Publisher: APCNews CALGARY, 21 March 2012
While some women were being showered with flowers to celebrate international women’s day on 8 March 2012, Afghani women activists were diligently learning new tech skills at a four-day Feminist Tech Exchange held in Kabul by the APC women’s programme. And the experience has left them with much more than just technology skills.
In an effort to raise awareness about women’s rights and promote gender equality, eleven women of all ages and education levels gathered from across the country; some of whom had never used technology.
The process of learning to use technology is highly empowering. Some women enter these workshops afraid of even touching computers, but by the end are excited to play with technology and return home and enroll in computer courses. They no longer feel that technology is only for men or younger generations and come to feel that they, too, can use technology.
Empowerment through storytelling
However, the most remarkable element of these workshops is how transformative and empowering they can be to the participants and trainers alike. “The FTX is a place where storytellers share their personal stories and experiences,” says FTX trainer Nighat Daad. Typically, women are the subject of films, research and articles, but often have no say in how they are portrayed. “In digital storytelling workshops, being able to control and manipulate the technology allows them to shape their stories and how they are presented.” And this, she explains, is what empowerment is all about.
Digital storytelling is also about activism, advocacy and practicing their feminism.
The personal becomes the political
Women, especially activists, must often keep their stories to themselves for fear of being chastised. “I believe that the act of telling our own story is an act of letting go,” says Daad. It helps women understand that their past bad experiences do not define who they are. Being able to decide who is included in the story, what images are used, and how it is told are all important decisions that help bring a sense of accomplishment, authenticity and empowerment to the participants.
In that sense, events like the Feminist Tech Exchange are actually much more than a skills building workshop – sharing stories and experiences is also a way for the women to heal and to support each other. “It is in the listening and sharing of stories that we feel part of a larger movement that gives us comfort and strength to continue our work towards a cause, and for me this is what social change is about – individuals within movements, and it is the personal which is also the political,” she explains.
The bonds that the women, participants and trainers alike, form through the transformative process are strong. In a short but intensive timespan, the women form deep relationships through sisterhood. One of the participants said “I personally feel it has changed my life in a big way; the process of sharing and making our stories to each other made me feel that I am not alone, and that there are many others who are suffering like me…we have gotten stronger because of them.”
Image by Nighat Daad. Used with permission.