When talking about gender and ICT comes down to earth

By AL for APCNews NEW YORK, United States, 05 September 2006

Influencing gender and ICT policies requires a lot of patience and perseverance. And above all, the conviction that it is possible to affect change. The Espai de Dones (women’s space) from APC member Pangea has took on the arduous task of incorporating  the topic intothe Catalonian political agenda. In this interview with APCNews, Assumpció Guasch, a member of this space, tells how this process came about and how they keep accumulating successes.  

Where should one start to begin influencing gender and ICT policies? Through grassroots organisations? Through those responsible for making policies? Pangea’s Espai de Dones [1], upon setting the objective of introducing these issues to Catalonian society, discovered that there are no recipes and began to make its own way, trying and starting from scratch more than once. Assumpció says: “At the beginning, we worked more with women’s groups and associations […] but we have learned that you either enter through government or you’re faced with gaining access to very few places ”.

1 http://www.pangea.org/dona/frameset_espai.htm [in Catalan]

New government, new opportunities

In fact, the work done with the grassroots organisations was not easy at the beginning. It was necessary to find another route and the political process that Catalonia was living at that moment presented a unique opportunity: “A citizen consultation began to make proposals for the Catalonian Statute, [2] (…). The government of the Government of Catalonia was prepared for citizens or organisations and groups to be able to provide input”.

2 The Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia is an organic law of the Spanish state that defines the political institutions of the Catalonian nationality, its competencies and relations with the Spanish state. These political institutions compose the Government of Catalonia .

The issue of ICT policies for women was absent from the official proposals. The Institut Català de les Done de Cataluña [3] (Catalonian Institute of the Women of Catalonia) was the route via which Espai presented concrete suggestions. “Of course, I took advantage of the material that we have from APC Women’s Networking Support Programme,” added  Assumpció. This is how the issue was conceptually incorporated and the need to integrate it into the rest of the policies for women was established. Assumpció was able to get in touch with members of parliament and politicians that worked on gender or information society issues.  

3 Catalonian Institute for Women (El Instituto Catalán de la Mujer – ICD) is the government’s organism in charge of designing, impulsing and evaluating women-related policies that the Catalonian administration has developed.

The broadness of perspective is always a starting point. Assumpció explains: “We also address the government through the government department for the Information Society (DURSI) and the politicians (men and women) in this field. In other words, we have sought to influence both through policies for gender equality as well as through ICT policies, in general”.

Mainstreaming and ICT

The new government had already incorporated gender mainstreaming and the Catalonian Institute of Women had prepared policies for a five year period in a participatory manner: “here we included guidelines but at a concrete level, a more detailed one, for all the ‘administration’s departments’” A base-line document was drafted in which surprise there was only one phrase relating to ICT: “it was something saying that women had a right to be in the information society. It was like we had a right to knock on the door,” Assumpció commented.

Espai de Dones, nevertheless, did not let the opportunity go by and the women got to work. They worked on an issue-by-issue basis and in each of them they incorporated ICT policy. "It was a lot of work, but it wasn’t impossible either  […] The vision of mainstreaming made the issue-by-issue work easier." "All this effort was rewarded: the proposals were accepted, unlike those relating to gender violence: "What happened is that these documents did not allow for prior explanations. What we’re talking about, is that what was going on were concrete actions. Everything therefore remained a little unexplained. However, the opportunity has come up to keep working on the issue of mainstreaming down the line."

New invitations arrived and Espai actively participated in various conferences organised by the government. There they were able to go a step further and provide didactic explanations for issues regarding gender and ICT policy that are generally ignored. Assumpció highlighted a conference on gender violence and ICT, where she spoke about media, electronic games, etc, and Espai de Dones presented a paper on violence and ICTs as they relate to a book that had been commissioned by the Catalonian Institute and will be published shortly. Another of the conferences were in the field of education, within the context of the Department of Education project on Co-education, and university-level research on the subject. In this instance, APC’s Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM) was adapted to the Catalonian audience and context and proved to be very useful.

Aren’t women interested?

“Women aren’t interested in this subject.” Years go by, and certain backward attitudes don’t. Women that occupy high-standing government positions still get this kind of a response when they are interested in ICTs with a gender perspective. Assumpció has given different colloquia directed towards them and the outcome is also positive: “they tell me that everything is very useful. These are women at very high levels, especially in the field of technology (in which there are very few) and that find themselves without any arguments, they don’t know what to say”. When they want to go beyond infrastructure the reactions they receive are not always the most positive: “There is no culture regarding the social applications of ICTs and broaching the issue of gender seems a bit surreal”.

Working with the government and the individuals responsible for policy has allowed them to return to grassroots organisations with a new legitimacy. The women from Espai are listened to “with greater authority” and what they say is beginning to be taken more seriously: “the fact that there are people in certain positions that see that the issue is convenient and that it raises interest is very good.”

What is the next step, after completing this work on policy with the government? Assumpció seems optimistic: “we have received some data [from the government] that seems to indicate that they have begun their evolution and development. According to some indications we are now seeing the need to work in a direction that supports the initiatives at the mid-administrative and local level and that is the direction toward which we are directing our current work both at the l’Espai de Dones website as well as in other activities.”

To conclude, Assumpció notes important lessons learned: “we have learned a lot through this process and we have a lot left to learn. But surely obtaining more things is possible because as the mayor of Barcelona, Joan Clos, said “politics has no manuals, it is made up on the go’. What we have learned is that even though it seems impossible, we have to move along as if [these goals] were really attainable and work with the same care and effort”.
Photo: Assumpció
(bottom left) along with Daphne Plou (to her right) from the APC WNSP, and other co-workers at Espai.

Author: —- (AL for APCNews)
Contact: analia [at] apc.org
Source: APCNews
Date: 09/05/2006
Location: NEW YORK, United States
Category: Women and ICTs