Women Learning The Games: From outer space to inner space

*Niken Lestari*

“Why do women need to know about IT?”

“How to make women interested to learn IT?”

The questions came from a woman who is member of ASPPUK Jawa in a discussion hosted by Combine Resource Institution. After almost three months has passed, the questions still ringing on my ears.

A man asked to respond the questions, “Why need to push women to learn IT? Would it be another burden to their multiple daily task?” I need time to sank those questions to build connection among them.

There is also a notion that because IT was initially made by and for military purpose then it may not be intrinsically interesting to women. I disagree with this. Information technology by the design meant for ICT (Information, Communication and Technology). Therefore ICT is technology that enable information to be communicated in certain network. In military, their purpose of communication may be to have remote-control weapon or missile. In another situation, there was a need for a fast and reliable long-distance communication. The purpose above was military-specific but the need was not.

Human-kind needs to communicate their thoughts and feeling. Women are no exception. So to go back to the first question of why women need to know about ICT is to give them option of engaging communicating process. If we look on today situation the “communication process” has come to another stage. Information technology infrastructure has create a “blank space” which turn into market and a powerful tool for the sake to influence public opinion. In the midst of the those keywords: blank space, market, power, public opinion; where are women?

I don’t consider empowerment as a burden. I do agree that it is communities that will decide whether an action is empowerment or a burden. Women activists have long acknowledge and at the same time are very concern to the multiple tasks a woman must bear. Introducing ICT in the lives of women is a mean to introduce power-bargain in their family and community structure. If a woman does cooking, house-cleaning, taking care of children, and working in the field; how she can manage to learn about computer and internet, the two subjects that will affect the lives of her children in the future? The facilitators left with challenge to help families to revisit their division of domestic labor which will allow women to learn. The change and the negotiation of domestic labor that occur as a result of ICT training for women are part of the empowerment. Nevertheless, the thoughts are ill-stated in the program output.

ICT training, just like micro-credit for the poor, is not a final destination. Instead it serves as a bridge that lead people involved to be aware of their resources and collective power against the structure that marginalize them. Their newly gain skills in ICT is another resource to be able to deal and negate the establishment.

In a country where women prohibit to enter and participate in public space, women need to know about ICT. It is an extension and, at the same time, a limited space for being “public”. In my case, I need a recognition of the harassment I experienced in the past. When I wrote my experience in my blog, I wasn’t intend to expose the details of harassment but to be public of my feeling and my opinion as the impact of harassment. I don’t want people to think that I will be all right afterward and to recover in secret. Since I can do simple HTML, I created a website in geocities in 2004 and at first be anonymous. It took a few years in preparation to come out, be recognized, and be questioned. I feel the need to learn about ICT because it helped my sanity by providing space where I can publish my story without omit the pain and the learning.

Of course not all women are left behind from ICT progress. Those who are missing from the new space/new media are women with late starting points, women who can’t or have limited access to new media, and women whose experience haven’t been written. Because of their variety background, ICT can be a new excitement for those women. Moreover, as people get used with mobile phones, I imagine that they will learn by doing to use internet. The excitement may be the same if we remember of our first TV, first fixed-phone (mine was 18 years ago), first pager, first airplane ride, or first MP3. We also keep adjusting the intrinsic function of the tools to our social activities. If a tool is not useful, it will gone by itself.

Learning is never a burden. It is a must activity as a way to survive. As learning was institutionalized and become more rigid in its approach, it is become a burden. In a fast changing context, women need to recognize different ways to survive.

Once, ICT seen as an opportunity to bring freedom of information to build stronger democracy and to closing the gap of the haves and have nots. As we see today, ICT has been exploited and embedded onto “the master language” which in turn setup wider gap in the communities. ICT does change the way people communicated and it transforms lives, but not the way some activists were imagined.

With the above elaboration of ICT’s nature and relation to women’s lives, the question number two strucks, “How to make women interested to learn IT?”

Women will interested to learn about IT when they can draw connection of IT to their personal and family survival strategy. So it’s not only about her, but also about her family. As mention by one of participant in Jogja discussion, ICT is not solely about computer and internet but has wider tools hence wider options to communicate and become an informative person.

Stereotyping is another cause why women not interested to learn ICT. It just the same as my parents who can’t operate computer and have no interest to learn it. They are being practical and stereotypical. Because their children are familiar with internet, they leave it to my brother and I to be online for them. Therefore I think most people associate ICT with concepts of male, youth, internet, and computer. If we try to encourage a woman to learn ICT, she will come back to this stereotype and feel that it wasn’t her domain or her interest. She thinks someone in her family, whether her husband or her children, will do “netting” or be public for her.

To undo the stereotype binding in women’s mind is a challenge. Some will say that it is beyond the reach of ICT workshops and trainings. I say this is the point of empowering through ICT take place. To be able to operate mobile phone, computer, and browsing the internet are one set of step to let us experience that that we can and become fluent of something because we learn it. From that moment, we help them and ourselves to be aware of things we are learning, including gender and age stereotyping.

I am thinking there is a alternative way, if not to mention fun way, to learn about gender division labour and stereotyping, i.e. computer or mobile games. Games can provide a simulation situation to women’s daily labour inside or outside the house. One of the sample is The Sims which is a popular games in internet. It is a games where a user can create one or more “sims”, a character with distinct personalities and needs, and place her/him in a virtual household. The Sims can get married, have children, becoming grandparents and die. There are rich features that can be added into the similar games for specific purposes.

I imagine any women can create character match with their own and create a situation in which they are living. There is also feature that describe about nutrition they (or their children) take daily and how it fulfil or not fulfil their basic nutrition need to do their work. The games will allow girls and women to see their own activities and compare to their partner/family in one day and reflect it back. More features can be added as the user gain higher points and go to the next level. For instance, the provider can feature information about women crisis centers or education centers around their neighborhood.

I am not a computer programmer therefore will need assistance to make it happen. But it is possible to do, it is within my reach, and I believe some women can do this programming. I like computer and mobile games myself and I know many violent, sadistic, bias games all over the internet which are uncomfortable, undermining, and intimidating for girls and women.

This games aims to be a learning tool about gender stereotype which is a problem to build gender justice. Why games? Because it is a simulation games which put women as subjects who can transfer and become an agent to transform their present situation. With this games, the user able to take a distance of her/his situation and to see it from the outside. Games can be play by children, teenagers, young-adults, and adults with computer (or access to computer rental) and mobile phones. Definitely, this games will not work as a stand-alone application but it should be combined with other community organizing approach to nurture and empower newly built critical awareness.

If I go back to the first question, I will say that many things can be done for the women’s and their families cause with the help of ICT if we know how to do it. It is not my intention to push all women to keep the pace with fast changes in ICT, but more to encourage women to understand its power in shaping the world that will impact their survival future.

Jakarta, 18 Maret 2010


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