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Information must be linked to political action

lundi 29 juillet 2002, par Malin Björk

The fourth Know-How conference gathered women’s information activists in Kampala, Uganda for four days of exchange and reflection. The choice to organise the meeting in Uganda, and the subsequent large representation of women from all over Africa, contributed to a more politicised discussion on information and communication as tools for promoting social change, reducing poverty and increasing equality between women and men.

The Know-How conference gathered around 200 women active in the collection, processing, treatment and dissemination of information in Kampala, Uganda on 23-27 July. The meeting, held every four years, has grown in both size and scope since the first occasion when a dozen women running women’s information centres gathered in Istanbul. From having been more about feminist documentation work, the conference now brought together a more diverse range of feminist activists that use information and communication as their political tool for change. Besides representatives from women’s information and documentation centres, there were radio broadcasters, video producers, internet-based feminist activists, etc.

End or means ?

It was the first time the meeting was held in Africa, and the large participation of women from all over the African continent definitely gave the meeting a different dimension. The introductory speech by Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, president of the hosting organisation Isis-WICCI (Uganda), clearly set the frame for the conference emphasising that documenting and collecting information must not be an end in itself, but that information must be linked with political action. This point was further demonstrated by Ruth Ojiambo-Ochieng, also from Isis-WICCI, when explaining their project of collecting and documenting women’s experiences of the conflicts in Uganda. « It would have been immoral to stop at that » she said, and explained how they followed up by carrying out advocacy work among the medical professions and policy-makers to make them respond to the needs of women in conflict areas.

For equality, against exlusion

Mainly the large number of participants from Africa, as well as the participants from Asia and Latin America, ensured that the political challenges facing women’s information and communications networks in the coming years were present throughout the conference. Consequently, the space created at this Know-How conference made it impossible to treat the issue of ‘information’ without always linking it to the political questions of “for whom” and “why”. The ways in which different information and communication actions contribute to increased equality, reduced poverty, and improved situation for women were at the heart of discussions. This meant that workshops on documentation and classification methods had to stand back in favour of projects presenting innovative ways of increasing access and voice for women who currently to a large extent are excluded from the information and communication flows. One of the focus areas of the conference was to explore empowering ways of increasing both access to information, as well as increasing the participation of rural women in the information and communication flows.

If one would raise a point of criticism, it is about the lack of feminist analysis in many of the presentations. Although almost all the participants were women, and certainly focused on women’s needs in relation to information and communication, a more developed analysis on what effects the different activities and projects have on the relationship between women and men, and how it contributes to reduce gender inequalities would have been needed.

And now ?

The Kampala declaration, adopted at the final day of the conference, combines more political commitments with practical recommendations that will form part of the work plan for the coming four years leading up to the next Know-How conference. The threats and challenges to women’s right to communicate are great, and to some extent the adopted text include the more political dimensions of the information and communication sector. It highlights that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can, if strategically used, be tools for positive social change, and states the participants’ commitment to use ICTs to reduce inequalities and to empower women. An important part of the declaration was the recommendations on how to increase access and participation of rural women in the information and communication landscape. Furthermore, the need to increase women’s access to information and exchange of information in conflict and post-conflict situations was stressed, as was the need to mobilise our information networks to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Finally, the need to use women’s information and communication networks to promote an alternative economy to the current dominant neoliberal models, including supporting women in solidarity-based economy, was included among the commitments. Now awaits the process of going from words to action !

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