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.