Religious Congregations Using ICT for Mission
What about women religious congregations? Only around 20 percent of India’s over one million religious women are computer literate. The Secretary General of the Catholic Religious of North India said that computer literacy is necessary for Catholic Religious people to fulfill their mission in the modern world. The CRI thus organized a seminar to familiarize religious men and women of the importance of digital media.
In January 2011, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth launched a project to make their sisters in South Asia computer savvy in the next three years, and at least half the number computer literate by the end of 2011. Sister Malini Manjaly, who is coordinating the Nazareth project, claims the move will save paper, time, the environment and money.
Soft Power of New Media Confronts Hard Power of Patriarchy
Many Indian women have raised their voices against the hard power of patriarchy and global capitalism, using the tools of new media. Medha Patkar stands with indigenous peoples of Central India against the mega dam projects that threaten to submerge their land and livelihoods. The Narmada Bachao Andolan posts information on their activities and press releases on their website.22 Vandana Shiva has galvanized farmers in India against the plundering ofintellectual property rights of our natural resources. She has her own website and blog to keep in touch with a global audience. In addition to these well- known women, a whole slew of online communities of young people espousing a feminist perspective are running, for instance, Greenpeace India, Aawaz, Association for India’s Development (AID), Human Rights Watch, India, and other similar advocacy groups, using online petitions to conscientize and lobby governments for change.23
Technology-facilitated networking can both physically and virtually create organizations and mobilize thousands as seen in Egypt’s
Tahrir Square, Tunisia, Syria and Libya. Women’s participation in the protests in Egypt jumped from 10 percent in the early days to 50 percent in the final days in February 2011. Mozn Hassan, director of Nasra Feminist Studies Cairo, said that women were busy firing up the chants and protests through Facebook and Twitter posts. Women were confidentially leading men in protest chants through their posts and tweets, praying alongside them instead of behind them, even spending nights in tents with men they hardly knew.24 The fact that women from conservative Islamic societies came out to the streets to “fight” alongside the men without fear of being assaulted or ridiculed has certainly been a catalyst that encouraged women in India to join the protests against corruption in April 2011. Social media networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs as well as SMS played an important role in promoting Indian women’s participation.
ICT has also proven to be an important tool in the mass mobilization of people in December 2012 after the brutal gang rape of a student inside a moving bus in Delhi. The activism generated by this incident has succeeded in bringing about the much-needed awareness in the country regarding violence against women.
In Mumbai, the Archdiocesan Commission for Women, together with Satyashodak, launched a campaign in the Archdiocese called the “37 Million Diyas.” Diyas means “Lights” representing the 37 million women missing in India’s population because of various forms of violence perpetuated against women. Not only that, Satyashodak sponsored programs in parishes from January to March 2013 aimed at increasing awareness about sexual violence against women. This has helped several victims come forward and report sexual abuse and by default has given the Commission the power to take up their grievances where earlier a mechanism to deal with such complaints was totally absent.
The new media communication technologies foster soft power that enables people with similar concerns the possibility to connect across continents, or within their own country to form pressure groups to bring about change.25 The use of ICT can attract more conservative women who normally would not go to such gatherings. It can draw large crowds to express themselves together and in the process feel bolder and empowered, yet safe within their peer group. The soft power of computer-mediated communication, indeed, has the potential to break down the walls of patriarchy, hierarchy and domination enabling women/feminists to be part of this great revolution.