National Gender and ICT Policies in Uruguay: A Call To Action

When drums
sound on the streets of Montevideo, it is said that they “call”; that they
convoke people to draw near, to dance, and to join the display of a culture
that black slaves brought with them from Africa when they arrived in the region
hundreds of years ago. This rhythm known as candombe
is today, a rich heritage which has spread to all sectors of society through
the Afro-Uruguayan community, and comes to a head in an annual festival known
as “Las llamadas” [“The Calls”], where various groups parade down the street
playing drums and dancing.






Before the
start of the Citizen Assembly for Equality of Opportunities and Rights in
Montevideo, organised by the National Women’s Institute (INAMU), a group of
drummers played candombe in the
streets, convoking people to participate. The Assembly was one of the
mechanisms the INAMU put into place throughout the country in October and
November 2006 as part of the process of consulting with diverse social actors
to develop the First National Plan for Equality of Opportunities and Rights
(PPNIOD), planned for the period from 2007 to 2011.


Shifting Political Landscape





This
initiative has arisen in a particularly favourable political context, given
that for the first time in Uruguayan history, the national government for the
period from 2005 to 2010 is in the hands of a political force made up of left-wing
groups. This meant important changes in the political governance of the
country, including new faces in positions of power, the incorporation of actors
historically marginalised from decision-making spaces such as civil society
groups, and the creation of new government entities committed to human rights,
such as the Ministry of Social Development (MIDES). Although this administration
has not been in power for long, important changes can be seen in the political
agenda, and there is a breadth of perspectives more in keeping with the times.






One of the areas
where this new spirit can be felt is in the efforts to institutionalise a gender
perspective as a cross-cutting theme in the design and implementation of
national policies. In this regard, the INAMU has clearly signalled that it is
taking up the challenge. Under the leadership of a well-known feminist Carmen
Beramendi, the organisation is establishing itself as the primary promoter of
transformations from the inside. With its new team and the conviction that
“they who name, claim (power)”, the old name of the National Family and Women’s
Institute (INFM) was changed by law, as were its functions and the Ministry
under which it falls. The INFM was previously under the Ministry of Education
and Culture, and amongst its objectives was “promoting, planning, designing,
formulating, executing and evaluating national policies relating to women and
families”.






Today the
INAMU is part of MIDES, and has reworked its strategic objectives to “serve as
a guiding institution for gender policies, by promoting, designing,
coordinating, linking together and executing as well as monitoring and evaluating
public policies”. Beyond their symbolic value, these changes establish the
groundwork for the promotion of women’s rights from a different space – one
which recognises women as autonomous subjects, not simply appendages to “the
family”, but rather as protagonists of their own lives and legitimate social
actors in the construction of equitable and truly democratic societies.






The PPNIOD
is the first genuine intent to use policy to transform the structural
inequalities of a patriarchal society that has relegated women to private spaces
and reproductive tasks on the basis of gender, depriving them of the full
exercise of citizenship, hindering their public participation, restricting
their rights and obliging them to live within systems thought up by and for
men.






One of the
chapters of the Plan, entitled “Innovative Uruguay”, proposes “to promote
measures which provide incentives for sustainable development processes which
take into consideration equal access and participation in processes of
technological, scientific and cultural innovation, as a form of assuring
equality in levels of social well-being”. Amongst its strategic aims is the
“increase in access by women to information and communication technologies (ICTs),
eliminating the current gender gap”.






If this
objective were to become reality, the Uruguayan state would thereby reaffirm
its political will to comply with its international commitments (including
section J of the Beijing Platform relating to Women and Media and the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) as well
as regionally (the eLAC 2007 Regional Action Plan and the Rio Commitment).






A necessary critique






A government
institution identifying the need to improve women’s access to ICTs is a big step
forward on the slow journey towards consolidating a national strategy for
digital inclusion. Nevertheless, the timidity with which this need is addressed
leads one to believe that pieces of this puzzle are still missing.






In this
first consultation phase, the PPNIOD is a draft in the process of being firmed
up, and is moving towards a final version to be written and approved by the
national Executive. For this very reason many issues are dealt with in an
excessively condensed or general way. In the case of ICTs, the policies should
go beyond the issue of access and emphasise appropriation – meaningful,
critical and conscious use – of ICT tools as a means for (self) transformation
and empowerment. One of the Plan’s action lines points in this direction by proposing
development with “content that guarantees the incorporation of a gender
perspective in the use of ICTs and promotes an innovative, equitable, and
non-discriminatory culture”. On the other hand, several inevitable questions
arise from reading the proposal, such as how it will be implemented, and with
whom.






When
consulted on the priority level of ICTs in the Plan, Marisa Lindner, a
consultant with the INAMU, clarified that this “will be defined according to
the advances that are achieved with organisations. It’s a question of support,
and it is not a top priority on the women’s agenda, although it does come out
in the working groups at the assemblies. The Institute is particularly
interested in this issue. The problem lies in finding the support to sustain it
and move it forward.”






When it is
a question of support, it is essential to join forces and coordinate with other
social actors. Nevertheless, it is difficult to make that actually happen when
there is not a clear sense of what support is available. In the past few years,
several initiatives have been put forward from different sectors in Uruguay,
all of them committed to doing their part to enter into the so-called
Information Society. However in many cases this has happened in a disorganised
way without any systematisation or coordination – a reflection of the lack of
national plans. To turn this around, Parliament approved the creation of the
Agencies for Electronic Governance and for an Information and Knowledge Society
(AGESIC) in June 2006. One of the tasks on the agenda for 2007, though in fact
already underway, is a survey of initiatives by diverse social actors,
including non-governmental organisations (NGOs).






With
regards to building a critical mass “which can facilitate the participation of
civil society in the elaboration, definition and monitoring of public policies
on information and communication”, it is worth mentioning the formation in 2004
of a network of organisations and institutions called the Forum for Citizen
Communication and Participation.






As to the
inclusion of a gender perspective in ICTs, a pilot project carried out by the
feminist NGO Cotidiano Mujer (Daily
Woman) stands out. Together with the Women’s Secretariat of the Municipality of
Montevideo, Cotidiano Mujer invited
15 neighbourhood representatives from a marginal area of the city to
participate in a workshop in which, on top of familiarising themselves with
computer use, they reflected on the possible uses of ICT tools to transform
gender inequalities.






Inconclusive conclusions






Although
Uruguay is quantitatively well positioned in the ranking of ICT access in Latin
America, it lacks national digital inclusion policies that promote the
democratisation of the economic, cultural and political opportunities that
these tools offer.






The
challenge is all the greater when it comes to gender because alongside defining
a National Plan for Equality of Opportunities and Rights, it is necessary to coordinate
actions with other social actors in an arena which is diffuse due to a lack of
systematisation and continuity of efforts that have been launched to enable the
population to participate actively in the Information Society as citizens
rather than as passive consumers of technological offerings.




In this
uncertain landscape, the one thing that is clear is the need to widen the
spectrum of social actors participating in the discussion of proposals,
enriching the debate and contributing from their areas of influence so as to consolidate
a truly inclusive and equitable national plan. It is definitely time to answer
the call.