Take Back the Tech at the 55th Commission on the Status of Women

8 March 2011

Ironically, the deli a few doors down from the hotel oddly has a better internet connection from the UNHQ wifi than anywhere else, so this is being sent from there.

The 'Take Back the Tech!: Reclaiming Technology for Women's Rights' panel debate went well. Harriet Musoke from ISIS WICCE is a rockstar. She just cut to the heart of the issue. My favourite quote from her came about as follows. An audience member asked if there was an increase in incidences of violence against women (VAW) where technology is prevalent, an interesting question. Harriet replied saying that we must remember VAW has always happened. And it happens because of men wanting to control and have power over women. We must not confuse the technology with the violence. (favourite quote coming up): "that would be like blaming the umbrella for the rain". Whaaaa! She is soooo AWESOME :).

Other interesting questions that I remember right now include:

- "How do we draw the line between documenting realities of VAW and at the same time telling people not to forward violence?"

Jan Moolman from APC responded to this brilliantly by talking about the politics of digital storytelling - for example, emphasising not just the value of the output, but also the process for the person who is telling her story. And values of privacy, dignity, consent, security of the person who is documenting her own story, or being documented.

- "Google president proposing that maybe kids should be allowed to change their identity once they turned 18 since they have created such a mess of their online selves before then."

I just said well, Google is in the business of collecting and storing as much personal data as possible, and using it to make a profit. Why not look at other kinds of proposals like digital data having a self-destruct expiry date instead? That would work much better to protect everyone's privacy. And to take proposals by corporations with a pinch of good questioning.

- Questions of access and barriers to women's access to technology, especially in rural Kenya

We responded by calling for women to get involved in ICT for development processes and negotiations at the national level, and to make sure that women's realities are built into policy-making, and that women have access to critical internet resources. Because a lot of money *is* plugged into this. Just that women aren't necessarily so.

- "What about porn?"

Whee! I referred her to GenderIT.org on the paper on pornography that we did, and stated that this is a contentious issue that we do have to take head on. Because this will always be used as the first point of internet regulation. And to remember that we (feminists and women's movements) have spent a long time looking at pornography and this is not new, just not integrated in the discussions. And that what is porn is also complicated by the internet, for example, what about people taking pictures of themselves and sending it to people they know?

It's within the paradigm of privacy, should this be pornography? What I forgot to say was that the issue I have is not "porn" per se, but main/malestream pornography, sexual expression that is just for one narrow point of view, and one kind of sexual relationship and power relationship, and what I want is not a closing of spaces, but an opening for more diverse forms of sexual expression to come about, and only in that way can we challenge the power of heterosexism. Ah.. am glad I got that out :)

- The importance of working on climate change issues in relation to technology

Yes! We're trying with the GreeningIT project that APC is initiating. But good to see this tabled on the discussion.

-" When we say we want to transform culture, what do we mean by "culture"?"

The concern around power and culture was acknowledged, but Harriet also clarified very strongly and impactfully, that when culture is being used as the reason for VAW, then this is truly unacceptable. Reminds me of the "violence is not our culture!" TBTT campaign action last year in support of VNC.

There were more questions but my memory is also slipping with lots more conversations and buzz in between. We recorded the entire session on a Flip camera, and also on audio.

The room could hold 125 persons, and we were about 70% capacity, which is pretty cool.

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