Inter-Press Service (IPS), civil society’s leading news agency, is offering special coverage of the World Summit on the Information Society, to be held at Tunis, from November 16-18, 2005. IPS, unlike the mainstream global news agencies which are mostly focused on the affluent world, calls itself an "independent voice from the South and for development".
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.