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Geert Lovink on Tue, 9 Jan 96 13:22 MET


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From: Electronic Witches <ELECTRONICWITCHES_ZG {AT} ZAMIR-ZG.ZTN.APC.ORG>
By: Kathreen Turnipseed (Zagreb)
Subject: women in cyberspace


The following paper was presented at the Interstanding Understanding  
conference in Tallinn, Estonia in november, 1995.  the paper was written  
in response to a request to address women's access to electronic  
communications and to provide an overview of the Zamir Transnational  
Network.

Women in CyberSpace - from Margin to Center

I. Overview

I do not speak for or on behalf of women in the Yugoslav successor states.
 I speak as a woman, middle-class citizen of the united states.  I am here
to share my e-mail training experience with women throughout the Yugoslav
successor states and to address the issue of women's access to information
technology.  I will focus on women's mobilization of information
technology in the service of social change. The analysis I present can be
applied to all people living at the margins of technological developments
as the principle issues are inclusiveness, the sharing of power and human
rights.

Computer mediated communication, specifically electronic mail or e-mail,
hasthe potential to function democratically, however, cyber-life is
constructed and utilized by human beings who replicate real-life
prejudices and inequalities.  As it is currently structured and practiced
computer communication fails to serve women equally as men, homosexuals
the same as heterosexuals, the illiterate on par with the literate, the
working class equally to intellectuals, and those living in rural areas
the same as urban dwellers.  That is, those in the center of society have
preferential access to those on the margins.

I am a biased commentator on the development of Email networks  and
networking  in the former Yugoslavia.  The focus of my work is not a
celebration of the wonders of a new technology, nor am i engaged in
intellectualizing the impact of technology on societies; my approach is
rooted in feminist activism.  I am passionate about Email because of the
potential it affords women to surpass politically induced barriers to
communication, to access the right information at the right time, and to
build relationships.  Electronic networks facilitate women's basic human
right of access to information and then, fully informed, women can
meaningfully participate in decision making processes. To quote Alexandra
Jones a human rights activist living in southern Croatia, "e-mail is all  
about liberation."

The analysis that I present today is biased in my belief that in facing
every critical issue in the world, including stopping war, the eradication
of poverty,and the protection of civil liberties, that women are capable
and must exercise intelligent leadership that is decisive, strong and
inclusive of others. Communications and information play a strategic role
in every realm of social,political, cultural and economic life.  Email can
enhance the participation of women in public life as it enables the
production and broad distribution of information by environmentalists, gays
and lesbians, the elderly, civil and human rights activists, single
mothers, people with disabilities, anti-war campaigners, and others who
are on the margins of traditional power structures. E-mail can bring to
light the violence that is embedded in silence.

My analysis is critical and it is hopeful. I conclude this paper with
with suggested actions for broadening access to Email.

II.  Context and the Development of the Zamir Transnational Network

There are several E-mail services available in the Yugoslav successor
states that provide a range of services with corresponding differences in
membership fees.  I focus on the Zamir Transnational Network as it is an
activist-centered, non-commercial provider, that stretches across national
borders with host computers in Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Kosova,
Serbia and Slovenia. The Zamir Network aims specifically to provide
affordable and reliable communication services to people working for the
prevention of warfare; the protection of human and civil rights; the
achievement of social and economic justice; the promotion of sustainable
and equitable development; and the advancement of participatory democracy.
To appreciate the accomplishments of the Zamir Network and its critical
value to anti-war and other civic initiatives in the former Yugoslavia it
is necessary to appreciate the political and social context, including the
communication infrastructure, in which the network developed and continues
to operate.

ZaMir is literally translated as For Peace and it began operation within
the context of the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.  During this time, many
public leaders were stirring up prejudice, hate and fear between people of
different ethnic backgrounds.  The media were under State control or
influence rendering silent the alternative voices of tolerance and
cooperation.  Anti-war groups formed and worked to coordinate activities
in Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo.

With the start of armed conflict in Croatia in 1991 normal communications
between citizens in the emerging States were disrupted.  Travel by train
or road between Croatia and Serbia became impossible, many of the
telephone connections were blocked or destroyed, and the disruption of the
postal system resulted in an almost total breakdown of communication
between people working on opposite sides of the fighting.  International
peace organizations coordinated a fax network so that anti-war and civic
initiatives could continue to communicate across the communications
blockade.

The politics of nationalism and the creation of culture where power is
allied toand defined by force is expressed in silencing alternative views,
restricting individual freedom and reviving traditional norms. This has
had specific gender implications in the Yugoslav successor states.
Regardless of the level of military activity women's rights are under
attack, women have less visibility in the public sphere and are virtually
excluded from State-level decision processes including mediation to end
armed conflict.  Masculinity is militarized demanding a deeper machismo
and a display of patriotism through military service, correspondingly
femininity has been constructed into sexualized woman or that of Patriotic
Mother.  Several women's organizations have received the blessing of the
State for their provision of a variety of social services to the survivors
of war-induced trauma and relocation.   This stands in contrast to the
invisibility of women's calls to end domestic violence or for appointment
to leadership positions.

The local and international media play a critical role in the construction
of culture and the interpretation of wars in the Yugoslav successor
states.  The international mass media have documented and brought into
homes around the world many stories of the political violence in former
Yugoslavia. Many people in the world know that numerous citizens in Bosnia
& Hercegovina have been starved, physically beaten, forced from their
homes and killed; until this summer they were less clear that this same
fate has fallen upon many people in Croatia and today most people still
are unaware of the oppressive conditions endured by ethnic Albanians
living in Kosova.  Due to widespread coverage, there is international
awareness that rape is used as an instrument of militarized nationalism,
yet people do not learn of the persistence of male violence in the home.
Images of rural women displaced from their homes by threat or force are
often featured in television reports and news articles from the region.
Women do comprise a majority of the refugee and displaced population of
this region but we also comprise a majority of anti-war, human rights,
environmental and social reconstruction activists.  With the periodic
exception of groups who are working with women survivors of sexual
violence much of women's work for peace is unreported in the mass media.

The horrors of war are worthy of reporting yet the mass media often does
not place it in proper context or include effects other than the redrawing
of geographic boundaries, the uprooting of entire communities, and massive
human rights violations.  In the shadow of the media popularized images of
war violence and ethnic divisions lie other widespread and pervasive
effects of militarism; societies are running on fragile economies with
many citizens on the brink of survival, there is resurgent religious
influence in public life,conservative social policies, and many young
people have immigrated.

The narrow space for alternative views renders e-mail indispensable to
activists who strive to restructure communities so that people have power
over their own lives, participate fully in community, and live in dignity
and freedom. E-mail enables activists in this region who must work outside
traditional structures to speak for themselves, to be informed, to
maintain relationships and to meaningfully participate in global social
change movements.

CHRONOLOGY

In December 1991 peace activist Eric Bachman initiated the first phase of
an Email network.  Modems were given to anti-war groups in Ljubljana,
Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo with connections made through Adria Net to
GreenNet.  Communication in this initial phase was very unreliable as
local servers were not able to fulfill their role adequately.  Soon after,
Wam Kat, an international volunteer experienced in email, joined the Anti-
War Campaign in Zagreb.  Using his own laptop the Anti-War Campaign was
connected to the world-wide email network by directly telephoning to the
London-based GreenNet.  This step provided excellent and fast
communications to and from the Zagreb Anti-War Campaign but was very
expensive and was of no help to other antiwar and peace groups in the
region.

In July 1992 the Anti-War Campaign in Zagreb and the Center for Antiwar
Action in Belgrade decided to establish their own BBS network.   The two
new BBS's exchanged mail by way of Austria and were thereby connected with
each other and the rest of the world.  Activists used the connection to
publish alternative interpretations of local conditions, to coordinate
actions, to tap into an international network of solidarity, to maintain
personal relations and to receive foreign-published information.

This initial connection was not without problems - equipment was
overextended or inadequate, training requirements were high, and funding
was needed to cover telephone and other operational costs.  In September,
1992 upgraded equipment was installed in Belgrade and an international
volunteer took responsibility for keeping the system running.

The computer system in Zagreb also experienced serious operating problems.
 The BBS still ran on a borrowed computer and a shared telephone line.
The system operator was involved in other projects and was traveling for
several weeks.  During this time the hard disk crashed and the system went
 off-line for four weeks as no one knew how to get the system running
again.

In December 1992 funds were raised to purchase a new computer and a
dedicated telephone line was found.  Since then the BBS in Zagreb has
operated with  a high degree of reliability.  In 1994, despite war
conditions Eric succeeded in establishing zamir in sarajevo.  In three
weeks he was able to get electricity, a telephone, a computer and
international connections.   The system has operated with a varying degree
of reliability due to the electricity cuts and shelling utilized in the
siege of citizens in Sarajevo.

As 1995 draws to a close it is impressive to review the growth of the
ZaMir network since this patched together beginning.  The network is now a
memberof the Association for Progressive Communications, APC, with  seven
servers offering email, newsgroups, and local conferences to over 2,700
network members.  In order to accommodate a maximum number of users,
members are encouraged to use point programs that allow quick and
automatic netcalls into the servers instead of working on-line.
Facilities are also available to enable people who don't have computers to
exchange messages.

The establishment of the ZaMir network is a testimony to individual
creativity, commitment and perseverance.  This vital communication link is
deeply rooted in cooperation, innovation and respect for local culture.
International activists played a critical role in the initial development
of the project and quickly involved local activists in the development and
daily operation of the system.

With the slowing demand for technical upgrades and improved reliability
the staff of the Zamir system are now giving more attention to outreach,
the development of an on-line community, self-financing and greater
involvement of women in the policy and practices of the network.

III.  Electronic Witches

The Electronic Witches project was initiated in spring of 1994 to broaden
women's access to electronic mail.  The project began within the Women's
Information and Documentation Center in Zagreb and became an independent
project within the feminist movement in the Yugoslav successor states with
special support from the Zagreb Women's Lobby and the women's human rights
group B.a.B.e. (Be active Be emancipated).  This project continues to
receive invaluable support and encouragement from the system operators
across the ZaMir network and has received financial support from the
DanishPeace Council, Oxfam and the STAR project.

In sharing the history of the Zamir Network you will have noticed that
there is no mention of  women's involvement.  Writer bell hooks, speaking
of her experience as an African American woman asserts "to be in the
margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body."  Women have
been related to the ZaMir Network since its inception but we have not been
active at the center.  Vesna Terselic, as Coordinator of the Anti-War
Campaign, was involved in financial decisions but was too busy for greater
involvement in the development of the network.

As is common throughout the world, email technology on the Zamir Network
reflects the masculine culture of technology.  The system was designed and
developed by men and then the services were made available to women. Male
dominance of this technology is not the same as active or purposeful
discrimination against women and availability is not the same as access.

There are three components to having access to email technology.  Hardware
and software must be obtained, motivation and ownership must be developed
and confidence raised.  While women in the former Yugoslavia work under a
range of economic circumstances one could cynically argue that obtaining
the technical resources is the simplest part of access; it merely requires
funding whereas motivation, ownership and confidence require time,
commitment and changes in attitude.

Over the course of eighteen months Electronic Witches has worked with
more than one hundred women from thirty organizations throughout former
Yugoslavia.  These women come from a wide variety of backgrounds -
different ethnicity's, religion, sexual orientation, education, class and
profession. Threaded through this diversity in life experience runs an
overwhelming similarity in their approach and experience with information