Thursday, November 20, 2008

ICT: in/outside

‘Travelling’ through the Internet shops in the nooks and corners of the big and small cities, it is not surprising to find loads of bare flesh in all shapes and sizes either in acrobatic positions with blank looks or with I-will-please-you-to-death gaze and my-this-or-that-body-part-is-available positions on the computer screen when Internet page opens. It is also not surprising to find its remnants on a neat and clean home computer in the form of a 'security pop-up window' which warns that a cookie is trying to steal information from the computer or a Trojan Horse from site so-and-so was sent to quarantine or deleted or a shortcut on the desktop, which planted itself discreetly when something was being downloaded from one of the all-out-flesh websites. And it is also not surprising that the flesh is mostly (in my experience of Internet shops and two homes) of women and children, and sometimes of animals. Nothing to be surprised about knowing that cheap thrills really thrill so many of my country cousins, particularly when it is delivered conveniently to them, without them being seen soliciting in person or visiting an area where there’s possibility of being recognized. What is surprising is the I-know-but-what-can-I-do or plain I-know-about-it responses of the wives who themselves are not into sexual voyeurism and do possess and profess moral standards, which if applied, would make Internet sexual escapades of their husbands an evidence of infidelity and immorality. The helplessness or self-imposed apathy in the responses is indeed surprising when coming from independent women who are quick to take a position on so many other issues and judge others applying their opinion. This is annoying and what is all the more annoying is half the world around which says who are you to be annoyed or justifies pornographic escapades saying 'all men are into pornography'. That being the case no issue of rights can ever be taken up or discussed or debated. But having been a witness to so much muck in the ‘home’ of a dear one recently and having felt so much pain and anger about being there, I will desist from pursuing the issue for now. For now, I will discuss it from a ‘safer’ angle as a third person and deal with the disconcerting experience by reminding myself that I will never ever visit that ‘home’ till that husband-man is alive-and-around or remains a husband in that ‘home’.

The images of flesh – women, children and animals – on Internet go a long way towards reinforcing gender relations since they are guided by the ideas of demand and supply. The images are not produced randomly. There is an analysis of who the potential viewers or clients are and what they would like to see or buy. In this analysis, the predominant form of gender relations based on the norms of feminine subservience and male sexual perversion, finds a prime place. This representation of socially practiced but not talked about sexual gender relations further strengthen the reality. Such representation using information communication technologies like Internet also diversifies the ways in which existing social gender relations widen their net of oppression of women and children (looking at the images of bestiality, one can also say oppression of animals). The diversification goes on to consolidate the existing gender relations in much more complicated manner and in dangerous proportions.

I often wonder why women and men cannot take the same interest in using the information communication technologies for their work – spending the same hours to learn to use Internet for building their knowledge or reaching out to peer groups elsewhere – and each time I conclude that it has to do with the human tendency to derive voyeuristic pleasures and sexual perversion. Why the policymakers and decision-makers fail to see how oppression of women and violence against women and children acquire much complex and dangerous dimensions through information communication technologies? It would be wrong to assume that cyber sex or any other information communication technologies based pornography is a form of ‘safer perversion’ and that it keeps the people who indulge in it from physically damaging real persons. People who are pervert and/or have violent temperament are not likely to restrict themselves to just the images and talks. These are likely to be tools for increasing their skills to manifest and exercise their perversion and violence or just another tool for greater pleasure. The ease of access also gives a sense of impunity to the users of pornography because despite being a direct participant in creating a demand for images which often come out of exploitation of women and children, they are not held accountable for causing direct or indirect harm to women and children. Believing that trafficking in images has nothing to do with trafficking in persons is nothing but an Ostrich reaction. Even a superficial scan of the purposes for which women and children are trafficked, held in bondage or illegally imprisoned will reveal the linkages. Hypothetically, it can be said that these images actually go on to create a greater demand for trafficking in women and children for sex. Instances involving circulation of images of a friend in a state or position which may shame or slander the friend, which were captured when relations were cordial among school students and others indicate the ways in which how simple acts in a one situation can be altered into a tool to oppress in another situation with the help of information communication technologies.

Moving to another aspect of information communication technologies, ie, the role of information communication technologies in development, it is interesting to note that the mushrooming of information technologies businesses is also largely male led and owned. Even the public sector’s efforts towards e-governance and linking the public sector to development are marked by male leadership and male access. The fact that women in most countries are on the fringes of governance and are worst hit by poverty has not led countries to invest much more intensively and effectively in their education and increasing their access so that they become a part of e-governance initiatives. Public sector’s rhetoric of economic empowerment of women has not translated into increased learning opportunities and improved Internet market access to women. If the issues which hinder women from accessing information communication technologies are not addressed how are they to try to benefit from it? If the obstructions to access get addressed and if the public and private sectors work towards increasing women’s participation in information technology policy formulation, regulation and reform, it will not only address the issues of gender equality in benefits from information communication technologies but also be more effective in addressing the issues of pornography and domestic abuse. If women are to feel emotionally and socially capable of rising above the ability to identify the problem and bear it silently, there must be an increase in the role of women in decision making and redress mechanisms. The social messages of women’s empowerment will not undo the internalized oppression unless there is increased participation and representation of women to ensure that gender issues are taken into account in information communication planning, administration and regulation.But how is this to happen? In order to ensure gender equality in information communication technologies, there must be clear understanding of gender relations and intersectional issues in a society based on which purposeful strategies are developed, implemented, tracked and evaluated. This is particularly important to ensure that information communication technologies do not become technologies for the advancement of select few or another tool of oppressing women or rich and middle class’ children’s medium for fun and time-pass or another factor contributing to rural-urban divide.
Just saying promotion of universal access to information communication technologies will not bring equality in access, definitely not for poverty ridden communities, remote or ignored regions of the countries like India and socially marginalized or disempowered groups of people including women and children. Gender blind policies, in the name of opening up of the economy or technological advancement and individual freedom, and without the requisite checks, hold tremendous potential to worsen gender inequality in patriarchal societies like India.

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