Feminist Frameworks

From IT for Change's Annual Report for 2013-14

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There is increasing recognition among Southern Feminists that their response to the question of technology needs to move beyond simplistic binaries. The need of the hour is a nuanced analysis that is neither weighed down by deep pessimism about the new cultures of governmentality ushered in by the emergent techno-structures, nor unmoored by utopian optimism about the new digital opportunity for escaping the confines of embodiment.

Today, digital technologies have facilitated significant transformations in major economic, social and political institutions, thus re-casting the space of politics, and in specific, the social contract between states and their citizens. In this context, our work at IT for Change aims at critically evaluating the new possibilities, concerns and challenges that arise for the women's rights agenda.


Women-gov action-research project

This year, we have continued 'Women-gov', a feminist action-research project supported by the International Development Research Centre, Canada (2012-2014), which aims at developing contextual models that harness the potential of digital technologies, for gendering local governance structures, and bringing deliberations on gender justice from the standpoint of poor and marginalised women into the public domain.
This project has utilised the new informational, associational and communicative possibilities opened up by digital technologies,for strengthening marginalised women's engagement with local governance processes, and their claims-making,across three sites in the Global South: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Mysore (India) and Cape Town (South Africa). IT for Change is providing conceptual leadership to this project, and spearheading the India Intervention strategy. The partnering organisations in Brazil and South Africa are Instituto Nupef and the University of the Western Cape, respectively.
Focusing on the systematic pursuit of knowledge around the relationship between technological affordances, exclusion and citizenship, Women-gov explores the promise of emergent techno-social spaces for reclaiming women's 'active citizenship' as a political idea. It seeks to intervene in and learn from, building and strengthening marginalised women's on-going struggle for substantive equality in relation to formal structures and spaces within the State sphere, the 'local' public sphere and the knowledge / academic sphere.

The Women-gov feminist action research project has encouraged a rich sharing of experiences across the three sites in Brazil, India and South Africa on realising the promise of the information society context, for furthering marginalised women's citizenship in the post-colonial context. This video showcases the interaction between women participating in the India project, and researchers from Brazil and South Africa, and was shot by one of the women participants.

Methodology and site-specific strategies

In Brazil

Instituto Nupef works with 30 Afro-Brazilian women community leaders in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro helping them tackle urgent concerns, such as poor quality of public services in their communities; and mainstream hegemonic cultural norms in formal and informal institutions. In this endeavour, Nupef utilises the collective action possibilities opened up by the Internet and social media platforms.

In India

Prakriye – Centre for Community Informatics and Development, the field centre of IT for Change has been exploring the potential of digital technologies using community media (specifically community radio and community video) as a vehicle for citizenship pedagogies and digitally enabled information centres for helping women access entitlements. The project also deploys an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) to network women through the mobile phone, and aims to use participatory mapping opportunities offered by Open-Source GIS platforms.For more details, see Prakriye.

In South Africa

In South Africa, Women-gov has drawn together students from an historically black university, the University of the Western Cape, and young women associated with NGOs in Cape Town to galvanise the collective strengths of these differently-located young women by providing training,resources, and political guidance that will facilitate their public participation and community involvement around violence against women, as well as integrated transport services and public employment programmes.

Project Outputs

Preliminary Research Analysis Reports from each site that detail how the potential that digital technologies offer, shapes local governance and its responsiveness to marginalised women.
IT for Change (2013).Interim Project Overview
Gurumurthy, Anita (2013).Tracing the impact of ICTs on the social and political participation of women
Selaimen, Graciela (2013). ICTs and black women's empowerment: Unmasking domination in several layers
Lewis, Desiree, Hussen, Tigist and van Vuuren, Monique (2013). Exploring new media technologies among young South African women

Project Outcomes

A vibrant civic-public sphere

The spaces of the project – virtual and real – have been sites for women's citizenship pedagogies and civic conviviality, in contexts that under neo-liberal governance regimes make access to claims, an individualistic and often, even, competitive pursuit, at the local level. Indeed, without this space, it is not possible for the marginalised to come together to build their own navigation skills in a digitally mediated governance context.

An alternative to hegemonic 'Big Data' and 'Open Data' discourses

You can find the women-gov research outputs documented on our organisational website
The experiences of the project, especially at the Brazil and India site, highlight the myriad, unexplored possibilities that ICTs offer for generating and utilising community-generated data for developmental micro-planning. For instance, at the Brazil site, the Afro-Brazilian women community leaders carried out a local survey of citizen satisfaction with health services, and

contrasted this data with what was available on the health department's website, to use the resultant discrepancies to challenge the poor quality of health services at the local level. Similarly, in India,the project implemented a community-initiated survey of access to entitlements through the village information centres, to corroborate beneficiary selection processes of local government institutions,under various governmental schemes – thereby making transparent the hitherto invisible workings of the 'networks of favours' that skew entitlement-related decision-making at the local level.
These possibilities fall between the stools of the current hegemonic discourses of 'Open Government Data'and 'Big Data' that valorise statist and centralised models of development planning, utilising the possibilities of technology for data aggregation. In this valorised, mainstream planning model, there is no room for mapping and/or addressing the particular marginalisations emerging from the socially and culturally differentiated experiences of citizenship that prevent effective claims-making. This is where an alternative decentralised data architecture, evolved through community participation, becomes very useful – an area that needs far greater attention from policy makers intent on pursuing ICT strategies for social inclusion.

Shaping academic debates in the area of gender, technology and governance

In partnership with the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal University, we organised a 3-day course on 'Social Justice in an Internet-mediated World', building upon the insights from the Women-gov project, in the area of utilising ICTs for deepening democracy. The course, organised in January 2014, had 20 participants from various backgrounds: academics, PhD scholars, development practitioners, lawyers and technology professionals.

Influencing global policy

We have taken forward the insights emerging from the Women-gov project on creating socially just e-governance paradigms, to global policy advocacy spaces where the post-2015 development agenda is being shaped, and to national policy debates on e-governance and women's rights.

Building feminist frameworks for the digital age: other research assignments

We have continued our work on compiling the insights from our two-year, IDRC supported, Asia-wide programme on Gender and Citizenship in the Information Society (CITIGEN-Asia) that concluded in February 2012, into an edited volume of 14 essays. This book that synthesises our theory-building efforts around the question of feminist politics in the information age, will be published by Zubaan Books in mid-2014. Another significant research assignment we undertook during 2013-14, was the preparation of a 'Gender and ICTs' brief, commissioned by BRIDGE, IDS Sussex, for DFID, detailing a policy and programme road-map for promoting the gender justice agenda in the digital age.


Bringing the information society perspective into feminist dialogue and gendering the mainstream 'ICTs and development' discourse continue to be key focus areas of our advocacy efforts at global and national levels. Additionally, we have focused on shaping the ongoing debates and discussions around the post-2015 development agenda.


Anita Gurumurthy, Executive Director, IT for Change, has been nominated to the Working Group on Broadband and Gender of the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission on Digital Development, chaired by UNDP. She has been active in the 'Access' and 'e-skills' workstreams constituted by the Working Group on Broadband and Gender. In particular,she has focused on pushing the boundaries of the 'Access' discourse, so that the 'meaningful access' agenda is not reduced merely to that of 'affordability'.

Anita Gurumurthy is also a part of the Advisory Group of Ending VAW: Research on Legal Remedies and Corporate Policies - a global programme of APC, supported by the Dutch Government's FLOW Fund.

Anita Gurumurthy was invited to be a part of the Gender Review Group of SciDev.Net, an online global portal focusing on free news, views and analysis about science and technology in the developing world, in September 2013.

Anita Gurumurthy has been closely in dialogue with the Women's Major Group for the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs), urging for the inclusion of information society concerns in the SDG discussions. In December 2013, she submitted a note on 'ICT, information and data issues' to the Women's Major Group, urging for close attention to the agendas of: evolving a just and equitable global governance framework for the Internet, and creating alternative 'small' data paradigms in governance systems that give marginalised communities greater control over developmental decision-making processes, in lieu of dominant 'Big Data' paradigms that centralise power.

Nandini Chami, Senior Research Associate, IT for Change presented a paper as part of the Panel on 'Framing Development Justice', at the Asia Pacific Regional Consultation with Special Procedures Mandate Holders organised by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development between October 27-29 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Her paper focuses on the key concerns for development justice in the information age.


We were invited by the Second High Level Committee on Status of Women in India, in February 2014, to submit an input paper analysing key policy and programmatic concerns in the area of Digital Technologies and Gender Justice in India.

"As academics deeply interested in the social and cultural implications and impact of our work, we have found in IT for Change a partner that is equally committed to rigour at both the conceptual and implementation levels. Our faculty have benefited from workshops conducted by the organization, and we look forward to collaborating on research and training projects in the field."

- Usha Raman. Head, Department of Communication, Sarojini Naidu School of Arts & Communication, University of Hyderabad

Anita Gurumurthy participated in a panel arranged by UN Women on Gender and Infrastructure during the 8th Annual Conference on Public Policy and Management organized by the Center for Public Policy, at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore in August 2013. Her presentation critically examined the techno-infrastructural regime in the hyper-globalised world we inhabit, where the mainstream discourse on ICTs has led to the uncritical acceptance of the monopoly of private stakeholders over technology infrastructures as inevitable, even as it pays lip service to the rhetoric of 'universal access to ICTs'.

IT for Change was invited by the UN Women Office for Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka, to the Preparatory Meeting for the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), organised in December 2013. The objectives of the meeting were to identify key messages for the CSW, and reflect on the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the MDGS pertaining to women and girls, in order to inform ongoing deliberations around the post-2015 development agenda.

Field Engagement

All of our research and advocacy efforts are steeped in a culture of praxis. To be more specific, many of our insights in the area of evolving feminist frameworks in the information society context, stem from the work of our field centre Prakriye that utilises a community informatics approach for empowering rural women's collectives in Hunsur and H.D.Kote blocks of Mysore district, and enhancing their engagement with local governance structures.

Future Plans

In 2014-15, we will focus on the publication of the edited volume of 14 essays examining gender and citizenship in the emergent network society context, that is currently in press. The final research reports from each site and the Synthesis Report of the Women-gov project will be completed. A Research Validation Meeting to share the findings of the Women-gov project with other researchers and practitioners working in various contexts across the Global South, will be convened in 2014. This meeting will also be used to explore future South- South action-research collaborations, that can take forward the work begun by the Women-gov project. In specific, we are interested in taking forward the question of how women's collectives can appropriate digital technologies for shaping gendered, local governance models that are rooted in the ethos of participatory decision-making, and democraticatisation of data sets, information and knowledge processes.

We also want to strengthen our linkages with academic institutions at the national level, to bring the 'feminism and technology' question into mainstream academic courses in the social sciences. Additionally, we will continue to design and offer short courses that promote dialogue between scholarship and practice, around information society debates. In September 2014, we are planning a three-day workshop/short course on gender, governance and technology in the Indian context, that will bring together policy makers, leading scholars, women's rights organisations and change-makers to examine the issues of: recasting women's rights in the age of networks, understanding data-centred governance systems and harnessing the digital opportunity for women's empowerment.

Needless to say, the work of our field centre – Prakriye will continue to inform our broader research and policy advocacy agendas in the area of gender, governance and technology.