In July 2005, I participated in a wireless network training carried out within the WALC2005 framework in Merida, Venezuela. It was organised by EsLaRed and the University of the Andes with the support of other Latin American organisations and funding from the Institute for Connectivity of the Americas. I attended thanks to a scholarship from The Women’s Networking Support Programme in Latin America and the Caribbean (known by its initials in Spanish as PARM LAC,).
Months later, this training allowed me to participate in an on site experience on roaming wireless networks in Paraguay. It was held in the locality of Caronai, department of Alto Vera, 40 km from the city of Encarnacion. A group of 5 engineers from different universities and non-governmental Latin American organisations were brought together. I was the only woman in the team.
The roaming wireless network system introduced consisted of taking the internet to rural populations that were distant from each other and were unable to use other network systems - whether wireless or with cables - due to geographical and economical reasons. It does not function in real time. A vehicle collects and delivers the information requested by each community and takes it to a location where there is internet in real time to download and search for requested information. Later, it returns the information to whoever put in the request. This can happen at the next day or the same day, depending on the frequency with which the vehicle visits each community.
During the days we were in Encarnacion, we installed software on the computers and antennaes in the towns where the information-carrying vehicle was going to pass through. The wireless networks are slightly simpler to install because they do not require as many cables attached to the wall. Nonetheless, many studies need to be carried out beforehand. A computer is used for this. I learnt to connect wire cables to carry out range tests with a laptop, to install antennas and how to operate the software that is used with this system.
The system is installed at 5 locations: the municipality, 3 rural schools and at a community radio station. Each location has a coordinator and some instructors. At one of the last days, a lecture was held by them, and only men attended. When we installed the antennas at the schools, we found that the majority of the teachers were male. The presence of women is rare in tasks like these.
During the technical part of the project I was the only woman. I already knew two of the members through last year’s participation at WALC in Venezuela. I flew from Argentina to Paraguay with one of them, so the adaptation period was not very difficult. The relationship with them was very good. They listened to my suggestions and put them into practice when they found them appropriate. I was entrusted with some activities and although they observed me, I was never put into question. I didn't hear any comments on the fact that there was only one women in the group, nor did I hear sexist comments on what women can or cannot do technically. However, they did ask me what my specialty was in the kitchen and other things pertaining to the home. I figured that they did it to assess how “complete” a woman I was. In other words, she knows how to do technical things but, what is she like at home?
Women in technical areas have the disadvantage that, in general, we weren't taught to make holes in walls, nail things, wire walls and do electrical work when we were little. Learning all these things isn't a big deal, but we have a lot less practice. It is due to this that there is not as much confidence in our abilities when it comes to doing this type of work. Also, some of the components are heavy and require strength that we don't have. On the other hand, some say that women are more careful and organised with work, and since they have smaller fingers, it is easier to do some types of work in smaller spaces. It is also said that we are more careful when manipulating delicate elements.
We are currently working online putting together directions for the project with proposals so that it can be repeated in other countries with similar conditions. The idea is to keep working together on these types of projects in association with the Institute for Connectivity of the Americas. Some things would be done online, while others on site, and there would be meetings when necessary.
I don't think there are territories that for men or women. The world belongs to everyone and we all have aptitudes for certain activities and to carry out projects that will allow us to leave this world in better conditions than how we found it. It is a matter of seeing what we can do, and how to go with strength into the future.