Feminist reflection on internet policies

Changing the way you see ICT

Reclaiming women’s space at the peace table : the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue as a model of using ICTs for peacebuilding

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza
Mavic Cabrera-Balleza on 26 April, 2006
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Mo is from Burma. She and her husband fled the country in 1989 to escape persecution by the military junta. She left behind her parents who were then too old and weak for the long and arduous trek to neighboring Thailand. Mo’s parents have since passed away and she was not able to see them again.  

 

Aamira hails from Cotabato in Mindanao, Philippines. But Aamira has not come back to Cotabato for more than 20 years--in fact, for as long as she can remember, her family has always moved from one place to another. The continuous fighting between Moro rebel forces and government soldiers has caught Aamira’s family and some 82,000 other families in the crossfire. 

Thérèse is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She is a rape survivor. The DRC is one of a number of countries where rape has become a weapon of war. It is estimated that tens of thousands of rapes and/or mutilations have taken place in DRC during the past ten years (Cabrera-Balleza, 2005).

Impact of violent conflicts on women The experiences of Mo, Aamira, and Thérèse illustrate the impact of violent conflicts on women. Without meaning to reinforce women’s victim image further, I would like to speak briefly about this topic. Women are subjected to various acts of violence and there is increased insecurity and fear of attack that often prompt women and their families to flee. It is estimated that women and children make up 80 percent of the world’s internally displaced persons and refugees. They also flee because male members of their families or community have fled, are detained, or are missing in connection with the hostilities, or because the men have sent them away following the breakdown of traditional protection mechanisms. Many times, women flee into uncertainty and often into danger, as they have to fend for themselves and support their dependants with limited resources (ibid).

Women also have to bear increased responsibility for their children and elderly relatives and sometimes the bigger community in the absence of their menfolk. Sometimes, women also choose not to flee the fighting or the threat of hostilities because they and their families believe that the very fact that they are women and mothers will make them safe from the warring parties. They therefore stay to protect their families and provide for them. But the absence of their men and the general instability and lawlessness increase the insecurity of the women who are caught up in these situations, and aggravate the breakdown of the traditional support mechanisms upon which they previously relied (ibid).

Rape, forced prostitution, sexual slavery and forced impregnation are all criminal means and methods of warfare that have attracted more and more attention in recent years, mainly because of the widespread reporting of such acts in recent conflicts. Sexual violence has in fact always been used against women and girls--and to a lesser extent against men and boys--as a form of torture used to degrade, intimidate and ultimately defeat and chase away targeted populations (International Committee of the Red Cross, 2001).

Using ICTs to transform women’s images in conflict situations Because women bear the brunt of violent conflicts, they have also been at the forefront of conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace building. They have taken on different initiatives to transform the negative and stereotypical victim image that is often attributed to women caught in violent conflict situations to a positive and empowered image of stakeholders and active participants in the pursuit for just and sustainable peace. However, the idea of using the new information and communication technologies (ICTs) for facilitating dialogues towards peace remains an unpopular concept among women involved in peace activism. This, despite the many examples of how such technologies have been used to support grassroots activism, networkingi and movement building. For the International Women's Tribune Centre however, our long experience in using ICTs to get women’s voices heard in global policyi and decision-making and in translating policy rhetoric into realities at the community level, has taught us that there is more to ICTs than just serving as a cheaper and faster communication vehicle and knowledge source.

In October 2005, on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, a landmark document that marks the first time the UN Security Council addressed the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and recognized their contributions to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building, we at IWTC launched the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue in partnership with Isis WICCE. The Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue brought together women peacebuilders from Nepal, the Philippines, Timor Leste, Uganda and Zimbabwe representing 40 women’s organizations through a ‘real time global town hall meeting’ using Interneti chat with voice and video/visual contact. It connected women working on peacebuilding and conflict resolution at country and community levels with gender advocates, policy makers and diplomats meeting at the UN, and with women attending the AWID Forum in Bangkok, Thailand. Participants in New York included personnel of the Canadian mission to the UN, women activists from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, and USA as well as Rachel Mayanja, the Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women. The major thrust of the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue was women’s efforts to implement the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, as well as the gaps and challenges they confront in working for its full implementation. Rachel Mayanja noted the women's concerns and suggestions and took their messages to the Open Debate of the UN Security Council, which took place immediately following the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue.

The discussions during the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue were recorded and edited and were used to produce radio features, public service announcements and radio drama in English, Luganda and Swahili. These radio productions that highlight women’s role in peacebuilding and reconstruction are currently being aired in different radio stations in Uganda and other parts of Africa. The Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue combined the power of the new information and communication technologies and the broad reach of radio to allow women peace activists at the national and community levels to sit at the peace table with policy makers and gender advocates at the international level. At the same time, it allowed for a broader outreach to more women in the communities by way of the radio productions.

 

The Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue represented an important link in “grounding” the connection between policies proposed at global level and realities confronting women at the local level. It was an effective exercise in making local voices heard in a global space and bringing back that global discussion to make sense at the local level. Moreover, the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue is an example of innovative usage of ICTs that builds on current efforts in conflict resolution, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding by enhancing channels, and modalities of communication, information dissemination, knowledge sharing, and collective learning in virtual spaces, especially when physical interactions are not possible because of geographical distance, lack of resources, and in certain instances, political sensitivities. It builds on the holistic view of conflict transformation, conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding as complex processes that are founded on the principles of inclusion and effective dialogue which can lead to trust, respect, and mutual acceptance of differences.

Within the broader picture of IWTC’s organizational objectives, the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue is part of our continuing efforts to develop a core group of community radio broadcasters, print journalists, and other media practitioners who will ensure an on-going flow of information to women at country and community levels regarding the use of a global policy like the SCR 1325 as well as the existence of new legal mechanisms and how they can be used to protect and promote women’s rights.

Challenges and Recommendations Towards Effective ICT Usage in Peacebuilding

Amidst our excitement resulting from the positive feedback and extensive reach of the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue, we would like to stress that the use of ICTs in enabling women to participate in peacebuilding and reconstruction processes is only meant to enhance traditional conflict resolution and peacebuilding techniques on the ground and help strengthen the peace processes that are already in place. The success of any effort to find lasting solutions to conflict are in danger of being undermined and ICTs might even serve to aggravate existing conflicts or create new ones if they are nor used carefully and sensibly and without any supporting structures and holistic frameworks necessary for facilitating conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The cases of abuse in ICT usage --particularly on the Internet, such as the propagation of hate speech and hate crime, as well as the spread of information to build and access weapons could attest to this.

We also need to continuously address the issue of access including affordability of the technologies, the availability and stability of basic infrastructures, and the need for sustained capacity building programs and easily available technical support. From our experience in the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue, we came across a broad range of challenges. Some of them were:

 

  • the lack of stable Internet connection that prevented women from the Pacific from participating;
  • the intermittent power supply in Uganda which prevented Ugandan women from joining the discussion in its entirety;
  • the incompatibility of the technical set-ups among the participants--Timor Leste women took so much time in logging on to the conference while women from Germany were not able to join at all;
  • the general lack of familiarity with the technology--some of the women did not even know how to sign on to the conference; and  
  • the slow Internet connectivity --some participants were only using dial up connection--for clear real time receptions, broad band was necessary.

In conclusion, there is a need to interrogate the assumption that access to ICTs automatically ensures its adoption and consequently leads to people’s empowermenti. As social entrepreneurs, women’s organizations that use ICTs in their advocacyi work must be willing to invest in building and/or reinforcing societal frameworks that empower local communities in ways that enhance grassroots activism and bring forth new patterns of leadership.

IWTC hopes to organize more peacebuilding cyberdialogues and we commit ourselves to continuously explore using ICTs and other creative ways of ensuring women’s active participation in peacebuilding and reconstruction. With this, along with the many other significant efforts by different sectors and social actors to work together to achieve the goal of gender equalityi and women’s empowerment as requisites to a just and lasting peace--perhaps women like Mo, Aamira and Thérèse will soon be sitting at the peace table.  

References:

Cabrera-Balleza, M. (2005). UN Security Council Resolution 1325--Translating the rhetoric into reality. Kvinner Sammen. Retrieved from http://www.fokuskvinner.no/Publikasjoner/Kvinner_sammen/2005/Kvinner_Sammen_3_05/4571 on April 20, 2006.

Fact Sheet: The Impact of Armed Conflict on Women (International Committee of the Red Cross ICRC, 2001)

 

Responses to this post

7 years 49 weeks ago

This is a splendid post - so little is written of ICTi for peacbuilding in general and a gendered approach to ICT use in particular that it is refreshing to read something on the topic. I've recently started a blogi to explore some of the key ideas outlined in this report - http://ict4peace.wordpress.com/

I'm going to link to this article from the blogi very soon - please keep publishing more articles of this nature to guide us in our work and ideas.

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