As part of the “Connecting the Unconnected: Supporting community networks and other community-based connectivity initiatives” project, 11 community network initiatives were selected in 2019 to receive catalytic intervention grants, aimed at supporting innovative, sustainable and gender-aware uses, developments and appropriations of technologies to strengthen a diverse and sustainable community network movement. Specifically, these grants aimed at exploring activities that were advancing community networks around the role of women within networks, collaborative mechanisms for dispersed communities to work together on open source tools, improved access to spectrum, local content development and technological innovation. You can find more detail on the different types of initiatives funded here.
We are sharing stories from the participating organisations about the local impacts of the work they carried out with the help of this funding. This story highlights a project funded through a catalytic intervention grant that was implemented by Portal sem Porteiras (PSP) in Brazil. PSP was supported by APC to help bridge the gender inequality within the world of technology. The Nodes that Bond project is the result of this partnership. This story was created based on the collective experience of the participants of Portal sem Porteiras.
It was Monday morning when I left home to walk to the square to buy bread. I usually do this every day, and it takes about ten minutes. But that Monday would be different: buying bread in a small shop on the corner of the square became, to my surprise, a long three-hour walk. While walking this short distance, people greeted me, started conversations on different subjects and asked questions. Everyone wanted to know more about how to access the local network, to see their scanned portraits and the stories of women.
All this was a reflection of the party that had occupied this same square the day before. The party was a celebration and presentation of the achievements during the previous year of Portal sem Porteiras, the main one being Nodes that Bond. The event brought together many who, with curiosity, approached the big screen on which numerous women of the community were contemplated in pages created to tell their stories through the feminist lens of the Nodes that Bond researchers. Children and adults took turns navigating between dozens of pages, each one more beautiful and adorned than the other. Pamphlets showing the current reach of the network and describing how to connect to it were distributed and repeatedly explained, and those of us from Portal Sem Porteiras described how to use the newly created platform. Some women asked how they could also be included in this story map, while others displayed their pages with pride. It was a rewarding achievement and a comfortable relief. It was the end of a first stage, which, like every end, was yet another new beginning.
Photos from Nodes that Bond newsletter (2019). They show the Women's Map (left) and community members accessing it (right). The map is an online feminist map that can only be accessed from the PSP intranet within the area where it is located. Each node, when clicked, opens a page with a local woman's interviews, stories, pictures and symbols.
I returned home hugging the bread bag, after beautiful meetings and long explanations. On the way, another woman passed by and thanked me for my work. She was one of the women interviewed who formed part of the product created through this process, our “affective cartography”. This woman was still surprised at how her story – which she said was “not a big deal” – could matter so much. And yet for us, she matters a lot, and I was amazed to think how someone could conceive at some point that her story was not relevant enough. We have a lot to do: to activate our stories and understand why this happens. Because some women believe that their stories may not matter. That's the beginning we want to act on.
I warmed up my coffee, remembering the creation of this whole project, so many coffees to write up the plans, to organise each meeting. Coffee offered at each visit to the women's houses, each coffee with its candy, its filter, its temperature; each sip, just like each encounter, was unique. These sips or meetings encompass much more than our pages can recount, delicate situations, denouncements of oppression still so veiled.... but above all, true human connections among women who want to exchange, weave, and count. Links of friendship and respect.
Today, while I write, I savour the bitter coffee remembering the challenges faced throughout this project: the editing programs we had never used, the computers that broke without explanation, the prayers, amulets and the black screen of the terminal, all so mysterious. While we were interviewing each other, we found ourselves. Being able to accomplish something that once seemed distant brings a sweet taste to my mouth, even if the coffee has no sugar – the taste of feeling capable. I always suspected that they were capable of breaking through into the fields surrounded by technocracy. They keep us away from the machines and network production, which often makes us feel as if we don't have the time to understand them, the machines, their workings, and the techniques.
The unfolding of that party continued throughout the days. A neighbour who used to stare at me with a stony face called out to me by name this week when I passed in front of her window. We untied knots and tied new ones. New routers, new friendships, new bonds, and connectors that finally became allies. We in the Women's Circle now know that we are all together to strengthen ourselves and create new techniques for good living. The local grid has now taken on localised and much more accessible contours.