Friday, November 27, 2009

Bawiin ang Teknolohiya. Now na!

Last Wednesday, November 25, 2009 was the start of TAKE BACK THE TECH (TBTT). It is a 16-Day campaign of online activism against gender-based violence.

A collaborative campaign to reclaim information and communications technology (ICT) to end violence against women, TBTT is a call to everyone, especially women & girls, to take control of the ICT tools (Internet, email, chat, web, social networking sites) and consciously use these to change power relations between men and women.

The campaign ends on the International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2009. It is spearheaded worldwide by the Association for Progressive Communications-Women's Networking Support Programme (APC-WNSP). For more information on the Take Back The Tech please click here.

Here in the Philippines, the campaign is being organized by the APC-WNSP Philippines and the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA). On the very first day of the campaign, APC-WNSP and FMA gathered feminists and communication rights advocates in the second round of discussions on VAW & ICTs: Gender, Technology and Public Policy. It was held at the Function Room of the Sweet Inspirations Cafe along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, Philippines.

Inivited organizations include WeDpro Inc., Women's Legal Bureau, Philippine Alternative Study Center for Research and Education in Social Development, Institute for Social Studies and Action, Alliance for Progressive Labor - Women, AKBAYAN, Philippine Internet Commerce Society, Women's Feature Service and Duetscher Entwicklungsdienst, among others. Although some organizations were not able to send their representatives due to numerous events focusing on women and gender that day, the discussions were substantive and insightful.

Jessica Soto, Philippine Coordinator for the MDG3 project of the APC-WNSP discussed the highlights of her research paper on VAW and ICTs in the Philippines. Among the major points she stressed during her presentation are as follows:

The Philippine Government has ratified all international instruments that aim to promote and protect women’s and girls’ rights .

It has also enacted laws that aim to protect women from various forms of violence. These are: Anti-Mail Order Bride Act of 1990 (RA 6955), Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 (RA 7877), Anti-Rape Law of 1997 (RA 8353), Rape Victims’ Assistance and Protection Act of 1998 (RA 8505), Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (RA 9208), Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 (RA 9262).

The latest legislation which dealt with women’s and girls’ rights was the Magna Carta of Filipino Women ratified last August 2009. It aims to institutionalize the protection and fulfillment of all Filipino women’s human rights.

Yet in spite of the existence of these laws, a wide gap between practice and customary laws remain, resulting in discrimination against women, a violation of their human rights.

This is the backdrop of the development of information and communication technology (ICT) in the country and around the world. Unlike other countries, the policies surrounding ICTs in the Philippines lean to e-commerce and e-governance objectives.

Specific laws have yet to be defined in order to prosecute perpetrators of violence against women (VAW) through the use of ICTs or cyberspace.

Jessica Soto added that there is a lot of work to be done in developing a national policy advocacy that would eradicate VAW through the use of ICTs. She added that a collaborative effort of ICTs and anti-VAW organizations is not impossible.

Al Alegre of FMA, meanwhile, said that there is a noticeable rise of reported incidents of sexual harassment of women on SMS, email and social networking sites such as Facebook. Most of the participants agreed with Al's observation.

Al Alegre also mentioned a case of rape in Second Life, a virtual reality site. "From the 'low-tech' SMS to the 'high-tech' virtual reality space Second Life, there are new arenas that we have to look into," Al Alegre said.

One participant narrated her own experience of sexual harassment through the use of ICT. She said that an admirer of hers was sending threatening and sexually explicit messages and images to her mobile phone and email address. She, however, also used ICT tool to fight back and end her ordeal. Her weapon of choice is her blog; her ammunition is her words. She said ICT is a powerful medium and potent enough to combat violence against women.

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