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Digital democracy: women activists making IT their own
Digital democracy: women activists making IT their own
New paradigms of democratic solidarity are emerging as a result of new technology, a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy heard today. Information technologies, from Facebook to Wiki, are changing the face of democracy activism, allowing more participatory, dialog-based approaches to cross-border work, women’s
Monday, September 8,2008 07:56
Demdigest.net

New paradigms of democratic solidarity are emerging as a result of new technology, a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy heard today.  Information technologies, from Facebook to Wiki, are changing the face of democracy activism, allowing more participatory, dialog-based approaches to cross-border work, women’s activists explained.

Traditional solidarity campaigns were largely based on the international community responding to locally-determined needs and demands, as in the case of the anti-apartheid movement, noted Mahnaz Afkhami of the Women’s Learning Partnership. But recent work with Iranian women’s groups suggested that local activists’ perspectives transcend national borders and they do not necessarily consider themselves more politically insightful or salient than external or foreign groups. The Iranian women’s 1 Million Signatures campaign quite deliberately draws on Moroccan women’s success in reforming family law.

Human rights activists are using blogs, YouTube, Google Maps, and other ICT tools to track human rights violations, raise political awareness, promote civic education, and gain access to previously closed or “digitally-deprived” communities.

Innovative and creative uses of IT can have “life-changing” effects, said Sakena Yacoobi of the Afghan Institute of Learning. Illiterate, isolated Afghan women are initially drawn to Women Connect ICT Centers for literacy classes, but then get drawn into workshops on democracy, training and leadership, opening up new horizons as well as acquiring new skills.

Drawing on the WLP’s path-breaking publication, Making IT Our Own, Jordan’s Asma Khader outlined how Arab women’s rights campaigners use on-line surveys to solicit information on the impact of discriminatory laws. An on-line Arabic-language counseling center gives women advice on legal and social issues that has literally saved lives in some cases, said Khader, General Coordinator of Sisterhood is Global Institute/Jordan and a former Cabinet Minister.

New technologies do not facilitate access to the “most disenfranchised or the poorest of the poor”, said Beirut-based Lina Abou Habib. But they have been especially effective in attracting women in rural areas and youth. New e-courses on citizenship and civic activism, available in Arabic, English and Persian, have engaged thousands of women activists from Morocco to Afghanistan, said Habib, Director of the Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action.

“Information is a prelude to agency,” said Rakhee Goyal, executive director of Women’s Learning Partnership and co-author of Making IT Our Own. IT is allowing women to take ownership of issues, often on a cross-border basis.

In most Arab states, women are denied the legal right to confer nationality on their spouses and children. The Arab women’s Claiming Equal Citizenship campaign has successfully used IT to develop a regional dimension and employ a range of strategies to secure women’s right to nationality, including in-depth comparative research, communications to raise public awareness of the issues and building cross-border alliances between NGOs. In Algeria, the law was changed to allow women to confer nationality on their spouses and children, and in Egypt, women may now confer their nationality on their children.

 


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