on March 20, 2004, promoting free expression and human rights, was one of eight finalists chosen for a weblog contest by the German radio station Deutsche Welle, under its freedom of expression category. Manal and Alaa have been working with the APC in the field of FOSS (free and open source software). Their site contains blog posts which they wrote "about our experience as part of the pro-democracy movement in Egypt". It also includes detailed accounts of street protest, political rallies, elections monitoring, police brutality, the picketing of court houses in order to get activists released, secret meetings and the like.
With moods that range from bouncy, to curious and overwhelmed, a team of APC bloggers — a little irreverently, in keeping with the trend of this fast growing popular medium — kept track of what’s happening at AWID, an international meeting of women’s rights activists that drew 1800 participants to Bangkok. The Association for Women’s Rights in Development’s International Forum on ‘How does Change Happen?’ brought together an amazing diversity of women and men united in the goal of advancing the rights of women globally, organisers said. Participants included feminist activists, development practitioners, human rights defenders, trade unionists, government representatives, policy makers, students, researchers and community organisers from 120 countries. This forum is in other terms the biggest gathering of women’s rights advocates of this decade. And this is reflected in the issues coming out of this group blog.
The Third World Institute (ITeM) organised the debate panel “WSIS within the context of global ICT governance processes”, during the third meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Preparatory Committee (19-30 September, Geneva, Switzerland). The purpose of this panel was to present and debate from the outcomes of ITeM’s project “WSIS Papers”. This project intends to contribute to involve different actors of Southern countries in debates, negotiation and policy definitions within the WSIS process, thus providing visibility to the perspectives and specific needs of the developing world.
Getting computers into schools is just not enough. The challenge that remains unfulfilled is for the community to feel a sense of ‘ownership’ of the equipment and to use it to meet their needs, as this Inter-Press Service feature from Argentina eloquently points out. Prior to the World Summit on the Information Society, governments of Latin America have pledged to double the current number of schools, libraries and community centres hooked up to the internet by the year 2007. But officials themselves admit that it’s not enough to simply hand out computers and internet connection, without training or course content. "In order for this technology to be used, it is essential to provide training, create networks among organisations, and promote access for the most marginalised sectors as well," APC member in Argentina Nodo Tau’s Carolina Fernández is quoted as telling IPS.
During the Tunis World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) — the UN-sponsored conference about information and communication — ITeM will organise an event titled "Framing WSIS in global governance processes: Linkages and follow-up". It will be held on November 17, 2005 from 10:45 to 12:45 at the Room Mehdia (Kram Exhibition Hall).
APC-member Open Forum and the National ICT Development Authority of the Cambodian government (NiDA) submitted a proposal for teacher training to InWent (International Capacity Building, Germany) and received support for training 300 computer end-user teachers, as well as for training 30 Linux administrators (for which Open Forum is developing training materials in Khmer). If the present rhythm of training is maintained, more than 350 teachers will be trained in Phnom Penh and at least six other provinces (in teacher training centres and NGOs) before the end of the year.
In November 2005, the United Nations’ World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) will meet for the last time in Tunis. APC’s WSIS coordinator Karen Banks points out that in its five year history, the summit has failed to redress the North-South "digital divide". Consensus at WSIS has been elusive: the private and public sectors hold diametrically opposing views on issues such as market fundamentalism, free and open-source software, and intellectual property rights reform; while on issues of financing and internet governance, agreement between governments has been split along North-South lines. It remains to be seen whether civil society groups participating in the summit will be able to shift attention away from these competing interests towards human rights issues.
APC member Fantsuam Foundation remains a lone player in rural wireless internet service in northern Nigeria. Represented by Ochuko Onoberhie, the Fantsuam Foundation was one of the new trainers at the IDRC-APC South African Wireless Workshop, held in mid-September 2005. Fantsuam was also identified as a strategic partner for the next round of trainers for the West African version of this workshop. Through these various capacity building events, Fantsuam is working to act as a sub-regional resource centre for wireless training.
Pallitathya Help-line Centre — an innovative call centre for the underprivileged — received the 2005 Gender and Information and Communication Technology (GICT) award on October 27, 2005 at Bangkok, Thailand. Sponsors of the contest are APC’s Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) and the Global Knowledge Partnership.. These awards are supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Department for International Development (DfID), UK. Besides the Bangladesh venture, the 30 other entries for this Asia-Pacific prize threw up a runner-up from India. Putting ICTs in the Hands of the Poor is an interactive community ICT centre in North India. The other runner-up was eHomemakers, a network for home-based business from Malaysia. A knowledge-sharing session was also organised along with the award ceremony.
Big companies on the technology business have known for long that the dissemination of information and communication technologies can promote democracy, but that it can also be a very profitable business. Seeking new potential markets, they send their best lobbyists to pressure governments and international agencies into using their products. Paulo Lima of APC’s brazilian member group RITS has something to say about some of these participants in the upcoming multistakeholder summit.
APC member BytesForAll’s mailing list recently played host to a strong, and at times polemical, debate on proprietary-versus-FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software). It threw up a range of issues about the role of FLOSS in the ‘developing’ countries, its role in localisation, how it competes with proprietorial software, why its benefits haven’t yet reached regions like Africa, and how diverse approaches to software could actually make a difference in the real world. BytesForAll is a South Asian voluntary network, founded along the free software principles of volunteering, but focussing on information — and how information and communication technologies could be more relevant to the common(wo)man, specially in South Asia.
On the ‘information superhighway’, humans too are being trafficked now. Just how and how much, the internet and other ICTs are implicated in trafficking is the subject of this issue paper by the Association for Progressive Communications Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) produced in cooperation with The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). It explores three pivotal questions: Does the role of ICTs matter or is it a fashionable distraction from serious countertrafficking work? Can we talk of trafficking in images or does trafficking only apply to people? Is the consideration of privacy in relation to ICTs contrary to counter-trafficking work or is it part of a broader movement to create safety and freedom for individuals and communities? Finally, the paper asks what action can and is being taken. Written by Kathleen Maltzahn, who worked on trafficking issues since 1992, this is part of a series of forthcoming papers from the APC WNSP examining ICT from a gender perspective.
Africa Source II will be an eight day hands-on workshop at the beginning of January 2006 and is aimed at building the technical skills of those working with and within NGOs in Africa. Applications for joining this event were accepted till October 24, and now preparations are underway.
In the global village, you can still find roadblocks placed by language to be almost invincible. To battle the linguistic divide and foster understanding, a new initiative called Translations for Progress has come up with an unusual way
out. And the Net is making this possible.
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