Because women bear the brunt of violent conflicts, they have also been at the forefront of conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace building. They have taken on different initiatives to transform the negative and stereotypical victim image that is often attributed to women caught in violent conflict situations to a positive and empowered image of stakeholders and active participants in the pursuit for just and sustainable peace. However, the idea of using the new information and communication technologies (ICTs) for facilitating dialogues towards peace remains an unpopular concept among women involved in peace activism. This, despite the many examples of how such technologies have been used to support grassroots activism, networking and movement building.
I was extremely happy to read Reclaiming women’s space at the peace table : the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue as a model of using ICTs for peacebuilding
which is one of the very few articles I’ve read to date on ICTs and their role in strengthening gendered perspectives and frameworks for peacebuilding. The parent website of the article, genderit.org, is a treasure-trove of information on ICTs and gender, ranging from developmental issues to articles on Free and Open Source Software. There’s a great glossary of terms that helps demystify some of the words that we commonly use on the web and lots of articles on the need for a more gendered approach with regards to ICT4D.
Coming back to the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue article, what I found most interesting was the way in which it used technology to record voices that were otherwise marginalised or alienated and then used new media technologies to transmit those voices into the mainstream media of various countries:
The Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue combined the power of the new information and communication technologies and the broad reach of radio to allow women peace activists at the national and community levels to sit at the peace table with policy makers and gender advocates at the international level. At the same time, it allowed for a broader outreach to more women in the communities by way of the radio productions.
This inspires the setting up of a Voices of Reconciliation Internet Radio station in the near future to capture, among other issues, the rich texture of gender dynamics in Sri Lanka’s peace process. As I’ve noted before, the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue is a prime example of technology coupled to a fertile imagination that uses ICT’s to promote peace:
Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue is an example of innovative usage of ICTs that builds on current efforts in conflict resolution, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding by enhancing channels, and modalities of communication, information dissemination, knowledge sharing, and collective learning in virtual spaces, especially when physical interactions are not possible because of geographical distance, lack of resources, and in certain instances, political sensitivities. It builds on the holistic view of conflict transformation, conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding as complex processes that are founded on the principles of inclusion and effective dialogue which can lead to trust, respect, and mutual acceptance of differences.
After pointing out the challenges in the use and access to ICTs, the report ends of a great note:
In conclusion, there is a need to interrogate the assumption that access to ICTs automatically ensures its adoption and consequently leads to people’s empowerment. As social entrepreneurs, women’s organizations that use ICTs in their advocacy work must be willing to invest in building and/or reinforcing societal frameworks that empower local communities in ways that enhance grassroots activism and bring forth new patterns of leadership.
This comment re-inforces what I’ve pointed to earlier. In Technology for humanitarian aid – 6 mantras I speak about 6 important issues to keep in mind when talking about ICT’s for peacebuilding, but also in a larger sense, ICT for development. In Thoughts on Democracy, New Media and the Internet – Working Draft I ended my paper flagging four key ideas that also echo the conclusions of the genderit.org article :
Defining requirements and systems that enable community participation in policy making on the expression of needs by the community itself and not by national level politicians, traditional power-centres or the social elite;
Creating New Media based initiatives that amplify community aspirations for peace while at the same time sensitive to the fragile and complex web of socio-political relations in the context of on-going peace processes;
Expanding a community’s social capital through enhanced access to the internet, while eschewing the facile notion that access to the internet based information itself is indicative of community empowerment;
Using the internet and web to devise communities of practice that transform information to trusted knowledge that aids purposes of grassroots conflict transformation within and between communities;
The complementary ideas and examples of ICTs in pursuit of peace in the genderit.org article and my own research and writings are important first forays into the research and practice of ICT4Peace. Most importantly however, the genderit.org article highlights the need (to coin a phrase) to “engender gender” perspectives in the growing corpus of research and practice on ICT4Peace. As Peace Work : Women, Armed Conflict and Negotiation edited by Radhika Coomaraswamy and Dilrukshi Fonseka states:
It is now widely recognized that women are uniquely affected by war and violence–their traditional role as ‘nurturers’ of the family suffers strain; their bodies become sites for the expression of hatred and revenge; their subordinate positions in everyday life render them especially vulnerable. Increasingly, women are also drawn into conflict as active participants–as soldiers in war, as guerillas in subversive movements. In post-conflict scenarios, however, the presence of women is almost negligible. In negotiating peace settlements, in drafting constitutions and in working for peace between conflicting groups, men far out number women.
ICT4Peace needs to embrace this rich texture of gender dynamics in the development of cutting-edge ICT solutions for strengthening peace processes.