Reflecting on ICTs, Women’s Activism and Silences at Beijing +10 - Interview with Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

alt="Mavic (left) and Chat Garcia Ramilo working on the Media and Communications Group Statement for the Beijing + 10 process"
src="/upload/6e31965cde2aff024e26959611550a06/mavic_chat_1.jpg"
align="left" border="1" height="240" hspace="2" vspace="2" width="320" />style="font-style: italic;">After an
unsuccessful attempt to vocalise the media and
info-communications groups’ statement on the de-prioritisation of
Beijing Platform for Action’s section J at Panel VII of the 49th CSW
(Commission on the Status of Women, on 10 March 2005), style="font-style: italic;">Jac sm Keestyle="font-style: italic;">
speaks with Mavic Cabrera-Ballezastyle="font-style: italic;"> of the International Women’s
Tribune
Centre about her work using ICTs, and her thoughts on issues of gender
and ICT (Information Communications Technology) policy as well as the
challenges facing women’s movements in this respect.


Mavic is the Senior Programme Office at the
International Women’s Tribune Centre (IWTC). She is primarily in charge
of the project on Peace Building Communications. The project is two
fold: 1) to develop
print materials that feature stories of individual women and women’s
groups in using Resolution 1325, the Rome Statutes for the
International Criminal Court and other international instruments in
their work on peacebuilding; 2) to popularise these instruments,
particularly through community radio. IWTC has been involved
in Peace issue as early as mid-70s, with new engagement being prompted
by the UN Security Council Resolution 1325. The
Resolution highlights women’s role in peacebuilding and women’s
involvement in decision-making processes at all levels in
relation to conflict resolution.




Jac: Do new ICTs feature at all
in your work?


Mavic:
Definitely, yes. It will be a convergence of new ICTs, digital
technologies, with the more established media like the radio, community
newspapers, what is known in some areas as ‘world news’, or even with
more popular media like theatre, poetry, music and puppetry. So, it is
a convergence. When we work with the communities, we assess along with
them, of course, what works best in their situation. We’ve also used
new ICTs in our work in the past.


In fact, the Tribune Centre is known
for orienting women’s groups, or getting them acquainted in using the
new technologies. One of our more recent productions using ICTs is a
CD-ROM that we produced together with a telecentre in Nakaseke, Uganda.
The CD-ROM is entitled “Ideas for Making Money”, which addresses
concerns of women in the village on how to uplift their social economic
conditions. It is in both Uganda (the national language) and English.
It’s very visual, have lots of audio, so that women who are not able to
read or write are able to make use of that information and use that
technology.


Jac: Do
you think that it is important in any way to engage in new
forms of ICTs in the area that you are working in, in peace building?


Mavic: Oh
yes. We are looking at ICTs as a tool; but in using the tool,
we need to ensure that it becomes an effective tool. So we are really
advocating for women’s access to ICTs, but along with that, we also
would like to contribute in creating the environment so that women
would be able to use these technologies effectively.


There is a lot of
money being poured into setting up these telecentres, millions of
dollars. The World Bank, USAID are setting up hundreds, if not
thousands of telecentres in Africa and many parts of Asia Pacific. But
we were saying let’s also look at the social, political and cultural
environment outside of the telecentre. Does the woman have support
system, e.g. a community day care centre, so that she can leave the
children for a couple of hours so she can use the telecentre? Or maybe
in the telecentre itself, there should be a crèche of day care
facility. Is the telecentre located in an area that is easily
accessible to women? Is the telecentre open at times when women have
finished their chores at home or elsewhere, and in their extra time
they are able to go to the telecentre? Or better still, ensure that the
time is made available to ensure that women are able to use these
technologies for their benefit.


Jac: I
think your point on creating an
enabling environment is very interesting. In terms of peacebuildng,
what I see as important in terms of ICTs is to raise women’s voices, to
enable them to tell their own narratives,
perspectives and urgencies. Particularly in situation where it is
immediately post-conflict, where communication with the ‘outside-world’
could be a little bit limited. Then there is this whole environment
within digital spaces, where there is a danger of women from privileged
positions who have better access to ICTs telling stories about women
who are in less privileged positions; and because of the nature of ICTs
[in its rapid and wide dissemination in a dominant English language],
that becomes the story. Is that something that you are looking at as
well?


Mavic: Oh
yes. The women themselves claim their own spaces, tell
their own stories, and by using ICTs, we also hope to amplify their
voices so that it doesn’t remain in the community. It’s ventilated,
it’s amplified, it’s shared with the rest of the world. Ya, it is
interesting.


This morning, there was an Armenian woman – but she has
lived in the U.S. (United States) I think, for the past 10-15 years –
who asked me if she could use the computer at the Tribune Centre office
to type a statement on migrant and indigenous women. I said “Of course,
we have made available that computer for you to use”. She said,
“Please, prepare it for me”, and I told her, “It’s ready, just turn it
on”, and she said, “I don’t know. I don’t know how to turn it on.” Then
Sharon turned it on, and Windows came on, but she still did not know
how to use it until we had to show her how to bring up Word and use the
computer for typing this statement. I think this is a very telling
example on how serious the digital divide is, the gender digital
divide.


By using ICTs, I hope we can also address situations of women
in the South as well as women in the North who are marginalised. There
are different basis of domination and subordination that interplay in
this marginalisation. Her being a migrant woman, and I’m assuming now,
she’s not a middle class American (she’s an ‘American’ in this sense
since she has lived in the U.S. for 15 years and I think she carries an
American passport). But being poor and being migrant are intersecting
with all aspects of her situation in terms of accessing new
technologies and we have to look at the intersectionality of all of
those issues.


Jac: Do
you think it is important for women’s rights
advocates to engage in ICT policy on that level?


Mavic: They
should, and not only women’s rights activists but everyone
who identify with the movement for social justice. This is because the
new ICTs are the backbone of globalisation. It is through ICTs by which
these global conglomerates are channelling information, setting up
their systems and networks so that they can operate effectively and
efficiently so that they can, well, do their business.


There was this
study that states that what keeps the U.S. economy alive now is the IT
industry; mainly software, Hollywood and music. All of those are
reproduced using digital technologies. Why is the U.S. so firm, and why
does it take a non-negotiable position when it comes to intellectual
property rights? Because it wants to maintain that hegemony of those
three industries using ICTs. So it’s really at the heart of this
anti-globalisation activism and women’s rights activist or social
movement actors should keep this in their mind.


I think we in the media
and ICT groups really should continue our internal advocacy because
right now, as you’ve seen, even in this CSW space that claims to ensure
spaces for civil society actors and NGOs, we are marginalised. I don’t
mean to compete with our fellow activists, but we were at the bottom of
the list. They had everyone speaking for us and we lost our space, we
lost our speaking slot.


Jac: Just
to reflect. Now that we are at the
end of the CSW and the B + 10 process, what are your thoughts on the
connections between communication rights, media rights, and gender?


Mavic: I
think the Beijing + 10 process has put it on the table the
importance of reflecting, re-examining and rethinking our strategies
and approaches in the women’s movement. You see most of the
publications that have come
out, it’s all about we need to reflect, we’ve lost our activism, we’ve
lost our radicalism, our issues are being reduced to technical issues,
like for example, gender mainstreaming has become a tool in monitoring
and evaluating the projects that we implement, and women instead of
organising at the community level go to universities and colleges to
take up women’s studies and gender studies…


It’s a time for reflection, it’s a time for re-examining, it’s a
time
to interrogate our strategies, especially around bringing in younger
women into the movement. To do all of that, we need channels of
information and communication. Since Beijing, new ICTs have proven to
be an effective tool to reach out, in carrying out our advocacy and
campaigns; basically in conducting our business. Again, I recall
another session that we had with Isis-WICCE, Uganda; even if statistics
indicate that there are increasing number of women who are able to
access new ICTs everyday, they are still a minority if you look at the
overall picture. So again, I will advocate for a combination,
convergence with other tools.


Jac: Yet
there seems to be a real lack in
taking up media and communications as a political issue from a women’s
rights perspective, as you can see in the past two weeks. Why do you
think that is so?


Mavic: I
think it comes from the fact that the women’s movement has had
a long history of a utilitarian relationship with media and information
and communication tools. They use this as tools in their campaigns,
trainings, to popularise their advocacy position. But they don’t see it
as an advocacy issue in itself.


But on the other hand, we in the media
and ICT sector also need to take a more proactive role because in
instances where we have done that, there have been little successes. In
the Regional Preparatory Meeting for Beijing +10 in Bangkok for
example, we were able to put in language in the Outcome Document of
that meeting, which was officially presented in this 49th CSW. I don’t
think there will be a resistance because [our fellow activists within
the movement] take it for granted, because I don’t think they’ve heard
us enough.


As I keep saying, it is a continuing internal advocacy. So
we are doing lobbying and advocacy at three levels: within the women’s
movement, within the broader social movements and with the rest of the
world, e.g. member states of the United Nations, mainstream media
practitioners, industry actors. That’s how I would see it.


Jac: What
do you think are some of the key issues that are surfacing in
terms of gender and ICT policy?


Mavic: In
terms of gender and ICT policy, I think it is still
involvement of women in policy making processes. Almost all governments
now have set up their Ministries of Information, Information Technology
or whatever they call them – national and department level agencies.
Rarely do you see women represented. The Philippines has a Commission
in IT (CIT) which I believe will be elevated to a Department level next
year, but everyone in that Commission are men. All of them, I don’t see
any women there. Even in their consultation with civil society, other
than Women’s Hub, a member organisation of APC, and ISIS occasionally,
I don’t see any women’s organisation. So ensuring the involvement of
women in policy making level is very important.


And then lobbying;
policy advocacy is also dominated by men. In WSIS, other than the
Women’s Networking Support Programme of APC, you can count women’s
organisations participating in that Summit with the fingers in your one
hand. There was APC, ISIS, the Tribune Centre, AMARC…now recently
Femlink has joined – that’s still five, it’s not even ten! WSIS is an
international summit that I have seen so many corporate actors, so we
have to balance the number of players in that arena.


In the industry
itself, I think Hewlett-Packard wants to say that they have a woman
CEO (Chief Executive Officer), but how many women are in those
positions? Another thing is, even
if you put a woman in those positions, it doesn’t guarantee that there
will be substantive or positive changes for women.
Whether it’s a woman or a man, the perspective should be there; but of
course, I believe in having critical mass of women in such positions.
It really makes a difference.


Jac:
Because it changes the culture...


Mavic:
Right, they influence each other. They reinforce – I hope
positively – each other.


Jac:
Finally, how do you think a website like
genderIT.org, if at all, will be able to help getting more women being
involved in ICT issues, or in your words, the internal advocacy. In
fact, at all three levels that you were speaking about.


Mavic: A
website or portal like genderIT.org is very important in keeping us and
other women’s organisations abreast with the debates, with the
discourse. It’s important also, especially if it is interactive enough,
for them to engage in the discussion. I hope you will also make it very
user-friendly, because not all of us have broadband connection. I don’t
know how you intend to distribute the information apart from the
website. In the Pacific for example, internet connectivity is very
expensive. One month’s internet
connectivity is more than the average salary per month. I don’t know if
you intend to send digest or summaries through regular email. Coming
from a radio background, I also hope to see some broadcast ready
materials, or audio materials, being made available on the site.

Responses to this post

Agreed completely. The frustrating thing is that, culture and colour of skin, not to mention money muscle, play such a determining part in access. I guess the question is importantly also, how can we make this happen? Strategies for universal access, and to create a culture of ICTs that is conscious of these issues. <br />I think especially in terms of culture and ethnicity, it is something that is tricky because it is so embedded not only within ideas of identity - which relates directly sometimes to access - but also affects the metaphors and language we use to develop the technology. Or in other words, how we imagine ICTs to be, its uses, its development and so on, is strongly affected by the culture of the dominant. It will take a lot of effort to deconstruct them.
Posted on 05/31/2005 - 12:26 | Reply
i definitely agree that women should have access in the itc no matter who they are, what culture they have and what is the color of their skin
Posted on 05/23/2005 - 11:18 | Reply

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