Patagonia’s semi-desert geography, cold climate, strong winds and scant
population have not broken the will of women’s groups and organisations ready
to work for their rights and to use the communication media at their disposal
to connect to each other and to share their initiatives with the community. In
a region where the great distances between population centres could mean
isolation, the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and space
on the numerous FM community radios which have cropped up in the region over
the last 15 years provide opportunities to establish interesting links between organisations,
strengthening their work and giving visibility to their endeavours.

In the “Building
inclusive community networks” workshop led by the APC Women’s Networking
Support Programme
(WNSP) in Comodoro Rivadavia on 16 and 17 March and sponsored
by the Patagonian Institute for Social Development’s (INPADES - Instituto Patagónico para el Desarrollo
) Strengthening Social Networks project, it was no coincidence that
the majority of the participants were young women who are active in their neighbourhoods
and communities. They came to learn more about strategic uses of information
and communication technologies in order to boost their community projects and businesses.
They were clear that equal access and equal opportunity to use ICTs and create
their own content were essential to being able to organise themselves into a network,
overcoming distances, sharing information and working together.

workshop participants were also interested in using ICTs to publicise their businesses,
located in small textile workshops, on large and small farms, and in neighbourhoods
where the production of handcrafted woven goods, sweets and gifts is widespread.
They felt that the use of ICTs could connect them to other groups of women
entrepreneurs to find out about their work and learn about their project
management and marketing strategies. They were sure that through well-planned ICT
use they could access information on new trends for their products in local
markets and find out more about prices and demand.

Access to
information with a gender perspective also sparked their interest, so it was
helpful for them to get to know a local experience begun in Comodoro Rivadavia
a few years ago. The “New Millennium Women’s Network” (“Red Mujeres Nuevo Milenio”), coordinated by Claudia Vaughan, a
lawyer specialising in human rights, has members throughout the main Patagonian
towns. Using ICTs, this network created a news service that soon achieved
national and international reach. Since its creation, the “PatagoniaCiberfem” electronic bulletin has been an information resource
on the status of women in Argentina and around the world. Highlighting the
major issues concerning the women’s and feminist movements, such as sexual and
reproductive health, violence against women and citizens’ rights, “PatagoniaCiberfem” opened up an
important space for the distribution of information which would otherwise not
reach so many groups and organisations in the region.

The “New
Millennium Women’s Network” also uses the radio to promote this work advocating
the rights of women. On a weekly basis from 2000 to 2002 it broadcast the
programme “To be a woman” and as of 24 March this year the “Women’s Roundtable”
airs on the FM del Puerto 107.1
station on Saturday mornings.

Most of the
women who participated in the workshop have community access to ICTs, whether
in neighbourhood or rural organisations or in one of the cybercafés or
telecentres in the towns. They all wish to make these tools an effective means
of communication, which will allow them to establish a local and virtual
presence in order to gain more space for expressing themselves, sharing and
moving forwards with their projects.

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