Blogging sparks activism, but I’m under the firm belief that these are not forms of activism in it and of itself. The people doing the activist work are working from the ground, quite literally. But I don’t want to undermine the value of technology, as it has been very helpful in successful activist movements quite recently. Take, for instance, the pro-democracy movement in Egypt or the elections in Iran. The internet (with the help of Facebook, Twitter, and handfuls of bloggers) provided the impetus for activists to voice their concerns and give first-hand accounts and updates of what was going on to the outside world and how to collectively organize each other, even when the governments tried to shut down these portals for activism. Most of these activists are men.
So where are the women? In a recent interview, Trisha of Where is Your Line?, asked me about economic privilege and how it relates to technology and online activism. Access to the internet is an economic privilege. While almost everywhere, for the most part, is connected to the internet—it certainly doesn’t mean everyone is able to use the internet. Especially in underdeveloped countries, the majority of people using the internet are men, because after all in many of these countries, families cannot afford computers at home or internet connectivity. It’s not so much as the lack connectivity to the internet–there are internet cafes all around. Some countries have issues with power—power is not reliable and goes off frequently. Or they don’t know how to use a computer.
Additionally, there are cultural norms that don’t allow women to access to computers. Whether they are not allowed or it is not the norm to be around men outside their family, women are prevented from using the computers. Women in underdeveloped or developing countries are not as educated as their men, providing another barrier to computers and the internet.
Internet access is not just an economic privilege. While it is rooted in money, it also intersects with lack of education, lack of infrastructure, lack of foreign aid, cultural belief, and as articulated above, gender inequality. The discrepancy between men and women accessing the internet means that women don’t have the opportunity to voice their opinions like men do. This is a huge problem to address and I in no way can solve this issue. But seriously–how do you change a culture, for example, that believes in the dual roles of gender (women take care of the home and children while men make the money)?
I don’t know, and you probably don’t know. Cultures can’t be changed just by people and I think it’s crossing a fine line when outsiders force their beliefs on a particular group of people. However, organizations and ideas can be created around a culture. For example, there are many internet cafes in underdeveloped countries that offer women-only hours. There are also places that have women-only internet cafes and offer training to women. This is a great start. I want to highlight some organizations and internet cafes that are jumpstarting this issue:
- Girls Technology Camp in Nigeria where this W.TEC initiative is to “helping girls develop an early interest in computers and other information technology, as well as enabling them develop positive image of technology-related careers. The long-term goal is increased numbers of women working with and using information technology productively for professional and leadership activities.”
- A Woman-Operated Techcenter in Cape Verde, basically an internet café for women’s use only.
- Internet Café that caters to women in Baghdad
- Women in Technology in the Middle East (Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen) where one of their goals is to “empower women to play an integral role in shaping their country’s future.”
Bottom line is that I want more women to access the internet to get their voices heard–whether through activism and/or developing their own independence. How else do you suggest women gain more access to the internet? Do you know of any organizations similar to the ones listed above helping and training women to use computers? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.