Subject: [fem-women2000 107] Section J Virtual WG SUMMARY WEEK ONE: Nov 8-12
From: lalamaziwa <>
Date: Fri, 26 Nov 1999 10:05:25 +0900
Seq: 107


Subject: [women-media] SUMMARY FROM WEEK ONE: Nov 8-12 
>From: Women Media Moderators <> 
Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 12:56:36 +0100 

                   SUMMARY FROM WEEK ONE: Nov 8-12 
                  Women and the Information Society

Dear Working Group Members,

This message attempts to summarize briefly the major discussion points 
made on the Working Group on the Beijing Platform for Action, Section J 
-- Women and Media. Inevitably, many valuable points will not be 
captured here, and new Working Group members are encouraged to obtain 
past messages from the Working Group archives :

Key themes addressed to the subject this week "Women and the information 
society: information and communication technologies (ICTs)" by the 
members of the Working Group were: 

definitions; access; control of 
infrastructure; language barriers; attitudes; new models through 
content; need for governmentally/societally-mandated processes.

Note: this summary will be translated into French and Spanish and
translations will be posted as soon as possible.

Postings to the list demonstrated that women from all walks of life can 
be empowered by enhancing their skills, knowledge and access to ICTs. 

Opinion is clear that efforts must not only continue but must be extended
a larger geography and expanded to include more media forms as more 
conventional media become accessible using ICTs.

                    * % * % * Definitions * % * % *

Participants were hesitant to engage in sweeping generalisations about 
'women and ICTs', as summed up by Susana George <> 
>from the Philippines.

'' In UN-related processes such as the BPFA Review, we are sometimes 
called upon to make broad and sweeping statements about what "women" 
want, hope or struggle for - we sometimes unify at the risk of 
marginalizing the marginalized or invisible. When we speak about 
creating greater access for women to ICTs and to the production and 
distribution of information and knowledge, we need to make sure that we 
do not speak of women in universal terms. ... We need to be quite 
specific about who we mean when we say "women", and not assume that all 
interactions between women are free of exploitation. ''

                      * % * % * Access * % * % *

Many participants focus the issue of "access" on changing prevailing 
societal, political and economic paradigms in order to attain access. 

As Awatef Ketiti <> wrote:

'' So the main problem of the greater portion of the planet's women 
consists of their IGNORANCE of new communications technologies and their 
lack of access to this technology.

If ... mechanization and rationalization did not alter the power 
relationship between domininant and dominated, there is no indication 
that the emergent information society will change things either. The 
losers are just computer-controlled losers. ''

Many postings expressed the need to bridge the divide between well-off, 
literate, urban, and/or able-bodied women who have high-speed access to 
the Internet and those who are not so advantaged, maintaining 
sensitivity to the culture of both. As Josephine Sutton 
<> said: 

'' Our society is rapidly being divided into information haves and have 
nots - with women, particularly immigrant women, visible minority women, 
women with disabilities, women in poverty and older women being left 
out. We believe that the present [Canadian] federal government Internet 
strategy is actually generating inequality. ''

Many postings spoke to the issue of reaching rural women and mixing 

Silvia Balit <> wrote: 

'' If the benefits of new technologies are to reach rural women it is 
essential not only to increase the quantity and accessibility of 
infrastructure, but also to provide rural women's intermediary 
organisations with the training to use them. Information relevant to the 
needs of rural women must be disseminated in local languages. In areas 
where access to new technologies is still not practical, more 
traditional media such as community radio, audio visual media and 
popular media should continue to be used by and for women.

For generations rural women have been active participants in social 
communication networks using indigenous communication methods for 
information exchange and knowledge sharing. This rich cultural and 
creative environment should not be ignored, but strengthened. The 
preservation of traditional forms of communication and new information 
technology are not mutually exclusive. ''

The Fantsuam Foundation <> presented 
its vision: 

'' We reasoned that if we had a mobile community telecentre that has 
telephone facilities, such contacts can be made at a fraction of what it 
currently costs the women. The challenge we face in providing these 
facilities is that our villages have no access to telephones or 

It is important to participants to widen the network of 
those who respond to the acountability this power brings with it, to 
encourage others and to reproduce materials in other media. "Bridging 
the gap" and "linking" are priority activities in this domain.

Jennifer Radloff <> provides a basic but 
successful model of an activity engaged in bridging that gap: 

'' The Gender in Africa Information Network (GAIN) has an electronic 
mailing list, provides an electronic networking space to share news, 
information and activities across the continent on issues of gender 
justice. ... the space has encouraged more women's organisations to use 
electronic communication (e-mail being the most accessible Internet tool 
in Africa) and to print-out and share the information with organisations 
not connected to the Internet. ''

A novel suggestion for encouraging women to access ICTs comes from 
Marie-Jeanne Collinet <>, who asks: 

'' Is it necessary to hold multimedia-style "Tupperware" parties to 
permit us (and give us the desire) to purchase a computer instead of 
beauty products or useless clothes? ''

            * % * % * Control of infrastructure * % * % *

Women on the list recognise the importance of maximising their control 
over the ICT infrastructure. Pi Villanueva <> wrote: 

'' ... it is becoming impossible to discuss the relationship of women 
and media without reference to the new information and communications 
technology and the latter's location in the discourse on media 
ownership, content, and strategic deployment and development, and the 
struggle of women to own their information as well as infrastructures 
with which their information (and knowledge) gets created, mediated and 
distributed. ''

Women In Need <> wrote:: 

'' ... while adminstrative and secretarial duties have traditionally 
been filled by women, it is often the men in the office who have the 
knowledge to operate computers. Private computer courses are extremely 
popular in Colombo, with the vast majority of students being male. In 
the technical support aspect most of these "experts" appear to be men, 
but we feel it is unlikley this is something exclusive to Sri Lanka, or 
even developing countries. ''

Daphne Sabanes Plou's <> commented: 

'' We have a small cybercafe in the Permanent Workshop for Women and we 
find that most of the women come to us because they feel at ease when 
being trained or guided by other women. We find that mainly women over 
forty, who are just learning to use their computers, feel really uneasy 
when a young boy is the one in charge of hands-on-training. ''

Dr. Clarisse Behar Molad <> pointed out: 

'' We all hear and see the news about the amazing wealth the Internet is 
creating for new start-up companies all over the world. A closer look 
reveals that a very tiny portion of them are led and/or owned by women. 
Even a smaller number of those get any venture capital funding. This is 
the "boys party" of the century, girls, and we are not invited! ''

               * % * % * Language barriers * % * % *

Women In Need <> summarised a concern shared by many: 

'' Besides cost, the biggest barrier in accessing information technology 
is language. ''

Participants indicate that it is important that the content and the 
communications be easily translated. For instance, Cynthia Gehrie 
<> said: 

'' From my own experience, email has been essential to maintaining and 
developing my international connections with women. ... Through this 
work we have discovered that the next barrier to our collaboration is 
language. (... We need) a world wide publishing mechanism where our 
writing in our native language is translated into many many languages. 

Such a mechanism would ideally be internet located and would allow 
global conversations to take place. Without such a mechanism, a few languages 
and a few voices will dominate the global conversation. It is most 
important that we hear the voices of women who speak languages that are 
seldom, if ever, translated and that these are distributed to the global 
community. ''

                    * % * % * Attitudes * % * % *

Women's attitudes to ICTs in various cultures came under close 
scrutiny. For many, there seems to be a correlation between societal 
attitudes towards women and a woman's reaction to ICTs.

For example, in South Africa Ronda Naidu <> explains why 
she feels some women may find it difficult to make productive use of 

'' Many cultures (including mine) have instilled the mother/wife roles 
in women, such that very few women are considered successful in their 
communities and by their families if they have a promising career but an 
unsuccessful personal life. ''

In the USA, Mary P. Wood <> said: 

'' I have known women with degrees in the field who will not even apply 
under the assumption that they'll never be hired because they are 
female, or because they feel they must be twice as skilled as their male 
counterparts in order to compete. The core problem, from where I see 
it, goes back to the roots of things mechanical being a male domain. '' 

She argues that in the US, there is a subtle conditioning to view a 
competent technical woman "as a prodigy or an exception to the rule".

In France, Joelle Palmieri <> has perceived that 
there are different attitudes to ICTs more or less determined by age. 
She points out how very young girls in France are now comfortable with 
computers, but between the ages of about 18 and 40, "a woman uses a 
computer more out of professional obligation than out of choice. After 
40, there you find women who comprehend the computer only as an 
impenetrable world."

          * % * % * New models through content * % * % *

In addition to demanding that the uses of ICTs be repackaged and 
redistributed via other media, there are creative visions 
for using today's ICTs to produce content because "it is our production 
of Internet content which connects us to others and which offers huge 
potential for working together" (Josephine Sutton 
<> ).

Examples and ideas ranged from interactive web-based radio and 
television shows, to international internet-based conference calls, 
NGO-owned telecentres in rural sites, and coalition-built 
cross-cultural, cross-political resource-oriented websites.

     * % * % * Need for governmentally/societally-mandated processes.

Quite a few postings referred to a need for governmental involvement in 
supporting women-oriented ICT initiatives.

Anne Guedheu <>: 

'' ...for women have need of training, of financial support but also 
that governments make political choices to encourage positive 
discrimination in this field if we don't want this pit of inequalities 
to be dug any deeper still. Left without [this political support], the 
efforts by professional women and women's communication organisations 
seems derisory. ''

The usefulness of governments who are willing to legislate to make a 
medium nominally owned by the public is pointed out. The rarity of this 
approach was all too clear, when Ammu Joseph <> said that, 

"in India, for example, it is only a few years ago that a Supreme Court 
judgement freed the airwaves by affirming that they belong to the public 
rather than the government of the day."

Jennifer Radloff <> sees various levels 
at which NGOs can intervene to improve women's access to and control 
over ICTs and information. 

'' One is through developing projects such as Women'sNet and involving 
women's organisations in the conceptualisation and ongoing development. 
Another, which still needs more impetus, is through lobbying and 
advocacy at various levels within the ICT sector... What is important 
is for civil society and women's organisations to interact with government 
in order to ensure that gender policies are representative of the diverse 
needs of women. This is happening but my sense is not fast enough given 
the pace at which new technologies are being introduced. ''

Women in the USA speak about the relative success of the cable-TV 
community access channels and how these came about, as examples of a 
paradigm that might be useful with regards ICTs now that we are 
considering it when referring to "media".

Pi Villanueva <> hightlighted the need to promote 
intellectual property rights : 

"there is also the challenge of freeing knowledge itself ... Whether we speak
of software and codes being created by women in Silicon Valley or India, or
traditional knowledge being guarded by indigenous women, all forms of knowledge
being produced by women are being mined for profit and enslaved by intellectual
property regimes. 

Women who are using the tools of ICT to build networks, must align themselves
to movements pushing for universal access and communication rights, as well as
to movements challenging proprietary ownership of information and knowledge. ''

The Women and Media Working Group is a collaboration of
WomenWatch and WomenAction 2000
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