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...from the Human Rights Instruments

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18)

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19)

19.(1) Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

19.(2) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

(International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Part III, Article 19)

18.(1) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

(International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18)

15.(1) The States Parties to the present covenant recognize the right of everyone: (a) To take part in cultural life; (b) To enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications; (c) To benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

(International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Part III, Article 15)

The mass media are a powerful means of education. As an educational tool the mass media can be an instrument for educators and governmental and non-governmental institutions for the advancement of women and for development. Computerized education and information systems are increasingly becoming an important element in learning and the dissemination of knowledge. Television especially has the greatest impact on young people and, as such, has the ability to shape values, attitudes and perceptions of women and girls in both positive and negative ways. It is therefore essential that educators teach critical judgement and analytical skills.

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 77)

More women are involved in careers in the communications sector, but few have attained positions at the decision-making level or serve on governing boards and bodies that influence media policy. The lack of gender sensitivity in the media is evidenced by the failure to eliminate the gender-based stereotyping that can be found in public and private local, national and international media organizations.

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 235)

Women should be empowered by enhancing their skills, knowledge and access to information technology. This will strengthen their ability to combat negative portrayals of women internationally and to challenge instances of abuse of the power of an increasingly important industry.(…)

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 237)


When we talk about media , we talk about several different functions, corresponding to different aspects of human rights. As you read the quotations from the instruments, note the various facets of the human rights relating to communication and the media:

• the right to information,

• the right to participation,

• the right to self-expression,

• the right to interact with others,

• the right to organize ,

• the right to educate and be educated, etc.

‘Media’ is a short word for ‘information media’. In 21st century societies, ‘media’ usually designates media for mass communication using advanced technology?

• How do these modern ‘mass media’ compare with other ways communicate and express themselves?

• How easy is it to receive and share information in your society?

• What kinds of media can be found in your country? how widespread are they? who controls them? who has access to them?

• How do people feel about ‘the media’? Do they trust the media?

• How easy difficult is it to have access to the media?

• Are the media in your country/ your community fair in their representation of women?

• How do they describe women?

• Do they hire women?

• Have women in your country developed alternative media to report and interpret political news from a woman’s perspective?

Many of the functions performed by mass media have been and still are performed by ‘low-tech’ means: writing, story-telling, songs, theatre, festivals, crafts..

• Are there particular art forms in which women express themselves?

• Are there particular occasions (festivals, fairs, demonstrations) which are ‘women’s events’?

• In your country and society are women crafters, musicians, artists, writers known and honored on an equal footing with men?

--Confronting the Problem of Access

With the growth of information technology and mass media, global communication has become a major force as well as an integral part of people's lives. Women see the media not just in terms of their potential for education and development, but also as a cause for concern in the way they represent gender and gender issues.

For the first time in the history of the UN World Conferences on Women, the BPFA includes Women and Media as a separate area of concern. Section J on Women and the Media offers strategies for action on the issue. One recommendation was for mass media and advertising organizations "to develop, consistent with freedom of expression, professional guidelines and codes of conduct and other forms of self-regulation to promote the presentation of non-stereotyped images of women" (BPFA, para. 244(b)).

In the present information system of highly technical media, women have little influence and control none of the major broadcast or print media. Some women head major film production companies, and some edit large circulation magazines but part of their notoriety is due to the fact that there are still so few of them.. We may see women news reporters and readers, and a few women analysts and commentators are heard by a population largely dependent on broadcast for information about public affairs and the issues that face their societies. But women have little role in making the decisions about what information is broadcast or published, and little of it concerns women’s issues or is presented from women’s perspective. Thus the public at large in most areas of the world is largely ignorant of the conditions that are reflected in the Critical Areas of Concern of the BPFA.

The crafts through which women express their interpretations of culture, mythic and real, are not only, and were not always primarily, a source of income but media through which they communicate their hopes and realities. Women have always articulated their concerns and described their lives in traditional and folk arts, in journals, poetry, fiction and painting. Woman’s vision of nature and of life have been reflected by South- African women’s house-facades; South American women’ embroideries, weavings and tapestries; Indian women’s dances and folk theatre; Australian Aborigene women’s paintings; Melanesian women’s baskets ....

Women have always been masters of these traditional media, and now they are gaining mastery of even the most sophisticated electronic media, broadcast and the internet.

The Feminist Radio Union (Peru)

Latin American Women were the first to become aware of the potential of radio as an educative, mobilizing and creative political tool for women that their life circumstances deprived of access to the written media. Starting in the 1960s, Latin America’s poor neighborhoods became the site of vigorous explorations of many different styles of communications in the ‘Process’ mode: women creating programs about their own lives, in their own languages, for their peers and for themselves, to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics of those lives.

A Radio Voice For Women

Inspired by the Women's Peace Tent at the UN Women's Conference in Nairobi in 1985 - when the need to confront the 'new' world information order with the voices of women was reaffirmed - Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE) was launched in Costa Rica in 1991. Set up with support from the Foundation for a Compassionate Society, FIRE broadcasts for two hours every day in English and Spanish, on its own short-wave radio station, Radio for Peace International, to over 100 countries.

Aiming to reach the international community across barriers of nationality, culture, race and language, FIRE also puts out live broadcasts from women's events such as last year's Cairo Conference on Population and Development, broadcasts in other languages, relays the output from other women's networks, and distributes programmes on cassette. Nearer home,it is active in campaigning on environmental and women's issues. Here Maria Suarez Toro,a FIRE producer, tells how the radio station is struggling to save the last forest reserve left in the Central Valley of Costa Rica.

When FIRE discovered... that the Costa Rica Government planned to create a huge land-fill site at El Rodeo with its nearby forest reserve, we decided to mobilize women's voices in protest. Under the government project, the rubbish of almost two million people from the capital city of San José, would be dumped at this site.

Local villagers started to protest in January this year, when bulldozers appeared without warning and began to destroy the countryside around a communal 14 -kilometer dirt road between the forest reserve and the site chosen for the land-fill at El Cordel.

We, at the radio station, felt involved, not only as women, and because the plan was sprung on the people without any consultation, but because the affected area was right on our doorstep. The dirt road is only 20 yards away from our offices.

El Rodeo hosts the last primary forest reserve near to the city. The 100 acres of forest are only 27 kilometres from San José and are ecologically unique in Central America, coming as they do in the transitional zone between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. As such it contains a variety of flora and fauna from both regions.

Rich in its diversity of more than 200 varieties of trees, including the Balsam which is on the list of endangered species, the forest is home to animals such as monkeys, deer, toucan and parrots. It also serves the El Rodeo community, peaceful people who have lived there for decades, protecting the forest and growing food.

On the other side of the reserve are the indigenous people of Quitirisi, historical caretakers of the forest for centuries. Today, the surrounding area of the reserve also contains the University of Peace and a stretch of recreational land, where families come at weekends to enjoy themselves.

Threatened with an invasion of garbage trucks which would threaten the peace of this area and the future of the forest, what could be done to raise awareness of the danger, at home and abroad?

One Saturday in February, FIRE found a way to link the issues. Using horseback and walkie-talkie radios, the staff of Radio for Peace International organized a live Radio Eco-tour around the forest and through the little village next to it.

An international audience in over 100 countries, including Costa Rica, was brought into the reserve, hearing the sounds of nature, a commentary and the voices of villagers. People left their work or came out of their kitchens to add their voices to the broadcast.

"My ancestors have lived here for many years, ever since my great grandparents came to El Rodeo," said one elderly woman, Doña Ella Quiros. "The Government has never taken us into account. Now when they need a new site for the garbage, we have to be taken into account. It has been said that there is some obscure business going on over the dump site. It is not obscure. It is very clear to me: they are selling out our health, our environment, and our peaceful lives."

A mountain bike rider, breathless from the 7 km ride up the hill from Ciudad Colon, stopped to say on radio that the President, having named himself "the ecological president" should put his hand on his heart and answer "how can one of the arteries of the last lung left to the city of San José be destroyed with such a road for garbage trucks.".

.... Four days later we were broadcasting live again, from a street outside the municipal building where local government delegates from Ciudad Colon were discussing the growing protest over the proposed dump.

We were recording the voices of the people; more than 800 had gathered, carrying flags, banners and placards. Many were urging a plan that each local community should handle its own waste in local land-fill sites. Children joined in, holding up posters, defying the intimidating police presence.

One after the other, the marchers came to the radio car and spoke through our global short-wave walkie-talkie. "This has got to stop" said an 11-year-old protester. "The Government keeps telling us that we have to be responsible for the protection of the environment. What are they (pointing to the closed meeting inside) going to do to take responsibility for our future?"

Three hours later the delegates emerged from the meeting to announce that they would oppose the use of the roads for garbage trucks. But no opportunity for further discussion with the protesters was given. FIRE then invited the people to call in to the radio station. Within seconds the calls began, an expression of amplified rage as one caller after another expressed their fears and frustration.

A highlight of the 'call in' came from Indiana in the United States: "I am Virginia. I am Costa Rican, but I have lived in America for many years now. I have been listening to my people on your short-wave today. Please tell me how to get to the place. I am coming back to live. I have decided that is where I want to be. I am with you and will be with you in this struggle."

Another caller, from Miami, said that on hearing the people living in the area on the short-wave programme he was really able to grasp the issue: from the direct voices of the people affected by it.

To us that is what global communication should be about.

( A radio voice for women People & the Planet Magazine Volume 4 Number 3 1995. http://www.oneworld.org/patp/pap_radio.html

The Feminist Radio Union (Peru)

The Feminist Radio Union started in Peru in the early 1990s(...) " to develop a communicative strategy as an instrument to achieve more egalitarian gender relationships ... and to contribute to the construction of a proposal where communication is not conceived just as an instrument of dissemination but as a medium and a goal of development, taking into account all its potential.

It was outlined as a common project considering the diversity of feminist programs, accepting and respecting differences. Various feminist organizations began their work early in the 1980s, aiming at the transformation of women’s living conditions, boosting their political participation and backing the strengthening of women’s organizations. They fundamentally work in Lima, Trujillo and Cusco, but they broadcast to all the country through different networks. Likewise, the Feminist Radio Union is part of a broader regional project.

In the construction of the Feminist Radio Union the five participating institutions identified two shared perspectives:

• Creating a space to connect the issue of women and communication.

• Aiming at the construction of a project with political perspective through which they tried to reach more women and allow them to be represented.


They directed their efforts to establish multiple relations principally with the women that constitute the National Network of Radio Producers. In order to reach the women on the radio, they employed different media. They made a recorded radio news program which they transmitted at a national level, and a bulletin called Tuning in which they reported the activities of the radio producers in the country and informed about the women’s movement’s activities. They organized training workshops for radio producers to improve their technical and theoretical quality. During this process new radio programs directed by women appeared.

From the very beginning, their target was the strengthening of the women’s movement, and they got inserted into different national and international communication networks so as to compare problems with the women from the region and from other parts of the world.

In the process of developing the feminist communication proposal, the Feminist Radio Union turned into an active focus of discussions on women and communication. Studies and research were carried out to assess the changes that the program was producing in each listener, and to obtain information on the numbers and level of commitment of the female audience.

For greater impact and to get in touch with the whole society, the purchase of a radio station of their own was negotiated, so that a true democracy could be built to gain influence and power for women.

(Adapted from Susanna Chiarotti, Report prepared for PDHRE, 1999).

Gaining a Denied Hearing : Palestine

The Women’s Affairs Technical Committee (WATC) of Palestine has used media extensively in its work to realize the human rights of women. In the early years of the Palestinian Authority, the media were used on several occasions to shame the PA‘s use of sexist criteria in dealing with women.

Early in 1995, WATC was contacted by several women who had attempted to get passports established in their names only to be asked for proof of "written consent of their (male) guardian". The existence of this regulation came as a shock to the women, since had spent many years struggling against Israeli occupation, hand in hand with men, and fully expecting that freedom from military occupation would bring equal social rights.

WATC saw the regulation as a violation of the women’s human rights to a passport and to free movement. They contacted the Jerusalem Center for Women, which worked closely with the Israeli Human Rights organization Bat Shalom with a request for Bat Shalom to pursue the issue through its own channels. A public letter from WATC to the Israeli Liaison Office accused Israel of violating CEDAW and a basic human right, at a time when Israel had ratified CEDAW. A news item on the subject appeared in Sawt an Nissa (The Voice of Women)

(There followed) letters to embassies and consulates, interviews on the issue with all delegations visiting WATC, letters and articles to the press, marches including both men and women during the electoral campaign with banners denouncing the discrimination,in full view of the foreign press. Individual women being asked to produce letters from their guardians were advised to loudly and publicly question the request. When at last the regulations were changed, WATC published a very visible thank you announcement to the President and the Ministry of the Interior.

None of the requests obtained any response: one woman who needed to travel abroad for her work saw her professional life put on hold for 18 months. Dr. Rita Giacaman was finally granted her passport, opening the way to be followed by many others. WATC reported later hitches, like the fact that Dr. Giacaman was stopped from travelling with her newly established passport because of supposed differences between her passport and the Israeli Liaison Office’s records. This too was settled with the help of some publicity.

Another case involved a widow, She had been sentenced to twenty years’ emprisonment in Israel and served five years of her sentence, after which she was released as part of a prisoners’ exchange in 1983. Deported to Jordan, she met there the man who became her husband and father of her two children. After his death in 1995, she realized that she would not, on her own, be able to obtain passports for her children, but would need her in-laws’ permission to do so. Given her personal circumstances, that would have been no problem. But she felt, on principle, that it was an unfair regulation that could only complicate further the already complicated lives of widows

She contacted WATC and a letter was sent to the Ministry of the Interior denouncing the regulation for violating the terms of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, of articles 13 and 18 of the UDHR, and of CEDAW. The letter was signed by ten women’s institutions, faxed to the Ministry of the Interior and a press release sent out.

Upon learning that the Deputy Minister was to appear on a public affairs program on TV that very night, WATC sent a copy of their press release to the TV station, and booked time for a phone call during the interview. The representative of WATC was allowed to speak for at least ten minutes. The Deputy Minister voiced his dismay, asserted his "support of the gentler sex" but expressed his regret that the Palestinian Authority was obligated to apply regulations in force before the Israeli occupation and that one would have to wait for new legislation to be voted by the Palestinian Legislative council.

A meeting was then scheduled with women activists, with each woman in turn telling an example of unnecessary complications caused by the objectionable regulation. The Deputy Minister responded by invoking the hard work of his Ministry and Arab traditions. Minutes of the meeting were circulated by WATC to women’s and human rights organizations and well as to the media. An open letter to President Arafat started with: " We were delighted, your Excellency, when ... you announced that the Palestinian State will be for all Palestinians and will not discriminate between men and women... The regulation of the Ministry of Interior violates the principle of equality and violates one of our basic human rights."

At that time, WATC had been lobbying the public with demands for a 30% quota of seats for women at the upcoming election.This demand attracted the attention of the famous broadcaster of the most popular morning radio program. He visited WATC and during his visit was informed of the regulation discriminating against women. Again, the WATC Director was hosted on the radio show in live debates with the Deputy Minister.

The passport issue became the talk of the Palestinian community. The popular radio show host started hosting a different woman activist every morning .

Eventually the regulation was lifted.

Another story involved a woman who had been jailed and deported for her activities. When she applied to join the "League of Revolution Fighters" she was told by a surprised functionary that he didn’t think women were allowed to join. He didn’t know, he said, that women could be revolution fighters. The outraged former prisoner called radio and TV broadcasters to air her complaint on the regular program about Palestinian public affairs. Eventually leading to an apology and the issuance of a membership card.

(Source: Reports sent to PDHRE by Suheir Azzouni- e-mail 7/28/98)


In 1997 WATC started its own radio program. Since the Palestinian people now have their own radio and TV, WATC considered it important to use these media tools to reach out to more women and enlighten them about their rights, about the challenges facing Palestinian women and to raise community awareness about gender. According to Palestine radio sources, rural women depend heavily on radio programs for entertainment. WATC tries to reach those rural women through its radio program.

A preparatory committee was formed to assist in deciding which issues to raise. The committee comprised representatives from the Working Women’s Society, the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, the Women’s Studies Center and the Jerusalem Center for Women.

On June 1, 1997, the first program was produced. The original title An issue for dialogue was changed to Be with women. Within a year, eighty programs were produced, covering issues such as the problems of marriage under the age of 18, violence against women, education problems facing women (especially those who marry at an early age and are forced to leave school). The program also addressed the issue of male emigration where a husband leaves his family to seek better employment abroad, leaving women with greater responsibility and limited income. The radio program is integrated with WATC’s other lobbying, campaigning and networking projects.

WATC continues to publish, Women’s Voice, its bi-weekly supplement to Al-Ayyam newspaper. The supplement became the top women’s newspaper in Palestine. According to Al-Ayyam sources, the newspaper distributes 12,000 copies per day. Thus, WATC is able to reach a large number of people through this project.

(Palestinian Women’s Network, Vol.3, No. 1 Winter 1997/98)

Electronic Media as Mechanism to Promote the Human Rights of Women

Many of the materials in this handbook were communicated by email or ‘published’ on the internet. Electronic media have been the most productive tool of the women’s movement. It has enabled women in areas far distant from each other to be in almost instant touch. It has built solidarity movements and made possible the success of many campaigns for the human rights of women. It has made it virtually impossible to hide from world opinion gross violations of rights and egregious flouting of international standards and agreements. "Honor killings", systematic gender oppression, denial of asylum on the grounds of gender injustice; these and similar issues flash around the world in minutes. Women communicate daily around issues of the twelve areas of concern and all the other problems of gender justices women’s movements are confronting. Indeed, the speed and efficiency with which women have taken a hold of the internet as a privileged tool of expression and activism is one of the remarkable developments both of the women’s movement and of the history of the internet. Some of the most remote areas of the world are now connected and able to articulate their particular concerns to the vast electronic sisterhood.

As with all resources, access to the internet is unequally shared among women, many of whom send and receive messages for others through their own e-mail addresses. Efforts are being pursued to get more and more women online, to open to them possibilities to seek redress for the harms they suffer, to learn about and become able to pursue their human rights and, most importantly, to give them a voice in the growing global discourse of civil society on the possibilities and policies that can produce a world of gender equality, social justice and peace.

Knowledge Partnership

The Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI) seeks to use media so that women throughout the wold will have access to the knowledge needed to achieve human rights.

At the dawn of the new millennium we are witnessing everywhere a transforming of our lives. The driving force is technology centered on communication, knowledge production and distribution, and human development. Those who are in this loop will prosper; those outside likely will fall behind. Women, across the world but particularly in the Global South, will not be represented significantly within the knowledge loop if not systematically assisted by the international community. In the absence of such assistance, women’s human rights progress in all the major areas delineated at the Beijing Conference will be jeopardized.

SIGI’s knowledge partnership program (KPP) is a technology-based initiative designed to provide interactive training to women in order to enable them to gain access to channels of global communication. KPP complements the human rights education program’s communal effort to empower women and enhance their human rights by connecting individuals and organizations to other activists across the developing world.

KPP extends to women in developing countries a mechanism they can use to benefit from global information technology in order to achieve equal rights and equitable opportunities. It will help bring greater balance to the international dialogue on women’s rights by making visible the experiences, values, and preferences of women from the Global South.

Through the Knowledge Partnership Program, SIGI will:

• Bridge the gap in information technology and knowledge accessibility between women in industrialized countries and the developing world.

• Produce and make available on the web an international who’s who of women, especially profiling women activists and leaders whose work has remained unrecognized.

• Facilitate inputs to theory and method of achieving women’s empowerment by women scholars and activists from the Global South.

• Provide channels to bring initially national and subsequently international and intercultural dialogue on ways and means of promoting women’s human rights to grassroots women in the developing world.

SIGI completed Phase I of KPP in September, 1998 with the establishment of SIGI/Jordan, a pilot training and technology-based communications node to provide instruction and training on using computers and the Internet for research and advocacy. This wa followed by training nodes in Egypt, and Lebanon.

(SIGI News, Volume VI , Fall/Winter 1998)

Gender In Africa Information Network (


"two small pieces of wood will not burn when separated but put together they will blaze up."


In March 1997, The African Gender Institute hosted a pan-African workshop for librarians and documentalists who work with gender related material in Africa. Their overall goal was: to work towards sustainable and appropriate communicative mechanisms for documentation centers and libraries committed to the collection, management and dissemination of information on gender in Africa. They agreed to establish a network which was subsequently named the Gender in Africa Information Network – GAIN in order to facilitate communication, discussion and information sharing between organisations and people interested in gender and women's issues in Africa. GAIN is committed to making indigenous information on women and gender valued, visible and accessible globally and participate in the global information society in order to promote gender justice and women's rights in Africa.

GAIN ‘s network has no formal membership. The network encourages participation of documentalists, but also of anyone among activists, researchers, journalists etc who has a commitment to gender related issues in Africa and the dissemination of information.

GAIN seeks to: link people across Africa; act as a platform to share news, information and issues; facilitate the training of members in the use of new technologies; facilitate resource sharing and partnerships

A GAIN listserv has been set up to act as one way of discussing issues of mutual concern, sharing news and information. SANGONeT (Southern African Nongovernmental Organisation Network) hosts the listserv. The Working Group now shares technical and facilitation tasks. Our listserv welcomes participation by anyone interested in sharing information on gender in Africa.

Establishment of the Women'sNet web site: www.womensnet.org.za

In December 1997, 5 GAIN members from Uganda, Senegal, Zimbabwe and South Africa participated in an Information Strategy Team workshop to develop a World Wide Web site for Women'sNet. Participants were trained in the use of HTML and basic web site design and assisted in setting up the initial Women'sNet web site.They continue to contribute to the Information Strategy Team. Women'sNet is a project of SANGONeT in partnership with the Commission on Gender Equality and is based in South Africa. In August 1998, an e-mail skills workshop was co-hosted by GAIN and Women'sNet to coincide with the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. The GAIN Working Group was trained in technical and facilitation skills in order to share the responsibility of the GAIN Listserv and to empower participants to establish and manage e-mail discussion groups.

Source: www.uct.ac.za/org/agi/gain/gindex.htm.


Popularizing the Language of Beijing

Women’s NGO’s connected with a project called "Bringing Beijing Back" understood the potential of the Beijing Platform as a tool for women’s empowerment and produced booklets, leaflets explaining the Platform for Action and the Critical Areas of Concern in simple, accessible language, but also cartoons and comic strips, radio programs, videos, dramatizations or stories, and electronic platforms.

Women's organizations quickly translated the BPFA and the Critical Areas of Concern into local languages: in Tanzania, for instance, FAVDO (Forum of African Voluntary Development Organisations) translated the Platform for Action into Kiswahili; in Zambia, where there are seven local languages, two organizations, the NGO Coordinating Committee (NGOCC) and the Zambia Association for Research and Development translated and summarized the Platform for Action and the Critical Areas of Concern respectively into all seven languages. NGOCC found a good response and ready understanding by grass roots women of the Platform for Action as a powerful tool for women's empowerment. A number of community-based organizations have already incorporated the Critical Areas of Concern into their programmes.

A good example is the popular education booklet entitled Weh Beijing mean fu me? [What does Beijing mean for me?] produced by the Belize Organisation for Women and Development (BOWAND). This uses a combination of text written in a simple, accessible style, on the left-hand pages, and a cartoon strip in patois supporting the text, on the right. The text tells the story of the run-up process to Beijing and the single Belizean delegate's participation in both conferences. It explains what the Platform for Action is about and how women can mobilize around it. The comic strip follows a conversation on a bus between a woman activist and two community women about Beijing, women's mobilization, and BOWAND. A male passenger listens in and at one point chips in, 'That's true! Everything you say makes sense.'

The Association of NGOs in Gambia reproduced extracts from the Platform for Action and a summary of the main points in its newsletter, which is publicly available, while in Sierra Leone, initial efforts at dissemination by the Sierra Leone Association for NGOs (SLANGO) resulted in women's NGOs getting together to develop materials for simplifying the Platform for Action and Critical Areas of Concern.

For ENDA in Senegal, and for others, the eectronic dissemination of the Platform was part of an ongoing project on women and communications.

Reproducing the Platform for Action in printed formats, however popular, cheap and accessible, doesn't cope with the problem that many of the women who have the most to gain from the implementation of the Platform for Action cannot read or write. Neither does the distribution of reading materials by itself promote the collective activities of discussion, planning and strategizing that are essential to the process of achieving change. This is why most of the projects to disseminate the message of Beijing do so through meetings, workshops, training sessions, radio, video, dramatizations or stories to be read aloud.

Radio is possibly the most widely accessible medium of information in the South; as several project holders reported, nearly everyone has a radio by their side at work or in the home. Radio programs spreading the message of Beijing were broadcast by TANGO, which produced weekly radio programmes, including a phone-in, in two major local languages; the Centro de Informação e Orientação Jurídica [Centre for Legal Information and Advice] (CIOJ) in Guinea-Bissau, which broadcast radio programmes on the Critical Areas of Concern in the national language criolo.

Other organisations used radio for dissemination of information focusing more closely on one or more of the Critical Areas of Concern, e.g. ICRAF Women's Desk in Papua New Guinea (project 66) on human rights. An imaginative approach was taken by the National Association of Women's Organisations in Uganda (NAWOU) with its radio drama serial devoting an episode to each of the Critical Areas of Concern

When women ‘call the shots’

Modern methods of communication can be used to liberate and mobilize women, even in the poorest communities. One such case is that group of illiterate film-makers working with the Indian women’s organization SEWA. Video SEWA is a collection so women from varied backgrounds who have produced over one hundred films,many of them available to the public... In 1984, the late Martha Stuart, came to Gujarat from New York and held a video production workshop at SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association). Twenty women, most of them illiterate, took the workshop and began to make films. For three years they had no editing equipment or expertise, so they shot their films in sequence, which is something no ordinary film-maker would attempt... then they learned to edit and got the necessary equipment. Staff members are textile workers, flower-pickers, bangle-sellers, among others.

"Why should it be difficult for me to make films? I'm used to carrying vegetables."

Leelabehn Datania's background is a unique preparation for at least one aspect of film-making: carrying the equipment. She had never switched on a light or watched television before she started to learn her new trade, but these things, along with the fact that she cannot read or write, have not deterred this remarkable former vegetable vendor from the slums of Ahmedabad from becoming one of the leading lights of a remarkable film-making collective.

Because of the extraordinary women who make them, the films have a tendency to teach you extraordinary things which you would not learn anywhere else. For example, where else but on the Video SEWA training video on smokeless stoves would you find out that women who use ordinary kerosene stoves inhale as much smoke daily as they would if they smoked a packet of cigarettes?

The women who produced these tapes can conceptualize a script, film, record sound, and edit, but many of them cannot find the tape on the shelf when they need it, because they cannot read or write. How did they learn the intricacies of the equipment?

"I know all the symbols," Leelabehn, who is about 50, says, fondly touching the buttons as she recites, "Fast-forward, rewind, pause..." And, since she could not take notes during any of the workshops, she committed everything to memory before making her first film, Manek Chowk It is an impassioned documentary about the women like her who sell vegetables and fruit on the pavement, and their harassment at the hands of the police. The women of SEWA used this film as part of their campaign for recognition of their status as vendors, and now all the vendors of Manek Chowk have licenses.

All the films are in colour, on professional- format, so that they can be used anywhere.

They are used for raising consciousness and advocacy. Some are training films, such as the films about oral rehydration therapy and building smokeless stoves. The women film significant events at SEWA as well as outside, and their new clips have been used nationally and internationally. They hold regular training courses and have an ambitious plan for communication centres all over India.

Film is a powerful medium, especially in the hands of the powerless.One young garment worker who had spent her life in purdah, made a film about garment workers in Ahmedabad organizing for better working conditions. When garment workers in the northern city of Lucknow saw the film, they were inspired to take to the streets themselves.

(...) The group has enough challenges to keep complacency at bay. Technical know-how is at a premium, as it is hard to find people to help them. They recall a time in a remote village where they were filming a scene when the portable tape-deck stopped functioning. Afraid of lost time, money and opportunity, Darshana P. bought out a screw-driver, took everything apart, and put it back together in perfect working order.

They have had to face the prejudices of the local experts on film equipment, who refuse to hold workshops for illiterate people. They have dealt with the vagaries of the national television network, which sometimes uses their clips , and at other times censors them for bizarre reasons.(...)

Sohaila Abdulali in People & the Planet Magazine Volume 4 Number 3 1995. http://www.oneworld.org/patp/pap_profile.html

Media as a Mobilizing Force: the Case of TAMWA

TAMWA as an association planted its seeds in 1979 when some of us had just finished journalism school and were placed in various mass media institutions in Dar es Salaam. During this time, as we worked with some of the veteran journalist, there emerged a growing awareness among us women journalists that we worked in isolation. This method of work was also reflected in the way women’s issues were covered in the mainstream press.

We found the situation unsatisfactory and formed ourselves into an informal group to produce radio programmes. The first issue we picked was on school girls pregnancies. We produce a total of five programmes on that issue with an in-depth analysis of our social context. It went on the air. In Tanzania radio then and radio now is still the most effective media. The programmes were very popular both in Kiswahili and English and people wrote in to Radio Tanzania with a lot of enthusiasm especially schoolgirls offering ideas and solutions. We were encouraged to go on. We decided to do a feedback programme putting on air the views of schoolgirls and as a result managed to mobilize the national women’s organisation to call a national meeting and the issue eventually was debated in parliament and laws were enacted to protect the schoolgirls.

This encouraged and inspired us to produce another set of programmes on violence against women, beginning with domestic violence. It never went on air because most of the mass media heads were men who refused to see it as an issue. Since they had decision-making power, we began to become aware of our limitations. Many of us were demoralized and discouraged since we had worked so hard on the programmes, the event taught us that we did not have a forum of our own. Anger set in and we began to become aware of our situation as women.

Years passed and we went our different ways, but in 1986, we regrouped, after going through many of our individual trials and tribulation as women, and decided to officially launch an association on a formal basis. While waiting for registration which was to come after a year, we did a show on the International Women’s Day in 1987 to depict our lives using different forms of media, which basically incorporated the conventional and popular media. The show was highly successful. We made an impact in the community and especially with heads of mass of media institution who until then did not understand what we were really about. We felt the impact and for the first time an understanding began to emerge in the community. We were registered by November, 1987.

Formal Inception

We had started a newsletter called TITBITS which we produced for ourselves. TITBITS covered a wide range of issues and was produced by TAMWA members . It became our forum through which we could express ourselves and come into being and respond to an inner need. Eleven issues of TITBITS were produced, i.e . monthly. From TITBIT’s production, various talents were identified. Eventually TITBITS emerged into SAUTI YA SITI-the first women’s magazine called voice of women.

In January 1988, we did a seminar on the Portrayal of Women in the Media in Tanzania. We chose this topic because we needed to understand our situation first in the broader context of our community. We also looked into how our language perpetuated the negative portrayal of women. The seminar was attended by about 60 women’s groups who passed a recommendation that we needed a forum in the form of our own magazine. TAMWA met this challenge and in March 1988, just a month later, we launched our magazine, SAUTI YA SITI-Voice of Women--which was also named after the first woman communicator, SITI BINTI SAAD, who, in spite of cultural barriers, excelled in her talent and propagated justice in society. Siti Binti Saad was born in Zanzibar in the 19th Century.


As we continued, we began to realise that given our objective as a vehicle for raising the level of understanding on our situation as women and educating ourselves on our rights, we needed to do more. In May, 1988, we organised a DAY OF ACTION on MATERNAL MORTALITY and MORBIDITY.A story had broken in the news that this issue was no.1 claim on women’s lives. We asked the question why is it that so many of us continue to die at chilbirth when we have performed our roles as reproducers from time immemorial, and how long will we continue to be denied that right in terms of appropriate medical care facilities and human rights? The day was highly successful in mobilising the community over this issue. Participants attending the day began to raise these issues at their work places and organisations. The process of awareness building had begun. We decided to make this an annual event.

As we grew, it became evident to us that as a mobilising tool, health Issues attracted men as well as women and was very effective. We began to include men in our programmes for we felt that men needed education to liberate themselves from patriarchal values.

The 1992 DAY OF ACTION on youth was attended by parent s, school teachers, AIDS experts, doctors, social workers, representatives of NGOs and hundreds of secondary school pupils(youths). The youths expressed that one way of fighting against the epidemic in the country was to strengthen sex education and AIDS information. TAMWA then took on to do an AIDS information outreach work..


Violence against Women:

In 1993, a story broke in the news-Levina, a University graduate had committed suicide after fighting sexual harassment for six months on the campus of University of Dar es Salaam. Levina had turned for help yet she decided to die! The issue shocked the nation and there was a spontaneous demonstration to the institution of highest learning in the nation by women. Men joined. TAMWA decided to launch a campaign on the issue of violence against women.

This campaign led us to also start a Crises Centre for women demanded if we them aware of issue we then had to provide a forum for them to go to.The Crises Centre is now a fully fledged institution with various human rights organisations affiliated to it.

As years passed by a very deep seated awareness set in, in society, of the situation of women in our society. With us in TAMWA we also began to understand that to impact society it was not only necessary to use media, in which we were operating as a tool, but it was absolutely necessary for us to be rooted in our social and development issues in society. TAMWA today is part and parcel of the women’s movement in Tanzania and last year two landmark laws were passed in a male dominated parliament. One was life imprisonment for rape and the other one was the right of women to land. Both required concerted effort and networking with other human rights groups and women’s groups to create a force of change through constitutional reforms.

The only lesson I can draw is that pain-particularly women’s pain - can unleash a force in society which can change the face of a nation. We as women have to realise it and use our experiences into positive direction so as to impact change in society. The time for lamentation has gone now.

(Source: Personal account by Fatma Alloo founder of Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA).

Women’s Internet Campaign

cedaw-in-Action provides a fine example of women’s use of the internet to spread information, strengthen their initiatives and campaigns, and especially to expose lack of implementation of governmental commitments. Indeed, an electronic network has become one of the most significant monitoring tools and resources for information on various approaches to the implementation and enforcement of the Women’s Convention.Here is an example of the kind of campaigning made possible through the use of website, with its instant access to multiple links

We are pleased to announce the web site of the Women’s Internet Campaign for equal access, equal participation and an equal voice in information/communication technologies. Go to www.womenspace.ca and click on anything on the right hand side of the xscreen. Or head directly to the site map: http://womenspace.ca/Campaign/sitemap.html

‘The Canadian government has spent millions of dollars on information/communications technology (ICT). Where is the gender based analysis we were promised for new federal government programs? See Government initiatives on new technologies and women: http://womenspace.ca/Campaign/Government/programs.html

‘See how the Reports say we should work to improve women’s access, use and design of ICT. Section Research and Reports is at: http://womenspace.ca/Campaign/Research/reports.html

What ís really happening for women? see Activist Speak out at http://womenspace.ca/Campaign/SpeakOut/index.html

Why is ICT a feminist issue? See http://womenspace.ca/Campaign/SpeakOut/overview.html

Despite our obscurity in government decision making, women are not taking a back seat

see Women’s Activism for "40 ways online activists are using Internet websites:" http://activistways.html

We believe ICT is vital to women’s access to opportunities for future education, training, employment, health, well-being, equality and inclusion in a future civil society. So, as there is no federal government initiative or women, girls’ and women’s groups, we have also included Online on the Cheap: ways to get online and work online together as cheaply as possible.

The home page has a French button. The French section of the site is in progress, and coming soon. Please feel free to pass along this announcement.

Special thanks to Status of Women Canada for funding the women’s Internet Campaign as part of the project Women and the Internet: Policy and Practice.

Jo Sutton, Scarlet Pollock, Judy Michaud, Penny Kome and Denise Osted, Women’s Space, August 6, 1999.

(Web Resources: Women’s Internet Campaign, 18 August 1999 email, distributed by CEDAW-In-Action Moderator <cedaw-in-action-mod@edc-cit.org>)



women on the net - a joint partnership

Women on the Net’ a joint partnership SID-UNESCO began in 1997 by bringing together a network of women and men involved with technical, political and analytical knowledge and experience in communications, culture, gender and development in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, Middle East and Central and East Europe. The group began their discussions from the recognition that the Internet is proving one of the most exciting and accessible mechanisms for the empowerment of women using the new information and communication technologies (ICT) as tools for change in education, socio-economic opportunities, civic and cultural participation and networking. The group is exploring how to open up the culture of the Internet in order to make it an effective tool for as many women as possible. The project aims to push forward new frontiers of knowledge and power for women in cyberspace, integrating the tools of cyberspace into their political work towards the goal of social justice.

The first phase of the project concluded in 1997. The highlights of the project’s activities were:

• the setting up of a cyborg list serve’ cyborg-l@wigsat.org;

• the creation of a home page at the SID web site;

• two workshops on ‘The challenge of information and communication technologies for cultural identities’ and the ‘New information and communication technologies: source of empowerment for women?’ during the SID 22nd World Conference;

• the production and distribution of booklet ‘women working on the net’;

• a delegation at the Global Knowledge Conference held in Toronto, June 1997;

• the preparation of an edited collection on women and cyberculture with ZED Books based on the work so far.

Project Objectives

• To analyze from a gender perspective the impact of globalized communication.

• To map the gender biased culture of the Internet: the benefits for women, the gaps in access, the cultural differences in language, expectations and use.

• To identify the technical problems and potential strategies for future networking for women.

• To form a women's coalition and network on the Internet which breaks new ground in development theory and practice.

In continuing and broadening out this partnership (...) , the project will explore how women are transforming the technical tool of the Internet into a political tool for advocacy in different regions from their different cultural perspectives. The Women on the Net network will continue to analyze the impact of ICT from a gender perspective in research, activist and institutional settings. The planned programme of activities for the next years will range from the creation of information resource centres in the South, international workshops, publications and Internet link ups.

Findings and discussions of the first phase highlighted how, for example: women technicians work in the APC Women’s Programme worldwide to create a women specific agenda on telecommunications; Pacific women are using the Internet to form vital connections in the ‘liquid continent; African women are sending out alerts and information on their reproductive health needs across the Net; Women in former Soviet Republics and rural Australia are using Internet daily to break the distances; the entry of women in Yemen and Iran to the Internet and indigenous groups are lobbying institutions and governments to ensure their rights. Taking the conclusions that can be drawn from these successful new ways of working on the Internet the project will look at how they can be supported, strengthened and replicated in other areas. Vital to this second phase will be to expand the network by bringing together different women and men working from a gender perspective in order to forge further linkages between technicians, development institutions and activist NGOs. Key to the programme of work will be to understand how local actors interface with the global communication age.


The strategic approach of the project will continue to be to support training and to give greater access to rural and urban women’s groups to technology which enhance their expressions of resistance and empowerment in their own local spaces and in the global economy.




Do you have access to

• editors of newspapers or journals?

• radio or television producers?

• broadcasters?

Prepare newspaper columns on your issues to submit to the newspapers and journals.

• Make use of the Letters to the Editor and Op Ed pages.

• Send information to radio and television broadcasters and producers.

• Offer to have members of your group interviewed about your issues of concern.


Women’ s Process Theater in the Philippines

Street Theater has a long and rich history among grassroots activists and organizers. This example comes from the Philippines. The Philippines Educational Theater Association (PETA) was at the forefront of the fight against the Marcos dictatorship and for human rights.

Participatory Research Organization of Communities and Education towards Struggle for Self-reliance (PROCESS) started in 1982 hoping to animate the formation of strong, autonomous, self-reliant people’s organizations to take charge of the development of their marginalized rural communities . The association operates in ten provinces and has touched the lives of thousands of farmers, fisherfolks, women and marginalized people.

PROCESS adheres to the fundamental principle of the universality, interrelatedness and interdependence of all human and peoples’ rights, recognizing women’s rights as an integral part of the whole discourse of human rights. genuine development requires that people take their destiny in their own hands, and organize themselves in defense of their interests, and improve their own living conditions their collective work.To fight poverty means struggling against inequity and injustice and transforming the social, political and economic structures that dehumanize and marginalize people.The empowerment of the poor would not be complete if women were to be left out of the process. Women’s concerns transcend sectoral, social, cultural and religious aspects, and exist in a wide latitude from the home to the workplace to the community and to the whole of society.

The PROCESS women’s agenda took shape in an organizational workshop held in 1989. Following a 3-day training seminar, field sites were established, each responsible for starting its own initiative for research and consciousness raising. Over the years, PROCESS developed Human Rights Education trainings related to problems of health, sexuality, family planning, HIV-AIDS, legal literacy, women’s human rights, leadership training, ecology and technical skills development. PROCESS integrates income generating activities in the women’s organization with remarkable results.

Increased women’s participation in economic, political, and social affairs and human rights education allowed women to have deeper understanding of the law, demystifying the common idea that are law is too complex to be understandable to others than lawyers. PROCESS encouraged women to join community struggles, and actively participated in local life by joining local development councils or project committees.

One of the offshoots of PROCESS has been the PETA’s Women’s Theater Program and in particular the ongoing ‘informance’ campaign on Violence against women, launched in 1998 with

four major components:

1.A 75 minute "informance" play on the issue of violence against women in the family

2.A workshop after each performance to deepen the audience’s understanding of the issue, and provide ideas on actions and strategies inspired by the play. that could be used by the local community to address the issue;

3.The formation of women's human rights action team with responsibility for implementing actions in the local community to address VAW in the family; and

4.Publication of a Book of Strategies that will relate the project experience and review the actions taken by the various communities covered by the tour.

In Lea Espallardo’s words

"Our schedules have never been so busy, and I have never worked so hard. We are now on our national tour. Last Monday, the audience was a poor urban community in Malabon (the National Capital Region), and hours ago we gave another performance to an audience of children and youths at the Children and Youth Theatre Festival. On Sunday, we will perform in Caloocan, another poor urban community.

Our original idea was to show to an audience of at least 100 people in community multi-purpose halls. However, to our surprise, performance venues for the shows have been so varied: a University hall, a public park, a market place, a gymnasium, even the Fort Santiago ruins and basketball courts. Most of our Mindanao performances are in gymnasia that can accommodate 2-4,000 people. This really presents a challenge to our lighting and sound technicians.

Requests for performances are so overwhelming that we cannot accommodate any more. We have even had to turn down some communities.

We are all very happy with this production. All of the cast and staff involved are so proud of this work. As the stories of the play unfold, so our own stories unfold. What we are presenting unfolds at three levels: that of the play itself; that of the actors, the staff and the artistic team involved; and that of the audience. One nice story emerged from our performance in La Union last November. After weeks of performances in the area, a community organizer told us that one woman who had watched the play reported that she had followed the advice from one of the scenes and said "no" to husband in bed when she did not feel like sex. It seems that the next day she was given "breakfast in bed" by her husband, and she was so proud that she had been able to express her own wishes. Of course, the husband’s response may not always be the same, but it's good to hear such stories.

One community in Cordillera is also doing a satellite informance tour in the Cordillera region which we helped to organize. So, while we are touring nationwide, this small indigenous community-based women's group is also touring a mini-informance on VAW in the Cordillera region. They focus more on VAW issues in the various indigenous communities of the region. As an actor in the play, I realized that performing is not just a matter of being an actor or artist. It also involves being a woman who has to face so many complications in her own life. I just wish you were also here to share this noble experience with us. Such learnings are so overwhelming and I can't find time to write everything. I am too tired to sit and write. I have the luxury of writing now only because I am so relieved that we have just finished with one show today."

Liza C. Magtoto. who is the scriptwriter (and one of the actors) of "Tumawag Kay Libby Manaoag." is also a senior member of PETA and a freelance scriptwriter for TV, stage, video and film. She sent this report:

" Don’t stop if you’ve heard these or similar stories.

Bella married young because she got pregnant. Even although she was beaten black and blue and raped by her husband, she refused to leave him because of her love for him. Dolor is a middle class homemaker. Her strict husband prevents her from pursuing her ambition of becoming a doctor. Nina was sexually abused by her stepfather. She ran away from home.

All found refuge in a radio program hosted by Libby Manaoag. Libby Manaoag doesn’t really exist. She is a fictional character whose fictional radio programme digs into real-life problems of typical women. Her callers are mostly women who throw in their conservative views or voice their rage about such everyday problems. On Libby’s show, experts also provide analysis and advice on how women can protect hemselves against domestic violence.

When Libby plays the music, three women commentators suddenly break into mambo, tango or singing. They don’t just to entertain or give cheek, but offer insightful comments on the predicaments of Libby’s women callers.

Thus, goes "Tumawag Kay Libby Manaoag [Advice from Libby Manaoag]" – an informance by the Women’s Theater Program of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA). In coordination with the Women’s Crisis Center and through assistance from UNIFEM, PETA is touring this informance in communities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Are the women in the audience happy to see their lives reflected onstage, or do they quietly slip away in deference to their husbands? There is no single answer.

In La Union, some men in the audience walked out of the show in the gym. We thought that they were offended because men were often portrayed as villains. But we were told that the men actually left in tears. We hope they were tears of guilt and remorse.

In Malabon we were greeted by the smell of fish sauce and a sign at the main gate which read "Paradise Village." Winding our way down wet and narrow streets, we arrived at the performance venue. Our "theatre" was an open-air multi-purpose community plaza more often used for basketball games, pasayaw (dance parties) and street fights. Director Maribel Legarda commented on the small size of the stage: "Perhaps four tombstones combined."

While waiting to rehearse at mid-day, I observed our potential audience. The women already looked weary from the day’s work. The stage was surrounded by houses. As the show started, I noticed some of the audience still doing their chores at home. Some were perched at their windows, others just listened while continuing their work. Thinking about how the informance might mirror their own lives, I wondered if the show would be a treat for them, or whether it might wear them down even more.

There were men in the audience, mostly young. I pondered their reaction to the scenes depicting the flimsy rationalizations of abusive men for their behaviour. I imagined some wanting to hurl tomatoes from the nearby market at us. However, no such real-life dramas eventuated. As Bella lamented her condition, women in the audience commented, "There are plenty of targets here [meaning many men who abuse women]!" Others called to their friends "Fetch our women! They need to watch this!" Some approached staff from the Women’s Crisis Centre to ask what they could do to stop young men from abusing children.

The informance is accompanied by a workshop or a feedback session for the women in an open forum. In Novaliches, our sixth show, actors and audience sat around in a circle to discuss the performance. One woman tearfully told us how she identified with Bella. Unlike Bella, she had already reported her live-in partner’s violent actions to the baranggay authorities But then her lover (what a misnomer!) threatened her life.

Younger women asked how to advise a neighbour who was raped by her boyfriend. One could sense distress in their eyes and a resolve to stop the violence from recurring.

A street-wise mother related how she disregarded accusations of "meddler" when she reports abuses in other homes to the baranggay. She was a battered wife herself. Once, she told her husband: "You are so fond of going around even thought you don’t have a penny in your pocket. I’m the one eating nothing but salt and still you have the gall to hit me! If only I could pawn your manhood!"

Another outspoken woman was a leader of a group in the Women’s Crisis Centre network. The group holds seminars on how to deal with domestic violence. The informance reassured her that they were on the right track. "Your drama has given us new confidence/" she told us It was inspiring to hear that. But what was really inspiring was the courage of the women.

The women from Novaliches lived in Bagong Silang [New Life]. How fitting. Here is a place where women are experiencing a rebirth, asserting their rights and creating change for the better.

As PETA tours the informance to more provinces and cities, perhaps more women will share or at least reflect on their stories. Perhaps it will also create space for their rebirth, a way to find a voice and to journey toward an end to violence against women in the home.

(Le Espallardo :reports to PDHRE 1998-99)

Indonesian Women Workers’ Street Theatre and Political Change

The situation in Indonesia's labor movement the 1990s was very different from that which prevailed in the 1980s, when Indonesian workers were well controlled by the government. In order to demand their rights and to improve their working conditions, workers increasingly began to stand up and unjuk rasa (show their feelings). Of course, such actions risked intervention by the police or the military, but that did not discourage many workers from involvement in open demonstrations. During this period small-scale and often localized protests were a frequent form of labor opposition throughout Indonesia, being especially evident in Java and Sumatra. In turn, these workers' activities gained the attention of non-working class people who were actively involved in a national movement pressing for greater political freedoms that was instrumental in bringing about the resignation of President Suharto in May 1998.


In 1990, Presidential Order no. 27 implemented the removal of Presidential Order no. 123 of 1963, which prohibited strikes and lockouts at the workplace. This appeared to be a major advance for workers in Indonesia as it theoretically allowed them to hold active labor demonstrations. However, Hubungan Industri Pancasila or the Pancasila Industrial Relations, which guaranteed the government's authority at the negotiating table and which encouraged employers and employees to solve problems without a strike in 1985, was still very much alive. In a statement intended to warn workers, the civilian Ministry of Manpower, Cosmas Batubara (who replaced Sudomo in 1988) said that both labor and management should respect the spirit of Pancasila so that no demonstrations would occur...

A new constitution was established to respect the principle of "free and independent trade unionism and democracy,"... by which the organization was decentralized into 13 industrial unions. SPSI also promoted an expansion of its membership, and encouraged the state to develop social welfare programs to protect workers, such as workers' pension funds and insurance. However, labor unions outside the SPSI were still prohibited.

[...] With the government making purely cosmetic gestures in the democratization of labor relations, the dissatisfaction of workers continued to grow and from 1990 they actively began engaging in strikes and demonstrations. The number of labor disputes nationwide, which was kept low by tight controls in the latter part of the 1980s, jumped from only 19 in 1989 to 61 in 1990 [...]

The participation of women in these workers' protest actions, even as leaders, was quite common. As women workers became opposition leaders, they took the risk of being arrested or kidnapped by the police or the military. While being interrogated, such arrested workers were often harassed and tortured. The workers who went through such interrogations reported that they were badly beaten, kicked, and even burnt.... One of the SPSI songs even alleged that besides physical abuse, some inmates were forced to eat their own excrement ["Engkau paksa angar/Teman minum air seni. . . memaksa makan tinja dan kecoa."]...Such harassment and torture could happen to women workers as well. Moreover, in the case of women workers, sexual abuse and threat of rape were often added to this already terrifying mix. A woman worker kidnapped by intelligence agents after organizing a strike in Semarang in 1995 was threatened with rape if she continued her involvement with labor protest. Another woman arrested in Tangerang in 1994 was sexually abused and threatened with rape unless she divulged the names of other activists.

[...]Strikes and demonstrations usually ended with the arrests of those who organized them. Although, as noted earlier, government intervention had lessened in comparison with earlier times, neither government officers nor management considered workers' demands. With the leaders removed, the local military could more easily force the rest of the workers to break up and return to work. In the case of large protests, security forces or the anti-riot police often moved in to break up crowds of workers by force. During such confrontations, strikers were injured.[21] Afterward, they often faced forced dismissals from their jobs as a warning to others.[22] Despite these risks and difficulties, a significant number of workers remained adamant and undiscouraged, maintaining the struggle to achieve their demands.

[...] A unique expression of labor protest during this period was evident in a number of workers' theaters established .[...] Through its activities with workers, the NGOs realized the efficiency of role-playing techniques as a means of educating workers and building solidarity and confidence among them. Responding to increased workers' interest in the role-playing workshop, the first workers' theater, Teater Buruh Indonesia (TBI, the Indonesian Workers' Theater), was founded in 1989 with support from Saluran Informasi Sosial dan Bimbingan Hukum (Yayasan Sisbikum, the Foundation for the Channeling of Information and Legal Guidance). Yayasan Sisbikum considered the TBI to be "the theater by workers, about workers, and for workers" in the Jakarta area.... Its purpose was to provide a place for workers to exchange information about their problems. The TBI created plays from workers' experiences to reflect their voices, but these were often based on the experience of women because it was felt that they faced more severe conditions at work than men. The TBI production style encouraged the audience, namely workers, to participate in singing songs and dancing at the end of the performance, which meant that the artistic value of the play was secondary to audience involvement.

Teater Aneka Buruh (Teater ABU, All Workers Theater), the second workers' theater, was established in 1992 with help from Yayasan Perempuan Mardika (The Independent Women's Foundation). ...Teater ABU aimed to inform society as well as workers about labor problems, especially the problems of women workers, such as dismissal of pregnant workers and sexual harassment at work. While the majority of its audience was workers, with staging at well-known urban theaters, Teater ABU also received attention from the art community.

Regardless of the difference in their styles, both theaters were successful in providing workers in the Jakarta area with a new means by which they could perceive and recognize their own problems. Because of news coverage of these theaters and because of reports spread by word of mouth, their influence among workers was growing. However, because their implicit assertions, complaints, and accusations were mediated through the plays, and because they did not directly appeal to factory management or to the government, theater involvement meant that until 1994 workers and their allies could evade the intervention of authorities and obtain performance permits.[27] By welcoming them as participants in performance activities, this new theater helped workers to face their situation and fostered their willingness to become involved in open protest.

Either through direct labor protests, which caught the attention of the military, or through workers' theaters, which indirectly created commitment to those protests, workers became increasingly willing to clamor openly for their rights, often refusing to retreat during confrontations with the military even when their lives were threatened. Their enthusiasm for change was stimulated and enhanced, not weakened, by the Marsinah case of May 1993.

The Case of Marsinah

Marsinah was a 25 year-old female employee of the PT Catur Putra Surya which manufactured watches in Sidoarjo, East Java. She was a representative of the labor union affiliated with the SPSI and worked along with other representatives of workers to organize a strike on May 3, 1993, after the company failed to comply with the Governor's order to raise the minimum wage from 1750 rupiah to 2250 rupiah a day. When workers still refused to return to work the next day, their representatives, including Marsinah, succeeded in extracting an agreement from the management to grant the new wage. On May 5, 13 workers' representatives (all men and not including Marsinah), were taken to the local military office and forced to sign letters of resignation. Worried about the welfare of these representatives, Marsinah stopped by the local military office on the way back to her home. After learning that her colleagues had already been released, she visited two of them. Her movements after leaving her friends' house are unknown, but on May 8, she was found dead in a hut next to a rice field in Wilangan village, more than 200 kilometers away from the factory. Her body clearly showed that she had been tortured, and she had been raped with a blunt instrument before being killed....

[...] The Marsinah case had a great impact on many people because it enabled them to perceive the extent to which human rights had been set aside by the Indonesian government. Faced with a situation in which workers' demands for change were suppressed, ordinary people could discern in the death of Marsinah a threat against themselves - a threat that went beyond the boundaries of social class. Nor was this feeling apparent only among workers whose situation was similar to that of Marsinah; student activists and journalists, who have themselves frequently faced threats from those in power, also persisted in demanding a fair investigation of this case. But their reaction was motivated by more than just horror, for Marsinah represented an inspirational figure. If one poor young woman could stand up against

authority, everyone could participate in actions to improve the situation of the country. Marsinah therefore has become the symbol of struggle for many people who seek greater equity in Indonesian society. It is for these reasons that Marsinah is remembered, and why, years after her death, there are still widespread demands for a resolution of the case and punishment for her murders.

During the same year, Kartika Affandi, daughter of the father of modern Indonesian art, Affandi, completed her new work, "Srikandi." Srikandi is a strong female character from the wayang, the traditional shadow play, and in Kartika's work, Srikandi stands up to face the eyes spying on her as if she were showing her

determination to fight back against those spying eyes. It is well known that Kartika often selects women as the theme of her paintings and that she sometimes includes political messages in her works. Although unstated, there was probably an intentional connection between the Srikandi and Marsinah. Kartika's message seemed to be that an Indonesian woman should not be passive but be brave in opposing the obstacles confronting her.

Marsinah also became the focus of workers' songs. TBI produced the cassette Marsinah: Bersatulah Buruh Indonesia (Marsinah: Indonesian Workers Unite) at the beginning of 1994... All the songs were sung by women, and the focus of this collection was specifically women workers. The first song, "Marsinah," presents Marsinah as the symbol of opposition. The lyrics describe her tortures, and a woman representative sings about workers' determination to follow her wishes and continue the struggle for justice. In "Buruh Perempuan" (Women Workers), the message is that women workers should appeal against suffering in their work and in their lives. Through the entire recording ,workers criticize the empty words of government officials' and call for workers' solidarity in the pursuit of democracy. So effective was this recording that in July 1994 the national commander of the police claimed that the TBI songs "exploited" Marsinah's death and put a stop to the circulation of the cassette....However, as this censorship did not come into force until several months after the release of the cassette, it was generally ineffective.

The SBSI released the song "Surat Cinta Untuk Marsinah" (Love Letter for Marsinah) in the cassette Untukmu Buruh... Like the TBI's song, the minor-key male voices of this cassette accuse the courts of injustice and praise Marsinah as one who sacrificed herself for the workers in Indonesia. This SBSI version escaped censorship entirely. In both the TBI and the SBSI recordings, Marsinah's spirit was handed down to millions of her fellows throughout the country by means of her integration into workers' songs.

Marsinah's story was also incorporated and elaborated into plays. Ratna Sarumpaet, a female playwright, wrote Marsinah: Nyanyian Dari Bawah Tanah (Marsinah: Song from the Underworld) in 1994. Ratna supported the Teater ABU because she felt that as an artist from the middle-class art community, she could do the most for workers through plays in which her literary skills could be used most effectively.[39] In regard to the Marsinah case, she commented, "When a woman dares to speak, there seems to be a great force or desire to silence her."[40] In this play Ratna linked gender issues with the suffering of the poor people, and by addressing the particular concerns of workers,' the play appealed to a much wider audience. Staged in guerilla style in several big cities in Java in 1994, it successfully attracted a middle-class audience, but because of the pressure applied to her sponsor, it was impossible for Ratna to mount any productions after early 1995. Later, she created another play, "Marsinah Menggugat" (Marsinah Accuses) in 1997, and this time, the performance of the play was banned by the police...


TBI also created the play "Senandung Terpuruk Dari Barik Tembok Pabrik" (Song Buried Behind the Factory Wall) in which the name of the main character "Marsih" hinted at Marsinah. It was scheduled to be staged in May 1995 at Taman Ismail Marzuki in Jakarta, Indonesia's most famous performing art center. It was the TBI's first attempt to stage their play at such a venue in an effort to cultivate new audiences among the middle class. Nevertheless, claiming that the play might disturb national unity, the head of the Jakarta Regional Government's Socio-Political Directorate banned the performance. As a result, it was difficult for the group to obtain a permit to stage the following performance at their home theater for a worker audience, and further attempts to produce the same play at other places were banned.[42] Another workers' theater, Sanggar Pabrik, sponsored by the SBSI, intended to stage "Surat Cinta Bagi Marsinah di Sorga" (Love Letter to Marsinah in Heaven) in September 1995 as the first performance, but in this case the permit also was refused. In exhibitions, paintings, songs, and plays, Marsinah's desire and bravery were thus remembered and shared, especially among Javanese. At the same time, through Marsinah as the symbol of struggle, artists and workers' theater were able not only to empathize with the suffering of workers, especially that of women, but also to present their case in a compelling manner to new and often middle-class, educated audiences. Marsinah can thus be seen as a kind of bridge connecting both women's and men's issues and linking workers to members of the middle-class, who were also becoming more sympathetic to the problem of social inequities in Indonesia and to demands for political and social change.

Support for Workers in the Reformasi Movement

This kind of support for the labor movement had already been evident in the support offered to the workers' theaters at the time of their inception. NGOs offered the workers a place to study their rights, and this finally took shape as two major theaters: TBI and Teater ABU.Those theaters, as already suggested, contributed to the building of solidarity among workers and the raising of consciousness of labor problems among middle-class audiences.

After the Marsinah case in 1993, the international community's concern about the flagrant violations of the rights of Indonesian workers intensified. One obvious example of this was the notice from the U.S. governmental committee on the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) to the Indonesian government in June 1993.[43] Disturbed about the violations of workers' rights and of labor laws in Indonesia, the committee warned that the U.S. government would remove the GSP for Indonesia unless the Indonesian government improved the situation by February 1994. Similar measures included petitions from NGOs and labor unions, such as Asia Watch, International Labor Rights Education and Research Fund, and the AFL-CIO. A visit to Indonesia by U.S. Trade Representatives to examine the situation apparently allayed American sensibilities, for even though no improvement in workers' rights or in working conditions was observed, the GSP for Indonesia was not removed. The country had again succeeded in escaping potentially serious economic damage.

The formation of the coalition Pusat Perjuangan Buruh Indonesia (PPBI) in 1994 is an example of middle-class activists' efforts to cooperate with the workers.[44] The General Secretary of the PPBI, Dita Sari, is a former student activist from Solidaritas Mahasiswa Indonesia untuk Demokrasi (SMID, Indonesian Students Solidarity for Democracy). She recalled her first participation in the 1992 demonstration by the SMID during which she realized that issues raised there must have touched a wide range of Indonesians. When the PPBI was founded as part of an alliance including the SMID, the Serikat Tani National (the National Peasants Union), and the Jaringan Kesenian Rakyat (the People's Artists Network), she therefore decided to take the office of General Secretary. The main activity of the PPBI was to lead united strikes, allowing workers to demand more than just better wages and to increase their effectiveness by involving students if management did not accept workers' demands after several days of strikes. Dita Sari claimed that, through the alliance with students, protest actions could clearly demonstrate the split between "the oppressors and the oppressed" in Indonesian society...

The PPBI also emphasized the need to address the problems of women workers. The general program and the program of demands adopted at the first congress stressed that women were placed under the worst working conditions. The removal of all discrimination against women workers and an improvement in their working conditions were clearly stated as a principal goal of the PPBI. In fact, the end of unequal pay between men and women workers was demanded at the strike in Semarang just two days after the formation of the PPBI.[46] Aided by Dita Sari's view that a patriarchic society encouraged the suffering of women workers, active women workers were welcomed and integrated into the PPBI activities, which sought real change for women. Thus PPBI's attitudes may also have helped foster a view that treating women as equals of men should be a part of a larger program of social and political change.

In combination with the PPBI, the SBSI made efforts to ally with middle-class activists. In July 1996, the Chairperson of the SBSI, Muchtar Pakpahan, formed an alliance with student activists and Megawati Sukarnoputri, an opponent political leader of Indonesia, in order to protest the ban on political rallies.. Recognizing the influence of those powerful figures on the general election in 1997 and the Presidential election in 1998, security forces raided Megawati's campaign headquarters, and Pakpahan, together with ten student activists, was arrested for subversion... This episode was only one aspect of an extremely complex situation in which Pakpahan's jail sentence forced the SBSI to continue its struggle without its leader until May 1998, when he was released. More particularly, the arrest of Pakpahan attracted even greater international attention to the Indonesian situation.

Reaction to the arrest of Pakpahan among NGOs and labor unions outside Indonesia was heated, and the AFL-CIO took strong steps to apply more pressure to theIndonesian government. First, they appealed to the Clinton Administration to reexamine the country's commercial relations with Indonesia.[49] They asked that all development and investment programs by U.S. government agencies be postponed until all jailed worker activists were released and until workers' rights were respected. Although the requests from the AFL-CIO were not realized, concern at the arrest of Pakpahan was expressed in the Human Rights Report 1996 by the U.S. government.[50] Determined to obtain help from as many avenues as possible, the AFL-CIO also made its plea to other respected international organizations suchas the ICFTU and international human rights organizations. The AFL-CIO awarded the 1997 George Meany Human Rights Award to Pakpahan although Pakpahan himself could not visit America to receive it.

Ratna Sarumapaet, whose plays about Marsinah were banned in Indonesia, also received support from foreign NGOs and academic groups. Her play "Marsinah: Nyanyian Dari Bawah Tanah" was translated into English and into German and has been presented at university seminars and through NGOs in Australia, Germany, and the U.S. In this way, it succeeded in attracting attention to Ratna's cause and to the situation of Indonesian women workers. In 1997 "Marsinah" won the award for "plays dealing with political and humanitarian issues" at the 4th International Women Playwright Conference in Ireland, thus helping to raise international concern about the struggle for workers' rights in Indonesia, especially as they concerned women....

The intervention in the movement for democracy by the government continued even after the general election in 1997 and the presidential election in 1998. Nevertheless, with international support for the workers and with the movement playing a watch-dog role, the ties between workers and middle-class activists never weakened. Their joint struggles elevated into an active search for a new leader of the country and finally helped end the Suharto regime in May 1998. This event represented the first possibility for real change in Indonesia in over thirty years.

What were the Fruits of Labor Opposition in the 1990s?

What did workers, especially women workers, win in terms of improving their lives through their struggles in this period? In order to participate in protest activities, workers were taking risks: they faced danger in confrontations with the police or the military, and were subject to dismissal from their factory jobs. Sadly, despite these great risks and the sacrifice of so many individuals, the fruit of the labor struggles of the 1990s was actually small.

With regard to the minimum wage, the most common focus of workers' attention in protest activities, the Ministry of Manpower announced a plan to raise the minimum wage steadily from 1993 to 1998 so that it equal the minimum living needs in 1998... In 1996, the government considered that most factory workers were regular but daily-status employees and ordered employers to pay them for 30 days each month. As well as the pressure from international community, this action may have been in response to a shift in public opinion inside Indonesia, which had previously demonstrated little interest in workers' concerns and was said to be the reason businesses were able to ignore minimum wage laws so flagrantly... The growth of a larger, better educated and more prosperous middle class, however, meant that views among that group were changing, creating an atmosphere supportive of strikes, particularly those protesting minimum wage violations.

On the other hand, advances with regard to other demands were not as successful. Improvements in working conditions, such as the reduction of long working hours and the observance of safety regulations, remained among the unachieved goals. Nor was there any attempt to address the specific difficulties of women workers. There was no change in the enforcement of maternity and menstruation leave, and no evidence of efforts to counter discrimination at work, such as a sexual division of labor, which creates lower wages for women.

[...] Under international scrutiny, which forced the government to check its harsh oppression, Indonesian workers in the 1990s finally obtained the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction and make demands in the form of strikes and demonstrations. Women workers, who were culturally restrained from resisting male authority and whose demands had not been previously addressed through labor unions, could now participate in protest actions beside their male colleagues.It was not even unusual in the 1990s for women workers, like Marsinah, to be the leaders in the labor opposition movement.

Marsinah was murdered, but through her death, the sufferings of workers, especially women workers, and their efforts to bring about change were brought to the attention of the middle class, many of whom began to realize that the workers' goals were inextricably bound up with their own desire for democracy. An alliance between workers and middle-class activists was formed, and with the added support from NGOs and labor unions based in other countries, the movement toward greater political freedoms was gradually expanded.[...]

(Akiko Kodama[1] The Participation of Women Workers in the Indonesian Labor Opposition Movement in the 1990s in– Explorations in Southeast Asian Studies J-ournalal of the Southeast Asian Studies Student Association Vol 3 Fall 1999 http://www.hawaii.edu/cseas/pubs/explore/v3/akiko.html.)



Artistic productions allow you to reach wider audiences. Many women’s groups do art works such as the arpillas of Latin America, or the quilts of North America. Others do street theatre.

Make an inventory of the talent available among members of your group.

• List the actual and potential skills of the members in your group such as journalism, writing, drawing and other art forms such as music and dance,internet design, etc.

• Make a plan to integrate these skills into a program to disseminate your message.

• If you need training for some or all of your members, find out how to reach trainers in your area.

• Do you have persons talented in performance. Consider creating a piece to inform the public about your issues. Offer to perform it at schools, places of worship, organization meetings, etc. If you have a good public space indoors or out, obtain a permit to perform it there.

• Some of your group may want to study street theatre to bring your message not only to the streets, but to train platforms, parks and other open spaces.

• Consider working with some of the dramatic techniques in Antonio Boal "Theatre of the Oppressed".

• Are you linked to any electronic networks? How could you use these links to support your work on BPFA?

For Expanding Networks for Support and Solidarity

APC Women’s Networking Database: http://community.web.net/apcwomen/

Canadian International Development Agency: http://w3.acdi-cida.gc.ca/index.htm

CEDAW-in-Action Working Group, includes information on joining listserv: http://www.unifem.undp.org/cedawwg.htm

Center for Women's Global Leadership site, with special B+5 Section: http://www.cwgl.rutgers.edu

DIANA: International Human Rights Database: WOMEN'S HUMAN RIGHTS RESOURCES: http://www.law-lib.utoronto.ca/Diana/

The Hague Appeal for Peace 1999: http://www.haguepeace.org

Know How The Knowledge for Sharing program of the global community of womens information services and centers. An initiative of the International Information Center and Archives for the

Women’s Movement. IIAV, Obiplein 4, 1094 RD Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Tel. +31.20.6651318; fax +31.20.6655812; email: info@iiav.nl

IGC Women’s Net: http://www.igc.org/igc/womensnet/index.html

International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD): http://www.iisd.ca/4wcw/43sess/index.html

International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)\: http\://www.iisd.ca/4wcw/43sess/index.html "

International Women's Forum website, Morocco: http://www.iwf-casablanca.orgtc

IWTC Women’s Tribune Center

e-mail: iwtc@igc.apc.org

Movimiento Manuela Ramos

Avda. Bolivia 921/Brena

Lima, Peru

Tel: 237 250

Flora Tristan Parque Hernan Velarde #42

Lima 1, Peru

Tel: 433 1457

Network of East-West Women: http://www.neww.org/

Radio 21 (in English and Albanian: http://www.radio21.net/english.htm

Sister Hood is Global Institute

4343 Montgomery Avenue, #201

Bethesda, MD 20814, USA

United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat)

Zahra A. Hassan/Media Liaison

P.O. Box 30030 Nairobi, Kenya

Tel: 254-2-623151 Fax: 254-2-624060

Email: habitat.press@unchs.org 

Website: http://habitat.unchs.org/home.htm 

United Nations Platform for Action Committee, Manitoba, Canada: http://www.freenet.mb.ca/unpac 

UNIFEM/ U.N. Development Fund for Women) http://www.unifem.undp.org 

WEDO: http://www.wedo.org/ 

WomenAction 2000: http://www.womenaction.org/preview 

WomenWatch: www.un.org/womenwatch 

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