Call for Submissions: Access to the Internet in Southeast Asia

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Call for Pitches for GenderIT Asia Edition 2022

Introduction

Access to the internet is not considered a luxury anymore, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that revealed the importance of connected societies and the importance that technology and the internet plays in them. But while this significance cannot be contested, in small pockets of communities and households, the internet continues to be a luxury for most people for various reasons, be it rooted in the lack of financial resources, absence of infrastructure to enable access, political and/or patriarchal control. Individuals are refused access to the internet based on where they are located, their socio-economic conditions, or whether the governments, security agencies or the patriarchs of the house consider it appropriate to allow this access. In a lot of instances, this access is denied only on the basis of how the society is structured.

Those living in precarious conditions in Southeast Asia access and experience the internet differently than those in the developed, middle and upper income countries around the world. The limitations are not only based on whether the particular geography is profitable for corporations and services that can enable access, but also on whether people’s personal situations allow them to afford this access. In addition, denial of service has become common in the events of political instability in the form of internet shutdowns and has led to limited circulation of authentic information, resulting in further chaos. But there have also been instances where lack of internet and digital access has restricted access to life-saving and critical information from reaching people at risk, and has not just discouraged economic and educational opportunities from being benefited from but also led to people losing their lives because they struggled to connect to healthcare services in time.

However, much like everything else, this lack of digital access has impacted women significantly more than cis gender heterosexual men in communities and countries in Southeast Asia. According to GSMA’s The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022, women are 16 percent less likely to use mobile internet than men in low- and middle income countries. Whereas, International Telecommunication Union states in its May 2022 report that, “Across Asia and the Pacific, an estimated 54 per cent of women use the Internet compared to 59 percent of men, reflecting a comparable digital gender gap amid lower usage overall.” Owing to this gender gap, it is speculated that the digital inequality will translate into economic equality barring women in ASEAN countries from accessing the many financial benefits of technology. It is known that the lack of and controlled digital access has direct implications on the way women’s lives can be improved in patriarchal societies.

But where the impact of gender digital divide on women is known, although very underreported, people from LGBTQIA+ communities have been ignored from this discussion with no research measuring its implications on their lives. The violence on this community in many forms is well-known, but their systemic exclusion and silencing from digital platforms has created a void in data available regarding the kind of digital divide that they face. The gap also restricts information and research around the sources and forces of this exclusion that are currently clubbed as ‘violence’. This generalisation needs to be discussed with the nuance that it is experienced by queer individuals.

The violence that the LGBTQIA+  folks and women face bars them from narrating their experiences on public platforms without being subjected to more violence, historically patriarchal sexist violence, both psychological and physical, online and offline. This discrimination is also evident in the way technology is accessed and/or denied to these people, and its impact. Where technology is known to serve its users in a way that leads to advancement of circumstances of their lives, refusal of this access, on the other hand, blatantly denies them this advancement keeping them away from equally participating in various industries economically, but also for entertainment and information seeking.

Reasons for this refusal can be manifold, and the impact of lack of access can significantly vary between individuals, groups and communities. For some it could be a slight inconvenience, while for others, it could be a matter of losing opportunities, and for others, a matter of life and death.

We invites writers, artists, creators and filmmakers from Southeast Asia to pitch interesting and nuanced stories that explore the larger theme of controlled access to technology for women and queer folks in the region for GenderIT’s latest 2022 edition focused on Asia. The stories must examine,

  1. Why is the service as essential as technological and internet access denied to women and/or LGBTQIA+? 

  2. What is the impact of this denial on these individuals and/or communities?

  3. Does the absence of the voices of marginalised and/or at-risk individuals shift or affect the narrative around their rights in any way, and how?

By focusing on those living in Southeast Asia, the intention through these stories is to highlight those experiences that do not, and might never, make it to the mainstream stage otherwise. The idea is to emphasise the unique barriers that individuals in this part of the world face, and how that impacts their lives.

We are looking for pieces from individuals based in the region that highlight their own experiences or of those around them, rooted on the larger theme: Access to the Internet.

Sub-Themes

  1. Cultural and societal barriers to access

Women’s access to the internet and technology is not only discouraged but is heavily impacted by various societal or cultural aspects. The fear of technology and the belief that it is not a safe place to be in; women being overburdened with domestic responsibilities, leaving them no time, energy or bandwidth to have some sort of digital access; the notion that women and young girls who do not work professionally don’t have a reason to be online; the attribution of technology and the internet with ‘wasting time’; men being able to travel to nearby connected places to connect to the internet while women can’t; are only some of the cultural challenges that arise when accessing the internet.

How do you explore or see them?

  1. Patriarchal control on technological access

Women not only have to adhere to societal and cultural barriers, but also have to navigate everyday life under a strict patriarchal control. This can look like this: not having own mobile phone and relying on a man in the house to ‘allow’ her to use his mobile phone for important communication; not having the permission to own or access a digital device at all; having access to a digital communication device under strict surveillance of a man; boys get priority over bandwidth and use of the digital device than girls and women in the house.

Do you have a story around this to tell?

  1. Geographic barriers restricting gendered access

Women and LGBTQI+ people who live in geographies with limited or no infrastructure to enable digital access, struggle to access internet and digital technologies. This includes not only the telecom infrastructure in the area, but also extensive issues related to unavailability of electricity that is an enabling force for digital access. In instances like this, it becomes important to consider and look at these barriers from a feminist lens and decontruct how geography plays a part in limiting people’s access to the internet and how does this impact their overall lives? It could play out in the form limiting economic or educational opportunities, barring them from connecting with friends and families, restricting their access to critical information (especially during times of crisis), and how does this impact them?

  1. Financial barriers restricting gendered access

Economic barriers are another reason why women and LGBTQIA+ communities struggle to access the internet and digital technologies. Lack of employment for various reasons, limited financial resources, lack of available disposable income that could contribute to this access, cost of communication devices and internet devices being unaffordable, the cost of travelling to places with internet increasing the cost of access, and many other underlying reasons contribute to this barrier. How are women and marginalised groups experiencing this barrier in your community and around?

  1. Lack of digital literacy skills and inclusive digital literacy programs

Digital literacy skills and programs are not imparted to women and gender and sexual minorities in various communities, creating a significant void in access to technology that may not be as simple for someone with no introduction to digital devices, platforms or the language that they use. Even changing the language of the device or platforms requires knowing where to look for the setting. But there’s also the cultural barriers at play here that do not prioritise digital literacy for women, leaving them further behind.

  1. Online gender based violence and how it impacts technology’s access for women and LGBTQI+ folks

Online gender based violence (OGBV) is another reason why so many women and LGBTQIA+ folks remain disconnected. The fear of being targeted for their expression on the internet; the experience of already being targeted that led to leaving online spaces, or forceful expulsion from the spaces due to online and/or offline violence, all contribute to how connected the individuals are. Was anyone forced to leave digital technologies and/or platforms because of OGBV? 

  1. What does technology enable communities to achieve?

While there are many barriers to gendered access to the internet and technology leading to widening the existing gender digital divide and contributing to the many challenges that communities face, are there stories where technology and internet access has enabled women and/or LGBTQIA+ communities to achieve milestones, big or small? What has connectivity and access to technology made possible for them?

Story specifics:

We are looking for individuals from South East Asia to write, draw or shoot stories that explore the impact of lack of digital access on women, non-binary and/or queer people in their communities. The stories must not be a surface level discussion of the situation, rather an in-depth piece highlighting and addressing nuances of technological access and the way it plays out or falls short in serving the gender and sexual minorities around us.

A good story talks about the impact of the presence or lack of technological access on the person or community. It could be a personal narrative, a feature, an illustrated comic strip, a 10-minute documentary, a photo essay, a spoken poem, a song or an anthem  – the possibilities are endless, as long as it is original and written in response to this call.

  • Personal essay, feature story: 2000 - 2500 words

  • Comic strip: 3 panels with 4 frames each

  • Documentary: 10 minutes

  • Photo essay: upto 10 photos

  • Other: Let’s discuss!

Tips and style for writings here: http://writers.wiki.apc.org/index.php/How_to_write_for_GenderIT.org

Contributors will be paid between 500 USD and 800 USD depending on the type of content they are pitching.

All the content published on GenderIT follows the Creative Commons licensing. You can read more about the CC licences here.

If you have any questions, feel free to send an email at genderit@apcwomen.org.

Submit your pitches

Send your pitches via this form: https://limesurvey.apc.org/index.php/225284

Timeline:

  • Deadline to send pitches: Friday, August 26, 2022

  • Response to selected pitches: Wednesday, August 31, 2022

  • First draft: Tuesday, September 20, 2022

  • Revisions (if any): Monday, October 10, 2022

  • Publication of the edition: Monday, October 31, 2022

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