Asian Women and Human Connectivity in a Wired World

Article excerpt

KUAIA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA * Bonded by passion for the plight and cause of Asian women and bridged by geographic location, 31 women from all over Asia (together with a couple of women from the United States) gathered in Kuala Lumpur for the fifth biennial conference of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia.

The landmark conference, which celebrated the 10th anniversary of the group, focused on the theme "Wired Asia: Towards an Asian Feminist Theology of Human Connectivity," exploring the gifts and challenges of information and communication technologies in relation to Asian women's experience and perspective.

Plenary presentations looked at Take Back the Tech!, an advocacy group working on regaining control of technology for women's rights, and the rise of religion 2.0, particularly religious groups online like Disciple SFX of Malaysia and the proliferation of hundreds of religiously - themed apps.

Other paper presentations scrutinized the challenges of call center jobs and the double-edged role of various forms of information and communication technologies, such as mobile phones and the Internet, particularly for youth, migrant women and the elderly There were papers that also explored the more spiritual, biblical and contextual connections of the use of information and communication technologies, especially when it comes to social networking like Facebook and Twitter.

Fittingly for the theme of the conference, Skype, a Web-based video-conferencing service, was used to share three presentations with five universities in the United States and to hold an open forum with Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, a member of the board of Sisters in Islam.

A theme that ran through the presentations was how information and communication technologies, especially computer-mediated information technologies, are gendered. To be sure, there was a strong recognition of these technologies as potent tools and as a space for the empowerment of women. India's "Pink Chaddi [Underwearl Campaign" is an example of how women utilized the Internet to carve out a liberating space. The campaign arose in response to men from a Hindu extremist group who attacked girls who were seen in pubs and dressed in Western styles. When the group threatened to intensify the attacks on Valentine's Day, a young woman named Nisha Susan used Facebook and a blog to rally women in response. They sent hundreds of pairs of pink underwear to the leader of the right - wing group, who eventually called a truce in the campaign and entered into dialogue with the women.

However, the Ecclesia of Women in Asia group also expressed deep reservations about how information and communication technologies reinforce oppressive stereotypes and violence against women. The Japanese Internet game called the Gang Rape Club illustrates this. Another example cited was in the northwestern Indian town of Basod, where 80 percent of villagers are Muslims. In a measure to prevent elopements, Basod's panchayat (local self-governing body) has barred single young women from carrying mobile phones.

Religio-cultural constraints, poverty and illiteracy also restrict Asian women's access to information and communication technologies. While 40 percent of women own mobile phones in Pakistan, for instance, phone costs for 84.5 percent of these women are paid for by their spouse or family.

Concerns were also raised about the digital divide between and among Asian women. At first glance Asia seems to be at the forefront of the wired world. …