Monday, December 04, 2006

I had a meeting this morning with Gloria (the women’s co-ordinator), the head teacher of the primary school in Aldeia Uma and three teachers – one man and two women – all from the same aldeia, to discuss the beginning of the women’s literacy classes for Aldeia Uma. As the village which is the furthest along of the fourteen in the project in its development, I’m really pleased that the next initiative to be piloted there is the women’s literacy classes.

It’s this that I was kind of talking about at the beginning of this blogathon: the concerns I have with, on the one hand, my own infatuation with ICTs, as an internet-enthusiast, and on the other hand, this discrepancy between focussing on the very specialised ways ICTs can initiate violence against women, when there are perhaps many more pressing and imminent issues concerned with women’s wellbeing to address, in the ‘real’ world that can seem very far from cyberspace.

Yet, and perhaps this is all a bit abstract and risks coming across as having no relevance and no connection with reality, I believe that learning the skills to transfer speech to written record is the first step to requisitioning the once military tools (the internet was designed by and for the US military) that intended to use written language (as code) for the purposes of controlling, surveying and penetrating the lives of its citizens, as well as its enemies. But these intentions were undermined and now the internet is a source of self-empowerment and collective empowerment for millions of people, and not only the rich and the politically or financially powerful. There is even an internet café (without the café!) in our tiny town of Wako-Cungo in deepest rural Angola. It is possible for ordinary people at a grass-roots level to be empowered by the internet: but what they need, first and foremost, before this is possible, is the ability to transfer into written words their so often emphatic speech. I have participated in the courses held in the villages that are just for the women – their chance to get together and learn new skills while socialising – and I can tell you, there is no shortage of conversation!

Now it might not be these women, with an average of six-seven children, with fields to farm and cattle to tend and many, many mouths to feed, clothe and wash – and yes, in most cases, all of these tasks fall solely on the women’s shoulders – who will be the ones to take up the tools of information technology, but these women all have daughters, and letting these older women know that they have just as much right to possess the skills to read and write as their husbands do is, I believe, the first step towards seeing these women’s daughters expressing themselves and their worlds and generally making their noisy presence felt on-line, in a transcontinental mission to have women create, shape and generally occupy their rightful share of cyberspace.

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