Reclaiming women’s space at the peace table : the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue as a model of using ICTs for peacebuilding

Mo is from Burma. She and her husband fled the country in 1989 to escape persecution by
the military junta. She left behind her parents who were then too old and weak
for the long and arduous trek to neighboring
Thailand. Mo’s parents have since passed away and she was not able to see them
again.  



 



Aamira hails from Cotabato in Mindanao, Philippines. But Aamira has not come back to Cotabato for more than 20 years--in
fact, for as long as she can remember, her family has always moved from one
place to another. The continuous fighting between Moro
rebel forces and government soldiers has caught Aamira’s family and some 82,000
other families in the crossfire. 





Thérèse
is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She is a rape survivor. The DRC
is one of a number of countries where rape has become a weapon of war. It is estimated
that tens of thousands of rapes and/or mutilations have taken place in DRC
during the past ten years (Cabrera-Balleza, 2005).







Impact of violent conflicts
on women


The experiences of
Mo, Aamira, and
Thérèse illustrate the impact of violent conflicts on women.
Without meaning to reinforce women’s victim image further, I would like to
speak briefly about this topic. Women are subjected to various acts of violence
and there is increased insecurity and fear of attack that often prompt women
and their families to flee. It is estimated that women and children make up 80
percent of the world’s internally displaced persons and refugees. They also
flee because male members of their families or community have fled, are
detained, or are missing in connection with the hostilities, or because the men
have sent them away following the breakdown of traditional protection
mechanisms. Many times, women flee into uncertainty and often into danger, as
they have to fend for themselves and support their dependants with limited
resources (ibid).





Women
also have to bear increased responsibility for their children and elderly
relatives and sometimes the bigger community in the absence of their menfolk.
Sometimes, women also choose not to flee the fighting or the threat of
hostilities because they and their families believe that the very fact that
they are women and mothers will make them safe from the warring parties. They
therefore stay to protect their families and provide for them. But the absence
of their men and the general instability and lawlessness increase the
insecurity of the women who are caught up in these situations, and aggravate
the breakdown of the traditional support mechanisms upon which they previously
relied (ibid).





Rape,
forced prostitution, sexual slavery and forced impregnation are all criminal
means and methods of warfare that have attracted more and more attention in
recent years, mainly because of the widespread reporting of such acts in recent
conflicts. Sexual violence has in fact always been used against women and
girls--and to a lesser extent against men and boys--as a form of torture used
to degrade, intimidate and ultimately defeat and chase away targeted
populations (International Committee of the Red Cross, 2001).











Using ICTs to transform
women’s images in conflict situations


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. For the International Women's
Tribune Centre however, our long experience in using ICTs to get women’s
voices heard in global policy
and decision-making and in translating policy rhetoric into realities at the
community level, has taught us that there is more to ICTs than just serving as
a cheaper and faster communication vehicle and knowledge source.


In
October 2005, on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the adoption
of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, a landmark document that marks the
first time the UN Security Council addressed the disproportionate and unique
impact of armed conflict on women and recognized their contributions to
conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building, we
at
IWTC launched the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue in
partnership with Isis WICCE. The Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue brought together
women peacebuilders from Nepal, the Philippines, Timor Leste, Uganda and
Zimbabwe representing 40 women’s organizations through a ‘real time global town
hall meeting’ using Internet chat with voice and video/visual contact. It
connected women working on peacebuilding and conflict resolution at country and
community levels with gender advocates, policy makers and diplomats meeting at
the UN, and with women attending the AWID Forum in
Bangkok, Thailand. Participants in New York included personnel of
the Canadian mission to the UN, women activists from the Democratic Republic of
Congo,
Burma, and USA as well as Rachel Mayanja,
the Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Gender Issues and
Advancement of Women. The major thrust of the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue was
women’s efforts to implement the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, as well
as the gaps and challenges they confront in working for its full
implementation. Rachel Mayanja noted the women's concerns and suggestions and
took their messages to the Open Debate of the UN Security Council, which took
place immediately following the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue.





The discussions during the Peacebuilding
Cyberdialogue were recorded and edited and were used to produce radio features,
public service announcements and radio drama in English, Luganda and Swahili.
These radio productions that highlight women’s role in peacebuilding and
reconstruction are currently being aired in different radio stations in

Uganda and other parts of Africa. 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.



 



The Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue represented an
important link in “grounding” the connection between policies proposed at
global level and realities confronting women at the local level. It was an effective
exercise in making local
voices heard in a global space
and bringing back that global discussion to make sense at the local level. Moreover,
the 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.





Within
the broader picture of

IWTC’s organizational
objectives, the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue is part of our continuing efforts to
develop a core group of community radio broadcasters, print journalists, and
other media practitioners who will ensure an on-going flow of information to
women at country and community levels regarding the use of a global policy like
the SCR 1325 as well as the existence of new legal mechanisms and how they can
be used to protect and promote women’s rights.





Challenges and
Recommendations Towards Effective ICT Usage in Peacebuilding



Amidst our excitement resulting from the positive feedback
and extensive reach of the Peacebuilding Cyberdialogue, we would like to stress
that the use of ICTs in enabling women to participate in peacebuilding and
reconstruction processes is only meant to enhance traditional conflict resolution
and peacebuilding techniques on the ground and help strengthen the peace
processes that are already in place. The success of
any effort to find lasting solutions to conflict are in danger of being
undermined and ICTs might even serve to aggravate existing conflicts or create
new ones if they are nor used
carefully
and sensibly and without any supporting structures
and holistic frameworks necessary for facilitating conflict resolution and
peacebuilding
. The cases of abuse in ICT usage
--particularly on the Internet, such as the propagation of hate speech and hate
crime, as well as the spread of information to build and access weapons could
attest to this.






We also need to continuously address the issue of access including
affordability of the technologies, the availability and stability of basic
infrastructures, and the need for sustained capacity building programs and easily
available technical support. From our experience in the Peacebuilding
Cyberdialogue, we came across a broad range of challenges. Some of them were:



 



  • the
    lack of stable Internet connection that prevented women from the Pacific from
    participating;
  • the
    intermittent power supply in
    Uganda which prevented Ugandan women from
    joining the discussion in its entirety;

  • the
    incompatibility of the technical set-ups among the participants--Timor Leste
    women took so much time in logging on to the conference while women from
    Germany were not able to join at all;


  • the
    general lack of familiarity with the technology--some of the women did not even
    know how to sign on to the conference; and  

  • the
    slow Internet connectivity --some participants were only using dial up
    connection--for clear real time receptions, broad band was necessary.





















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.





IWTC hopes to organize more peacebuilding
cyberdialogues and we commit ourselves to continuously explore using ICTs and
other creative ways of ensuring women’s active participation in peacebuilding
and reconstruction. With this, along with the many other significant efforts by
different sectors and social actors to work together to achieve the goal of
gender equality and women’s empowerment as requisites to a just and lasting
peace--perhaps women like Mo, Aamira and Thérèse will soon be sitting at the
peace table.  

References:





Cabrera-Balleza,
M. (2005).
UN Security
Council Resolution 1325--Translating the rhetoric into reality. Kvinner Sammen.
Retrieved from http://www.fokuskvinner.no/Publikasjoner/Kvinner_sammen/2005/Kvinner_Sammen_3_05/4571
on April 20
, 2006.





Fact
Sheet: The Impact of Armed Conflict on Women (International Committee of the
Red Cross ICRC, 2001)

Responses to this post

This is a splendid post - so little is written of ICT for peacbuilding in general and a gendered approach to ICT use in particular that it is refreshing to read something on the topic. I've recently started a blog to explore some of the key ideas outlined in this report - http://ict4peace.wordpress.com/<br />I'm going to link to this article from the blog very soon - please keep publishing more articles of this nature to guide us in our work and ideas.
Posted on 05/11/2006 - 11:18 | Reply

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