Witnessing J-spot

I'm at the UN building in New York
attending the 54th CSW and have just uploaded two videos
to my online account. It took 3 minutes to upload. The videos share
the impressions of two women's rights activists working in and with
media about what is happening with Section J at the CSW. They took
four minutes to record. So, in seven minutes I was able to get quotes
from women who spoke with authority about a newsworthy issue and
distribute them as part of a package of news about gender
(in)equality and the media.



This was possible for two reasons:
First, I had a nifty flip camera and was able to quickly get the
interviews, second, I had access to a computer and the Internet and
third I'm comfortable with technology and believe it is my right to
own it and use it for my own means. As I uploaded the videos I
remembered a conversation I had in 2007 about what it means to be a
witness – it was during a digital
story telling
training workshop with women documenters of
violence in South Africa. I remembered us talking about how the act
of being a witness makes us part of what ever it is we witness and
that our ability to tell others about it is central to our work as
communication and women's rights activists.



So what am I witnessing at the
CSW as I try to find the J-spot?



Access is a recurring theme on a number
of levels. This includes my inability to gain access to three
sessions that I wanted to attend because there wasn't enough space in
the rooms or, just having made it in the door, being told that unless
15 people left the room the event would be closed! Of course, there
wasn't much choice between the session 'religions freedom and
sexual orientation'
continuing and me fussing with a security
guard so I left with others who were equally disgruntled.



On Monday I attended a panel discussion
held by the Asia
Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
on addressing and
affirming women's sexual and reproductive rights. Panelists included
Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women,
Khawar Mumtaz from Shirkat
Gah Women's Resource Centre
in Pakistan and Regina Yuching Lin
from The
Garden of Hope Foundation
in Taiwan, amongst others. Regina spoke
about the how important having access to information was to women in
international marriages living in Taiwan. She made the point of how
social isolation and the lack of access to services and information
about their rights and recourse, particularly in their own languages,
compounds their vulnerability. Rashida also raised the importance of
access to information as she spoke about her reliance for information
from women's networks and movements.



Listening to the panelists it was very
clear how ICTs could support their work and how and why access to,
control over and use of media and ICTs are important to share and
find information, find support and build solidarity.



The discussions during the launch of
the
preliminary findings of the Global Media Monitoring Project

(GMMP) on Tuesday got me thinking again about how powerful the media
is in framing our experience of the world and how access to and
control over media would revolutionise what is defined as news.
Sanjay Suri, Editor in Chief of of Inter
Press Service
made the point that the media report on the
world 'as it is' and if men are the ones who make a lot of trouble
and the news follows trouble; its logical to conclude that news will
follow men! In other words, its no surprise the GMMP preliminary
findings show that only 24% of the people interviewed, heard or read
about in mainstream broadcast and print media are women. We clearly
don't make enough trouble! I wonder who's world Suri was speaking
about, because from what I see reflected in mainstream media it
certainly isn't mine. But seriously, the dominant masculine discourse
of news production continues to put women's rights and gender
equality very low down in the food chain of newsworthiness.



While there has been a strong focus on
traditional and mainstream media in the sessions I've attended,
'social media', 'new media' 'technology and ICTs' have repeatedly
been cited as tools and spaces that activists are claiming and using
to produce their own alternative media. However, access to the tools
that allow us to produce news and content about our issues of
concern, does not automatically mean the production of content that
challenges stereotypes or masculine news values.



Speaking at the Gender
Links
session on women, media and ICTs yesterday Cai
Yiping from Isis
International
spoke about the assumptions around community
media being 'democratic, gender fair and grounded in community' when
in many instances this is not the case. She also highlighted the need
to talk about freedom of expression in the context of ICTs. Citing
the highly controlled Chinese media where many websites are blocked
as an example she said “we are always thinking the Internet can
do everything, but its also controlled by capital and government and
its easier to control than other media – they can block anything
related to particular terms; we need to demand the space and make
sure that we are in touch with the debates [about these things].”



This is exactly why we, as women's
rights activists need to make sure that we are engaging with ICT
policy and spaces such as the Internet
Governance Forum
and use the access we have to make sure
that our issues and appreciation of multiple freedoms and the
tensions that exist between them – are considered.