The Feminist Tech eXchange - more than just a meet up

In 2008, APC member Women’sNet partnered with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) and the APC women’s programme (APC WNSP) to bring the first Feminist Tech Exchange to South Africa. Preceding the AWID Forum held in Cape Town for delegates from around the world, the Feminist Tech Exchange was an enormously successful training exchange event.

In 2009 Women’sNet was selected by APC WNSP as a country partner and implementer of a three-year global project that was being implemented in twelve countries across three regions. The project, titled Strengthening Women’s Strategic use of Information and Communication Technologies (now called Take Back the Tech! to end violence against women), is funded by the MDG3Fund. The project provides opportunities for South African women’s organisations to learn about how violence against women is changing, explore new tools to address it, and take action through strategy sessions, capacity-building and innovative ICT grants. The project included a Feminist Tech Exchange for 2009 (and 2010).

While holding a Feminist Tech Exchange (FTX) can be rewarding, it can only be as beneficial as what the attendees take from the training. After a recent FTX in South Africa from November 11 – 14 2009, trainers sought to find out how these training sessions affect those who attend them, and why they are so important.

Participants reported that they had made new connections between ICTs and gender as well as linkages to violence against women. As one participant said in her evaluation: “Before I did not know that something like VAW, which is so emotional, could be influenced by something so non-emotional like technology.”

Another participant added: ” I used to think that ICTs/IT was just about computers and stuff, I never thought that you can use it to make a difference emotionally, physically and mentally and this workshop was a wake-up call for me” and “I like it that tried by all means to connect with living situations actions like HIV/AIDs and also gender based violence.” And another: “It made me appreciate the effectiveness of technology in the fight against VAW, while also making me aware of the dangers associated with ignorance of ICTs, its abuse by those who can use it.”

Another participant added that she also changed her own perceptions of the use of technologies: “I thought computer is useful to the young people, that technology can be used [only] by rich people.” This comment made in the written evaluation after the workshop, also reveals that participant’s attitudes to technology sometimes prevented them from accessing and using them in their work – ‘Even I myself couldn’t believe that I could do that.” Our hand-mapping exercise made visible participants’ attitudes to technology.

FTX training fosters space for collaboration and sharing

One participants said: “We shared, I find myself in all of you, together we are stronger and can be radical” and another: “It is for this reason that we do what we do…. change comes with experience, experience comes from one multi-dimensional history and from this technology alone that history 2 be captured and shaped…”

Another participant noted : “This process of engagement is very important because many participants came to me and said they felt very close just by listening to my story.” And another: “I learned so much by just listening to their stories. This brought us closer together.” Participants appreciated the relaxed atmosphere and felt we had created a safe space for learning and collaboration.

FTX training increases ICT awareness, skills and appropriation

Trainers were faced with some resistance and fear of using technologies, which were dissolved during the training : “ it made me appreciate that technology is not as complicated. If I apply my mind I can do it” and “it opened to me…. how much power a woman can have if she knows how to use ICTs. It broke down some of my resistance.” Another participant noted it as a good tool. It made me aware of the use of ICT as a tool for prevention, advocacy and awareness (and support).” Another participant commented that “I know now that the ICT can assist in lobbying for change.”

In an evaluation called the After Action Review, conducted four months after the training, the team found that the individuals that had been trained were making good use of the tools they had learned: “When I got back from the training, I ran a training session for the other staff in the organisation in rss feeds, links to website and other things that are important to us. Now everyone thinks I am the expert in the organisation! We’d really like this to filter down to clients.” In this case, the participant was also extending her learning to members of her organisation. Practical sessions at the workshop included hands-on use of: Windows Movie Maker, Blogs, Twitter,
Facebook, GIMP etc.

Participants said: “I’m able to do script writing, story board, making a movie using a computer”; “I know now that I can be connected to all social networks around the world”; “I accomplished absorption of 24 hours of new knowledge that I am definitely going to use”; ” “I learned how to make use of technology to address networking, mobilisation and support needs of our organisations”; “through learning I realised that nothing is impossible.”

Many comments spoke to expectations and meeting those expectations, as one comment indicates “I wanted to leave with skills on blogs, how to use some of the social networks to enhance our programmes. My expectations were fulfilled as I have created a blog which I will constantly be learning to improve my knowledge I’ve gained a lot that I expected. It has been an amazing 4 days.”

FTX training influences organisational and individual practice in a positive way

“Now I’m constantly searching other social networking sites and using the strategy that would be appropriate for my organisation instead of just opening Facebook for the sake of it, because it’s the most well known. I’m on the lookout for others that might give good exposure to the issues and our organisation.”

“We are looking at how to incorporate and integrate ICTs in a way that’s sustainable for our clients and organisation. So an example of that is learning how to update and maintain our website rather than outsourcing it.”

“We are taking digital stories to people and aiming at working with those women to pick up one story that is important to them and doing a video that will be taken to local clinics and hospitals and a one day event where it will be displayed to people.”

“I made a digital story which I showed some people. It was so beautiful for me. It actually motivated us to do this with victims. Even I myself couldn’t believe that I could do that. So we are excited and we have already bought some of the equipment."

Image: A woman at the FTX training learns to use a digital camera.

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