Feminist Frameworks

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Increasingly, there has been a shift in the perception of Southern feminists, about the role of digital technologies – especially the Internet – in furthering the women's rights agenda. The 'Arab Spring' and the 'Occupy Wall Street' movements have increasingly inspired development practitioners and rights advocates to explore the possibilities opened up by digital technologies, for social and institutional transformation. Feminists are eager to explore this relatively new terrain, for its practical relevance and as a phenomenon of study. Today, we witness a spate of interventions and research studies on ICT-based strategies for women's empowerment and public-political participation. In this context, our work aims at critically evaluating the possibilities presented by the Internet and other ICTs, for feminist organising and collective action.

Our starting point is the recognition that the digital age presents a paradox. Just as the Internet and ICTs open up unprecedented opportunities for women, to make seamless transitions from the 'private' space of the household to the public sphere of politics, they also pose new threats to women's bodily integrity and safety. The very same digital platforms that offer innumerable possibilities for women's free speech , also happen to be emergent business models that rely upon the expropriation of individuals; creative expression on these sites, for generating profit. This leads to an incongruous situation where open and free no longer imply the 'public' or the 'commons'. Marginalised women's politics needs to contend with its cooption into mainstream information society discourse where structures of oppression reproduce themselves, bringing new patterns to old issues, creating new worlds that need a fresh mapping. At IT for Change, we have attempted to build national and global networks, in an effort to evolve alternative frameworks that can guide feminist reflection and practice in the new world. Our work straddles action research, policy advocacy and community organising – comprising the multiple means through which we look for gender-just answers to the new questions posed by the emergent techno-social paradigm.

Building Feminist Frameworks for the Digital Age

Women-gov (2012-2014) is a feminist action-research project supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), that aims at enhancing marginalised women's active citizenship and their engagement with local governance, across three sites in the Global South. The partnering organisations are IT for Change in India, Instituto Nupef in Brazil and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.

This year, a major area of effort has been the Women-gov feminist action-research project. This IDRC supported project attempts to explore multi-pronged ICT strategies that can enhance women's participation in local governance, and enable the emergence of a strong political constituency of women across three sites in India, Brazil and South Africa, over a two year time frame(March 2012-March 2014). The partnering organisations are IT for Change in India, Instituto Nupef in Brazil and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. Another significant endeavour has been an attempt at synthesising our theory-building efforts around the question of feminist politics in the information age, through a forthcoming publication with Zubaan Books. The forthcoming book is an edited volume of 14 essays, that mainly draws upon the research insights garnered from our two-year, IDRC supported, Asia-wide programme on Gender and Citizenship in the Information Society (CITIGEN-Asia) that concluded in February 2012. Our advocacy efforts in this period have been largely centred around influencing the national and global deliberations on the post-2015 Development agenda. We have actively sought to bring the gender and ICTs agenda into the mainstream discourse on developing successor goals to the Millennium Development Goals. Finally, we have continued our efforts towards bringing in the information society perspective into the mainstream feminist discourse, through our networking efforts.


Women-gov: Exploring ICT possibilities for gendering local governance processes, in the Global South

“IT for Change has emerged as a "point of reference" both regional and globally, for the quality and creativity of their contributions, both theoretical and practical, to the construction of the field of gender and ICTD. Their capacity for articulating innovative ideas and practices that have been rigorously deliberated, and their explicit commitment to the questions of gender and social justice, and inclusive development, their excellent publications, and their generous ways of sharing knowledge and collaborative practices, are highly valued. They are indeed, a source of inspiration for many organisations.”
- Gloria Bonder (Director of the Gender, Society and Policies Area of FLACSO, Argentina)

We set up the CITIGEN-Asia network in 2010, to build a community of feminists – widening our association beyond friends and allies – to move more confidently and concretely towards feminist framework building. The idea of the information society needed new dimensions of analysis that could offer a) Critiques of emerging development politics and the women's empowerment discourse framed by ICTD initiatives in the Global South b) Conceptual engagement with the phenomenon of Internet-mediated society through deliberate inquiry of the nascent spaces of network society, such as social media platforms c) A feminist ethical interpretation for constructive action in the networked world of new alignments, politics and faultlines. With CITIGEN-Asia, we generated a lot of momentum in rooting information society vocabulary in historical trajectories of Southern feminisms, using the prism of citizenship. By 2012, we were ready to take on action-research – focussing on local governance as a critical site for feminist engagement – to locate alternative practices of technology in relation to the wider discourse of network society. Thus, the project Making local governance work for women – Exploring new institutional possibilities ( Women-gov ) was born. We furthered our partnerships into a cross-learning mode, seeking to explore the new possibilities opened up by ICTs for enhancing women's engagement with local governance processes and institutions, and strengthening their claims-making, across three sites in the Global South. The partnering organisations, in this two-year project launched in March 2012, are: Instituto Nupef in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), IT for Change in Mysore (India) and the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town (South Africa).

The Brazil component of the project has focussed on the capacity-building of black women community leaders in Rio de Janeiro, to amplify their voice in local governance processes. In specific, Instituto Nupef with its partner NGO Criola, is working with 30 black women community leaders from São João de Meriti (in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro), to help them overcome their historical marginalisation, and establish their presence in the local public sphere. In South Africa, the project has drawn together students from a historically black university, the University of the Western Cape, and young women from three NGOs in Cape Town: New World Foundation, Black Sash and Triangle Project. Between 2012-13, the South Africa intervention aims at galvanising the collective strengths of these differently located young women (students as well as women associated with NGOs),by providing training, resources, and political guidance that will facilitate their public participation and community involvement.

“IT for Change is a key critical yet constructive voice from India's vibrant ICT and development sector. Year after year ITfC highlights and tackles important research challenges, often focusing particularly on more marginalised groups. We frequently refer to ITfC outputs in our research and use them in teaching our ICT4D Masters students. Congratulations on another successful year of doing the important work you do.”
- Dr Dorothea Kleine (Director, ICT4D Centre, Royal Holloway, University of London)

In India, IT for Change with its partner organisation Mahila Samakhya Karnataka, is working with marginalised women's collectives to enhance their capacity to engage with local governance structures and institutions for successful claims-making. Between 2012-13, the project has focussed on developing an alternative community information architecture that privileges marginalised women's access to entitlements, by establishing a critical mass of community information centres owned and managed by women's collectives, in H.D.Kote and Hunsur blocks of Mysore district (Karnataka, India). Also, a combination of community radio and community video strategies have been successfully utilised, for strengthening the citizenship education processes of women's collectives. In the coming year, the project hopes to explore new ICT strategies for setting up virtual platforms for translocal dialogue and networking of women's collectives, to help build the 'bridging' social capital required for effective claims-making on state structures.

The coming year will enable us to deepen our cross-learning process, understand how the global, networked world meets the local here-and-now, and how feminist everyday action arises in this process. The hypothesis of the research is that feminist methods of ICT use, do make a difference to the standing of poor and marginalised women in their local context, giving them the power to demand accountability from local authorities. Interim research outputs from the project can be accessed here A detailed situation analysis report, synthesising the experiences of the three sites in developing contextual models that effectively utilise ICT possibilities, for gendering local governance structures and bringing gender politics into local public spheres, will be produced in mid-2013.

Feminist Visions of the Network Society: Forthcoming publication that consolidates research insights from the CITIGEN-Asia programme

In 2010, IT for Change, with support from theInternational Development Research Centre (IDRC), had initiated a two-year small grants programme, CITIGEN-Asia. The Asia-wide research programme aimed at developing an analytical framework from a feminist stand-point, for comprehending the re-constitution of social structures, institutional frameworks and the re-casting of questions of power, participation and publics, in the emergent techno-social paradigm. The main idea behind the programme was to develop conceptual categories that could re-invigorate contemporary feminist praxis. Five research projects were completed under the programme, through establishing partnerships with the following organisations: Women and Media Collective in Srilanka, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development in Thailand, Likhaan in the Philippines, the Indian Institute of Technology (Madras) in India, and independent activist-scholars in China. Additionally, the programme invited six scholars to explore key ideas around the opportunities and challenges posed by the emergent information society context to feminist action – which were then published as think pieces under the programme. The programme reached its conclusion in February 2012 contributing significantly to a critical and cutting edge global dialogue on the question of gender and citizenship in the network age.

However, we felt that it was important to make the insights and perspectives gleaned from the research projects, and the debates and discussions between the pan-Asian network of feminist practitioners created under the programme, accessible to a larger audience. Therefore, in April 2012, we entered into an agreement with Zubaan Books – an India-based feminist publishing house, to bring out a book that consolidates key insights from the various research efforts undertaken under the CITIGEN-Asia programme. The book, tentatively titled 'Feminist Visions of the Network Society', has been planned as an edited volume of 14 essays, that will explore how modes of agency and active citizenship are re-cast in the network society context, in which the increasing fluidity of the boundaries between the 'online' and the 'off-line' leads to the emergence of new spaces for political action. The book is expected to be published by early 2014.

Advocacy and Networking

Engendering the mainstream ICTs for development discourse, and bringing the information society perspective into mainstream feminist dialogue, continues to be a key area of focus for our advocacy and networking efforts in global and national forums. This year, influencing the global dialogue on the post-2015 Development Agenda has been a significant area of work.
- Anita Gurumurthy, with Binitha Thampi, Kate Lappin and Margarita Salas from the CITIGEN-Asia network, organised a session on 'Understanding 'network society' - Political economy conversations' at the AWID Forum in April 2012. The session examined the following questions: What do we know about economic and social power in the emerging network society? How do we imagine gender justice in the techno-social reality we inhabit? As part of the session, a short film showcasing key highlights from the research projects undertaken as part of the CITIGEN-Asia a research programme, was screened.
- The Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) and Centre for International Governance Innovation organised a consultation in August 2012 on 'Post 2015 Development' to reflect on, and develop potential successor goals and indicators to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Anita Gurumurthy, Executive Director, IT for Change, was invited to review the candidate goals and indicators related to universal connectivity. In her presentation, Anita recommended that the post MDG candidate goal on Equal Participation in the Network Society may be formulated as follows: Affordable and ubiquitous access to ICTs for equal and meaningful participation in the network society.
- Anita Gurumurthy, Executive Director, IT for Change presented a paper at the Asia Pacific Regional Consultation on Women’s Public and Political Life in Asia Pacific’ organised by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), from 19-20 September 2012, at Dhulikhel, Kavre, Nepal. Her presentation titled Public participation in the network age – A critical feminist perspective highlighted the need for a renewed public-political engagement to ensure that governance mechanisms in the digital space correspond to new forms of community and citizenship in the network age.
- In December 2012, IT for Change submitted a position paper to the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women as an input to the Working Group's report on the issue of discrimination against women in law, and in public and political life. The submission highlighted the need to recognise the changing nature of public spaces in the network society context, and the importance of evolving global normative frameworks to guard against market excesses, in the new, hybrid spaces of the Internet.

Nandini.C from IT for Change at the International Working Forum on Women and ICTs and Development, Washington D.C., Jan 2013

- In January 2013, Anita Gurumurthy, Nandini.C and Emma Saloranta represented IT for Change at the International Working Forum on Women, ICTs and Development. The Forum was organised by UN Women and the U.S. Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues,in Washington D.C. The Forum primarily aimed at “convening a broad based coalition in order to take stock of current ICTD and gender approaches, challenges, opportunities and to chart a course forward”. Participants included UN organisations, civil society, academia, government agencies and the private sector. IT for Change led the work-stream on 'Political participation,agency and e-government'.
- In 2012-2013, Anita Gurumurthy, Executive Director, IT for Change, was nominated to the National Resource Group of Mahila Samakhya, a pan-Indian governmental programme that works towards the empowerment of rural, marginalised women through a collectivisation strategy. The National Resource Group plays a key role in influencing the strategic directions and programmatic priorities of Mahila Samakhya.
- IT for Change has continued its advocacy efforts with national bodies such as the National Mission for the Empowerment of Women and multi-lateral agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme, to push for an e-government model that is gender-just and inclusive, in the Indian context. In fact, in August 2012, IT for Change submitted a solicited input for a research study by the United Nations Project Office on the “Role of e-government to promote gender equality in the Asia-Pacific”.

Looking Ahead

The forthcoming year will see the publication of our edited volume of essays on feminism and network society politics – 'Feminist Visions of the Network Society' – by Zubaan Books. We have been sharpening our insights on feminist visions of development over time, garnering credibility with national bodies like the National Mission for Empowerment of Women and exploring the possibility of working with their research programme. Especially through the experience of the Women-gov project, we hope to make a small but important contribution to the missing links in feminist theorisation that connect gender and governance debates with the contemporary techno-institutional paradigm. The insights from the India intervention under this project will be helpful in our national-level advocacy efforts for engendering Panchayati Raj institutions (local self-government institutions in the Indian context).