With all the grim stories and news we see coming out of Afghanistan, I’m sure you’ll already have an idea of what life there must be like – violent, repressive, fearful. Right? Well, think again, it’s time to challenge your preconceptions…
While some women around the world were getting praise for their work on International Women’s Day, passionate Afghan women celebrated it by learning new technological skills to combat gender-based violence and promote women’s rights at the first ever Feminist Tech Exchange held in Kabul.
These women activists from all across the country made inspiring digital stories of their own lives in an effort to raise awareness about women’s rights and affirm gender equality. The FTX was an open forum where activists and trainers were able to come together and discuss and present stories on diverse issues, deepening their understanding of an issue by examining it from various perspectives.
The Feminist Tech Exchange workshop was held in Kabul under the umbrella of the Take Back the Tech! Campaign, and focused on digital storytelling. For four days from 5 – 8 March 2012, this women-only workshop focused on all the issues Afghan women have to face.
Valentina Pellizzer from OWSEE (One World South East Europe), Bosnia Herzegovina and myself from Bytes for All, Pakistan travelled to Afghanistan to help trainees bond together and bring them to a comfort level where they could share their heartening stories with others. Eleven women activists of all ages and educational backgrounds, from Mazar Sharif, Herat, Kandhar and Kabul took part in this digital storytelling workshop.
A few of them were quite wary of technology, some of them had never even touched a computer and yet, when they left the workshop they had the enthusiasm and confidence needed to play with technology and use it as a powerful tool giving them a real sense of empowerment.
Taking Back the Tech!
In their own different ways information & communication technologies and violence against women both affect a woman’s capacity to fully enjoy her fundamental human rights. Take Back the Tech strongly believes in the power of ICT to provide us with critical tools to reach out for help and take action against violence against women.
TBTT is a collaborative campaign that takes place every year (25th November – 10th December) for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. TBTT is a wake-up call to everyone, especially women and girls, to take control of technology and make it a tool to end violence against women.
Self-Control & Empowerment through Storytelling
Digital storytelling has always been the basic and most remarkable catalyst of FTXs . Typically, women are the subjects of many stories, research projects, movies, and news items, but rarely do they have any say in how they’re being portrayed by their story-makers.
In digital storytelling workshops, it’s women themselves who control and manipulate the technology and present their own stories in their own words, in their own voices and with their own images. It is a documentation method that enables the storyteller to conceptualize, direct and produce her own stories with all technological tools right at her fingertips.
This process works as a powerful healing mechanism for those who have experienced and witnessed violence in any shape or form. This approach has been used by the APC WNSP (Association for Progressive Communications – Women’s Networking Support Programme) and its member body Women’s Net for documentation as a healing and evaluation tool for advocacy.
Storytelling has profound impacts on the tellers as it enables them to trust others, tell them their own stories and ultimately weave together individual stories to frame a collective picture of community or shared value.
Activism beyond age & education!
These eleven ardent Afghan women made eleven powerful and inspirational digital stories focusing on issues ranging from motherhood to women’s education and clothing. Those stories were presented on 8th March at an event attended by 25 other people.
Few things can illustrate the huge impact that these bonding sessions had on the women better than these remarks that I received from participants:
“I personally feel that FTX has changed my life in a big way, that the process of sharing and making our stories for each other gave me a feeling that I am not alone, that there are many others who are suffering like me and that things happen which are sometimes totally out of our control but there are people who have managed not only to survive them but have come out stronger because of them, and are now prepared to help others face similar challenges and issues head on. And this shows that digital storytelling and the process involve in making it can be life-changing and transformative” — Anonymous
“…sharing our stories and our experiences is a way of healing but also helps others in coming forward and sharing their stories. Our story is an act, in some way, saying that ‘bad experience does not define who I am’. The decisions we make in terms of what to include in the story and how to say it are all important decisions” – Anonymous
Another participant commented, “I have taken part in several workshops but never attended training like this before. I feel that now we have a powerful bond with each other and I found a true, strong network of support through this training. Also I feel I have a warm relationship with trainers which we call sisterhood!”
I will never forget the brave women I met during FTX, Kabul for the trust they showed me and Valentina, for their love and the enduring bond that we were able to build up during those four days.
It definitely proved to be a space where women could express themselves, and this is particularly important in Afghanistan where there are limited opportunities to do so. We hope this will inspire more women to join the Take Back the Tech! Campaign and we look forward to many more such training events happening in Afghanistan and elsewhere. I certainly believe those eleven inspiring women will be able to pass on their inspiration to the women around them, empowering them with the influential tool of technology and sisterhood!
(Note: Storytellers retain all the rights over their stories and FTX only shares the stories with their explicit permission.)