Predominant among those currently excluded from the IT revolution are women. This makes gender mainstreaming an essential component of every multimedia project. From the preliminary stages of project discussion and design, through the ensuing stages of implementation and evaluation, a gender perspective has to be built into plans, policy and practice.
Community radio in particular can be a remarkably effective gateway for women in disadvantaged communities to approach the new information technologies. The self-confidence and skills gained with low-technology radio offer a bridge for these women to the high-tech of ICTs. It is often the women who express the greatest communication deficit when feasibility and baseline studies are conducted prior to the introduction of community radio. Their motivation and sense of empowerment are, consequently, particularly high when they learn to use local broadcasting. The participatory approach of community radio (collective ownership, listening groups, etc) provides a supportive framework for women as they go on to tackle the challenges posed by effective use of ICTs. Radio-browsing programmes, where the presenter surfs the web to find information requested by listeners, can introduce audiences to cyberspace and the information highways.
A participatory approach maximises the literacy and language skills available within the group, needed even more for computer-use than for radio. These skills can be pooled to select, translate and disseminate information throughout the entire group, so that even the illiterate women within the group are fully involved in defining information needs, benefiting from information gathered and imparting information to others. The necessary steps taking women and other marginalised groups from community radio to the computer screen are likely to include the following: literacy classes (including on air), radio programme contents which demonstrate the practical uses of written material and thus stimulate interest in using ICTs, the use of women trainers for ICT skills, a focus on video, voice-operated and touch screen computer software, the encouragement of women’s productions (oral history archives, culture and handicrafts, traditional knowledge) in multimedia form and “radio-browsing”. Consultation with and training for women will aim to develop their capabilities for evaluating, selecting and making creative use of the service applications in the multimedia centre.
In parallel with the growing importance for development of information and communication technology, another trend is of particular significance for this programme. Much development work focuses on the local community as the most effective level of intervention and the most appropriate scale for a development project. This has led to the creation of various types of community centre, established as focal points for community development. Alongside the telecentres now being set up in a number of developing countries, some regions have experimented with the community learning centre, notably – and successfully – in Asia. Along with the community multimedia centre, all of these projects share the core formula of a community-shared, administered, staffed and utilised resource that is usually also owned, at least in part, by the community. All such centres also share the common characteristic of offering a means of access to knowledge and information to support the activity of local schools, health clinics, training centres, libraries or other institutions.
The diverse experience of development partners in establishing centres within communities for local development purposes can be drawn on in this programme. In many cases, existing centres may acquire the communication and multimedia dimensions that this programme promotes. By adding multimedia and the outreach of local radio, this trend towards the development of such centres can be built on, to offer the essential links among the local, the national and the global required in today’s world. These links give community centres an important new dimension as they offer individual communities the chance to share the benefits that come from contact and exchange of experience. With the introduction of ICTs, development at the local community level need never be an isolated experience.