María Suárez Toro
The clock in the small Internet radio studio of Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE)1 in Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica, reads 7:30 a.m. Its March 8, 2001. Theres just half an hour to go before FIREs first 12-hour, multilingual Web cast marathon for International Womens Day.
This year the marathon also celebrates the UN World Conference Against Racism (WCAR);2 the Second International Womens Global Strike Against No Pay, Low Pay & Overwork; a campaign organized by the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)3 to mark International Day Against Racial Discrimination; and the UNESCO4 campaign, Women Make the News 2001.
The marathon today thus links different themes and voices that share common goals - building awareness about gender-based injustice, particularly towards minority, immigrant and indigenous women across the world, and the reluctance of mainstream media to confront this issue. FIRE gives voice to women affected by unequal work conditions, and celebrates those engaged in the struggle against the discrimination that predominates in a gendered society.
The small rural town of Ciudad Colón moves to two rhythms - the slow pace of an agricultural economy centred on coffee and corn, and the hustle of the commuter belt around the national capital, San José. Inside the FIRE studio, commerce and nature also overlap, as the hum of machines blends with the barking of dogs and a roosters crow leaking in through the walls. As FIRE goes live, the background noise reminds listeners that for technology to work effectively, it must have a solid community base and connect with the energy of the mundane.
The four women who comprise FIREs full-time staff generate an energy of their own. Although theyve been producing Web casts for years, each new programme brings back the magic of a new beginning. Once again, women from across the world will be communicating to mark their day, appropriating new technologies, such as the Internet, and combining it with conventional media.
The equipment is ready: one phone line for the Internet connection, another for calls; a laptop computer to transmit the Web cast; three microphones; a simple mixing board; audiotapes full of interviews in at least four languages; CDs with international womens music; and letters, emails and press releases from across the world. Computer screens display the Womens Day Web page, which explains the significance of March 8 and gives instructions on downloading the Web cast.
The studio also contains several chairs for local women to join the discussions on air. The crowd, including many indigenous and minority women who have travelled for hours to be here, spills out into the courtyard. A bemused male stands out among the weather-beaten, wrinkled faces. Bill White is a citizen of the USA who moved to Costa Rica several years earlier. Whats going on? He asks. Id never seen so many women getting off the bus at one time so I followed them so see what was happening.
Indigenous women of Ciudad Colón share their experiences with FIRE (2002)
María Suárez Toro
FIRE has brought change to Ciudad Colón, and to hundreds of other communities -urban, rural, rich and poor. The women gathered in the studio, like thousands women in homes and workplaces across the globe, trust the station because it enables them to make the connections between individual oppression and gendered forms of global discrimination and exclusion. Women support women in empowering women to think locally and act globally.
Today feminists such as Lesley Ann Foster of South Africa5 recognize the critical importance of organizing around linked issues such as racial- and gender-based oppression.
As a black woman who grew up under apartheid, I think that its vital to look at how gender and racism cross over and impact on our own experiences, says Foster. She then describes how women in South Africa are planning to tackle issues such as political participation and HIV/AIDS using the lens of race and gender combined. The new South African Constitution and Bill of Rights both include equality clauses, notes Foster, but what is really needed is a fundamental change in the structures of society.
FIRE-PLACE Web casts during the World Summit on Sustainable Development, August 25 - September 4, 2002
FIRE Web casts from the WSSD in Johannesburg, South Africa, were broadcast from a Womens Centre based in an former, apartheid-era, womens prison and the conference Web site. A key interviewee was Sheila Meintjes, from the South African Commission on Gender Equality, who had supervized the transformation of the prison into the Womens Centre. During her interview, Meintjes looked back at apartheid and its impact on both race and gender relations in South Africa.
The Web cast also featured young womens perspectives on post-apartheid South Africa. Onobbercia Motimele-Tiawolin, Smah Radebe and Roselynn Mwale had all received training at the Womens Centre and were now volunteers there. They expressed pride in the role of black women in the struggle against apartheid, and optimism for their countrys future - despite the huge problems of poverty, HIV/AIDS and domestic violence.
FIRE was the subject of several features and news reports from the WSSD by research and media institutions from across the world, including the UN African Woman and Child Feature Service, AMARC, WomensNet of South Africa and the Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media at the University of Denver, USA.
Global politics, eschewed by many rural radio stations, is at the heart of FIREs agenda. Many case studies on ICTs, gender and development focus on the use of technology to facilitate local consumption of knowledge and information. This case study, in contrast, describes how a group of women have harnessed technology to unite women as active agents in their own development and from a perspective that is rarely acknowledged by mainstream media.
FIRE has transformed the Internet into a two-way loudspeaker, a participatory medium that engages women from all classes and continents and across all technologies, and challenges them to effect real change in their communities and wider political arenas. The study highlights the stations strategies and includes audience responses as well as conclusions and recommendations.
Full Spectrum Against War: Humanitarian Support Campaign for Displaced Women and their Families in El Caguán, Colombia
On March 8, 2002, FIRE organized a Full Spectrum Against War Web cast marathon to mark International Womens Day and to launch a campaign to support displaced women and their families in a former ceasefire zone in Colombia. The 12-hour event featured women from Colombia speaking about the peace process and the humanitarian crisis of displacement.
The marathon also featured live broadcasts from women in the Gush Shalom peace organization in Israel and from women from Afghanistan who spoke about the peace and reconstruction process in their country. Overall, the Web cast highlighted the need for women to be included in decision-making in peace processes in every war and conflict.
During the Web cast, FIRE launched a special humanitarian appeal for food for people displaced from a ceasefire zone following the breakdown of peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). FIRE announced that for every e-mail received during the Web cast, they would send 5 kg of food to the IDPs. At the end of the marathon, the station had received 312 e-mails and sent 1500 kg of food.
New communication technologies are a vehicle of a process of globalisation that takes place on unequal terms, and that often increases social and economic inequality, between and within countries; at the same time these technologies can be an empowering tool for resistance, social mobilization and development in the hands of people and organisations working for freedom and justice.6
Internet services are rapidly expanding across the globe, but for the most part, development of this new technology responds primarily to the interests of corporations and institutions. When critically harnessed, however, ICTs can become powerful tools for change.
The centrality of ICTs in the world is widely acknowledged. Recent studies show that access to and use of information technology runs almost parallel to the access to and use of economic and political power. This is becoming more and more pronounced, creating what is known as the digital divide, which has been broadly defined as unequal possibilities to access and contribute to information, knowledge and networks as well as to benefit from the development enhancing capabilities of ICT.7
There is little doubt about power relations in the world of information and communication today. Those who control the mass media have the power to define the issues and people that shape our world and our perspectives on that world - and who or what gets ignored or distorted. The human right to communicate is far from universal and the goal of digital democracy is still far from being realized.
Whats blocking the information superhighway to free speech?
extensive and growing concentration of ownership of the mass media
unidirectional transfer of information and technology from North to South
global and widening digital divide exacerbating existing divisions based on race, class, gender, ethnicity and geography
sexist, racist and exclusive mass media serving to maintain and widen digital divide
growing importance of ICTs in economic and political spheres reinforcing determination of elites to maintain and widen digital divide to lessen access and accountability
The accelerated development of ICTs and their integration into global financial and political structures presents a huge challenge. At the same time, the strength and reach of these technologies is also their Achilles heel. The Internet is revolutionary because it allows a user to both send and receive content, because of its near ubiquity and because market imperatives mean that this new technology is economically accessible to small groups, or even individuals.
The capacity of a rural town to host such ICT initiatives is possible because of the highly developed telephone and electricity services in Costa Rica. All telecommunications and electrical services are owned by the state-owned Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE, or Costa Rican Institute of Electricity). ICE has had broad popular support since 1949 when it began providing universal public services as part of the liberal revolution that created a strong welfare state. Costa Ricas definition of universal phone access is one telephone within one kilometre of both public and private access (ICE). According to government statistics, 92 percent of the population have such services.
In 1999 the legislative assembly opened up the debate on privatizing ICE but the issue was dropped after a wave of protest saw hundreds of thousands of people on the streets across the country and it has not been tabled since. For Costa Ricans ICE is a symbol of national sovereignty.
Businesses, and especially those reliant on telecommunications, have complained that with ICE as the sole provider of these services there is no healthy competition so the service quality is poor, especially for cellular phones. Opponents of privatization believe that it will lead to job losses and higher service costs. They also fear that private companies would exert pressure to rubber stamp approval for numerous hydro-electric and geothermal energy projects that could have an adverse impact on the environment, particularly in the national parks and nature reserves throughout the country.
The evolution of the Internet in Cuidad Colón also needs to be seen within the national ICT landscape.8 Internet access in Upper Middle Income Costa Rica is the most advanced in Central America. The country is strategically located for communications and has a small, well-educated population of around four million. The backbone of the economy is the service sector, which is based on IT - and currently IT services and infrastructure are provided by ICE.
IT hardware production in the country is dominated by Intel. The IT multinational established its Latin American headquarters in Costa Rica in March 1998 with a US$5 billion chip complex, the biggest single foreign investment in the countrys history. Other companies followed in Intels wake - including Taiwans Acer Group and Microsoft Corp.
This is the context of FIRE´s efforts in its move online, even though the station operates on a tiny budget and, like most grassroots organizations, the commitment and dedication of its members. The station has been helped by intense public debate on accountability, communications as a human right rather than a commodity, ownership of utilities and the environmental impact of multinational corporations (MNCs) that has been provoked by the restructuring of the countrys economy following the arrival of the IT giants. FIRE has been experimenting with open source technology as a way to counteract the Microsoft monopoly.
When FIRE set up its Internet radio in 1998 in Ciudad Colón, computer technology had reached the homes of few of the citys 12 000 residents. FIREs was the citys second public Internet project, and it opened three years before the first Internet café.
One of the main forces behind the growth of the Internet in Cuidad Colón, was Marjorie Mora, an avid listener of FIREs shortwave programmes from 1991-1998. In 1998 she bought a computer and began to listening to and reading FIREs Web casts. Five years later, Moras pharmacy, the Farmacia Mora Chavarría, became the first retailer in town to process orders for home delivery online. It also became the focal point for a national network of drug stores which set up a Web site offering medicines round-the-clock and round the country, as well as information and advice on a range of health issues. In 2003, the local branch of the national bank established its first public computer for internet money transactions. At least two Internet cafes opened in town that same year.
Three other IT-based projects reflect the ambiguous role of technology in shaping Costa Rica today and the ease with ICTs can be appropriated by grassroots communities to effect real social change. They are LINCOS,9 the Omar Dengo Foundation,10 and the Gender Equity Programme of the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica.11
The Little Intelligent Communities (LINCOS) programme began in 1998 as a joint initiative by the MIT Media Lab,12 the Costa Rican Foundation for Sustainable Development, and the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica. Under this programme, 25 modified shipping containers were set up in remote areas to serve as digital town centres. Each container has a digital satellite link and integrated local wireless telephone connection, analytical laboratories, telemedicine services, a computer lab, electronic commerce and banking services, and a multi-purpose information centre. It will provide sophisticated communications and support applications in education, health, agriculture and entertainment.
The Omar Dengo Foundation is a private, non-profit organization created in 1987 to promote the economic, social and human development of Costa Rica. Since then it has provided computers to public schools in low-income communities, and training to over a million children, parents and teachers. It currently provides courses for 225 000 primary school students - in other words, half of the students enrolled in the national public school system.
Since 1988 the Gender Equity Programme of the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica has been training women in the use of computers, giving priority to young, low-income mothers from marginalized regions. The programme has enabled five generations of young women to return to education or start up their own businesses.
FIRE Web cast of the Womens International War Crimes Tribunal on Japans Military Sexual Slavery13
The Womens International War Crimes Tribunal on Japans Military Sexual Slavery was a peoples tribunal organized by Asian women and human rights organizations to bring international attention to Japans military sexual violence, to bring those responsible for it to justice, and to end the ongoing cycle of impunity for wartime sexual violence against women. The Tribunal was set up in 2000, and the final verdict was delivered in The Hague, The Netherlands, the home of international law, on December 4, 2001.
FIRE Web cast the delivery of the verdict, which found Emperor Hirohito - guilty of, and the State of Japan responsible for, mass rape and sexual slavery - wich have been identified by the International Tribunal for Crimes Committed During Armed Conflict in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda as crimes against humanity.
The case was hugely controversial. Although the Japanese Government still refuses to acknowledge responsibility for the systematic trafficking, enslavement and rape of more than 200000 women from across Asia, the Tribunal attracted wide publicity and has helped to raise awareness of the critical role of gender-based violence in armed conflict.
The digital divide is a burning issue for those involved in media activism. To address the particular challenges it poses, FIRE has launched a strategy that includes forming alliances with womens networks across the world and across several media. Another key strategy has been to promote women as technicians and managers, further empowering women through the media.
FIREs Internet radio was launched on March 8, 1998, seven years after the establishment of the community radio station itself. Katerina Anfossi Gómez, a cofounder of FIRE, is a producer and the computer/Web cast engineer. Trained as a lawyer, she learned radio technology on the job and, undaunted by claims that FIRE would not be able to afford or maintain a Web cast studio, she set one up using a radio mixing board, microphones and a laptop.
FIREs interactive concept of radio is the result of a dynamic process that evolves daily as women appropriate technology to open channels of communication and create new forms of inclusion,14 she says. One of our main goals is to change the flow of information in the world order.
Letters from listeners, e-mail lists, re-broadcasting arrangements with community radio stations and linked Web sites are just some of the ways that FIRE reaches out to listeners, readers and viewers. Cristina Cansado, a womens rights activist in Venezuela writes, Each time I receive an email from FIRE I send it to the Youth Office of the United Nations in Caracas and in Mexico City - and to many other groups. Perla Wilson of Radio Tierra in Chile15 sends FIRE their productions for re-broadcast and has included the NGO in its e-mail campaign, Listen to the Women. This is jointly produced by the Latin American and Caribbean Womens Health Network,16 opening up another network across the airwaves and the miles.
Mixed media, but the message is clear:
Just as farmers save and swap quality seed in a process known as seed multiplication, so media workers can save and swap digital knowledge, building networks to share and gateways to process information. AMARCs Womens Network17 has made a commitment to distribute FIREs information and programmes to member stations. The Networks international co-coordinator, Julie Beijing, says, We will distribute them to all our members. We read it here in Canada and are very interested in what FIRE has to say.
Producers from all over the world send programmes to FIRE for re-broadcasting on air or online. This means that FIREs repertoire includes womens voices from Asia to Africa, as well as Europe and the Americas. Norma Valle at Radio Universidad de Puerto Rico,18 for example, requests an interview with FIRE during the Beijing+5 process, Could you please call the station here? And, please, keep the information coming over the Internet! Milenia Radio in Peru offers dispatches for rebroadcast, Were starting a programme about the 2001 elections and well be making summaries of the best interviews. Could you put these on your Web site?
Providing reliable, timely information for journalists
Broadcast journalists worldwide consider FIRE a trusted source of information for use in their own programmes. AMARCs Womens Network regularly translates FIRE material for distribution, while stations as diverse as the BBC in London19 and Free Speech TV in Boulder, Colorado,20 link up to FIRE. Wow! Thanks for the marathon broadcast! says Gretchen from Internet MicroRadio Network in the USA, while Spains Radio Contrabanda21 wants a real time link with the Womens Day event to coincide with their daylong radio extravaganza.
Internet access is a luxury many community radios cannot afford, and FIRE ensures that they are not left on the other side of the digital divide. The producers of Todays Woman at Mujeres para el Bienestar (MUPABI), a feminist radio station in Santiago, the Dominican Republic, receive programmes via regular post and on cassette. Its low tech, but its appropriate, and it works. You are one of the few international sources we can count on to cover womens issues for the radio, says the MUPABI team to FIRE, We wish you all success and many congratulations to you, innovators, producers and activists, for defending our space on the airwaves. Meanwhile the women from Ondas Azuayas in Cuenca, Ecuador22 are trying to reach FIRE. We want to link up to your marathon, says Sandra López over the phone. Please see if you can get our signal. But if you cant, please accept our greetings for Womens Day.
Information in black and white
The print media is another important means of dissemination, and FIRE has links with print journalists on every continent, from Mexico to Japan. FEMNET23 in Nairobi considers the work of FIRE to be an inspiration, while Luz Martínez of Isis International24 in the Philippines describes the FIRE activists as veterans of hard work and the struggle for empowerment.
Spreading the word
FIRE has a mission and participates in real world venues to get its message across. Melanie Schneider writes from the USA, I knew little to nothing about the many womens organizations that have empowered women because I was unaware of the womens movement, and would never have called myself a feminist. Then I went to a Feminist Expo, where I took part in a FIRE broadcast. It taught me a lot and inspired me to examine what else I can do to educate other people about feminism.25
Communicating a digital democracy
Each day millions of people communicate online from across geographic, cultural and ideological borders. They share a common need to communicate and a small percentage are learning to use the space created by FIRE. Qiu Mei, a former journalist with China Radio International writes, I took my position as a journalist in China for granted, until I was asked by FIRE to talk about my experience. I realized that I was privileged to have witnessed all I did, and want to help promote women in those parts of the world where their voices are silent and not respected.26
Another World is Possible: FIRE Web casts at 2002 World Social Forum (WSF) in Brazil, February 1 - 5, 2002
The WSF was an open meeting space designed for reflection, debate and planning actions to build a more human-centered society. FIRE Web cast every day of the Forum in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese ensuring that physical distance from the event was no obstacle to participation. The station also took part in a WSF campaign which involved participants bringing or sending symbols of peace from their countries. FIRE listeners sent e-mails describing their peace symbols and these were read on air at the FIRE PLACE and copied onto a diskette, which was displayed with other symbols of peace in the Forum plenary hall.
The Forum FIRE PLACE was a joint endeavour with regional womens media institutions, including Brazils CEMINA27 station and AMARCs Latin American and Caribbean Women´s Network. FIRE PLACE programmes were also featured on the CIRANDA28 information exchange and the Independent Media Center.29
As the name of the NGO suggests, gender is central to the identity of FIRE. The stations use of Internet radio recognizes and enhances the importance of non-literate communication in womens lives and integrates it into an overall strategy of connecting voices, technologies and actions. Women are introduced to the Internet through the familiar and trusted medium of radio. Access to the Internet opens new worlds of online fora and other communities, to say nothing of the wealth of information resources and knowledge that is at their fingertips.
FIREs programmes are also listened to by men. According to a Radio Reception Study carried out for FIRE by Puerto Rican radio producer Norma Valle, the intimacy of radio allows men to feel comfortable and they are not intimidated - often because they can control access to the radio, and can also switch it off if they feel threatened. Therefore FIRE productions work from within the gendered power structures to open a space within those structures for debate, dissension and change.
But women will only listen to the radio or participate in broadcasts if the content of the broadcast is interesting or useful to them. FIRE enables women to determine the content of programmes and promotes the inclusion of women in the management of mass media and ICT. This is a key component of the stations strategy of using ICTs to offset the divisive and unequal nature of current mass media products and trends and advocate for the creation of spaces of experimentation and exchange. FIREs activists aim to have more programmes produced by women and to own media institutions as a legitimate right and a global need.
The atributes of radio are well documented, these include:
radio is an oral medium that includes the illiterate - the majority of whom are women
radio is an interactive medium that enables women to participate in debate from inside their homes using radio phone-in shows
radio is an intimate medium because a womans voice can be on air without revealing anything about the speakers location or appearance
radio is a non-disruptive medium - women are often busy with multiple tasks, at home or in the work-place, and a radio is small, portable and can be listened to as a secondary activity while doing other things
radio is a credible medium - and the proliferation of FM stations means that small stations can co-exist with large commercial concerns, giving local communities a voice on the wider airwaves
radio is a relatively cheap medium, and women are often the poorest members of a community
radio is a portable, self-contained medium that can be accessed in remote, isolated regions far from an electricity grid or generator
radio is a relatively non-threatening medium which need not confer status on the listener and is largely controlled by men, it therefore does not usually disrupt the gendered hierarchy of traditional communities
FIRE is a multimedia radio that gives priority to the spoken voice. By linking oral communication to the Internet, the station adds value to and appropriates both media in a progressive dialogue with listener, writer and speaker.
There are three forms of Internet radio productions at FIRE: (1) monthly features on demand; (2) special FIRE PLACES set up at conferences and events; and (3) occasional marathon Web casts.
The stations Web page allows users to hear and read womens perspectives on a variety of issues and to access a comprehensive range of articles and reports going back to 1998. The combination of text, images and embedded sound files for on demand listening form a unity in which womens voices are central. Because of this FIRE has been dubbed, visual radio by women.
FIRE PLACES are online fora set up to as open-mike, virtual radio stations placed in a central location in conferences or meetings. Here women can share news, debate, develop advocacy skills and mobilize to influence agendas. FIRE PLACES are designed on the basis of creative communication strategies in collaboration with other womens media groups.
FIREPLACE Broadcast from Beijing +5 Conferences, New York (2000)
María Suárez Toro
In 2000 FIRE began its marathon Web casts - 12 to 25 hours of uninterrupted streaming. Under the name Full Spectrum Against.... the marathons mark important events or anniversaries and feature a range of material for broadcast, from pre-recorded packages to music to letters to be read on air. FIRE also invites women to the studio for live interviews and takes calls during the broadcast. All material is available for re-broadcasting and other stations and Web casters are invited to link up in real time. The Internet audience is also included via email and asked to multiply the information harvested by readers and listeners.
Research on FIREs audience is currently underway and preliminary results show that both English- and Spanish-language users of the Web site are very interactive. Their activities range from learning about FIRE through other audience members, to re-distribution and re-broadcasting of FIRE information in other media, classrooms and venues.
The research project consists of the following segments:
Statistics for the FIRE Web pages in Spanish and English. Initial results show that the number of visitors has increased from less than 2 000 in 1998 to 144 145 in 2002.
An online survey in Spanish and English that includes both quantitative and qualitative measures designed to examine the history of audience member relations with FIRE, level of political awareness, uses of FIRE broadcasts and other issues. Initial results show that people turn to FIRE because it features womens voices, offers alternative perspectives to mainstream media and is progressive.
Analysis of e-mails to FIRE from 1999-2002 show that digital multiplication (cross sharing of information with other networks) is an important feature of such correspondence.
Case studies on the impact of special broadcasts and programmes, focussing on a live programme produced during Beijing+5 in 2000, and a Web cast marathon during the 2001 UN Conference Against Racism. Another case study examines the FIRE Peacecasts, which began on September 11, 2001 and which feature women peace activists from around the world.
Focus groups with other womens media producers on the role they see for FIRE in the context of media globalization and their use of the Internet as a medium of redistribution of media content.
Research results will help FIRE and other Internet activists to refine their communication and mobilization strategies.
FIREs staff are mostly self-taught in Internet radio production, however they have set up a systematic curriculum to share their knowledge and experience with other women. Training is provided during conferences and events.
Sharing experiences at the Know-How Conference Kampala, (2002)
FIRE Radio Web cast Training Workshop at the Know How Conference in Kampala, Uganda30
About 50 people, mainly women, attended FIREs radio Web cast training workshop at the Know How Conference in Kampala, Uganda, from July 23 - 27, 2001. They learned how FIRE uses media multiplication (saving and swapping digital knowledge and building networks to share and gateways to process information) to enhance the potential of ICTs in broadcasting the perspectives of women worldwide.
The Know How Conference was subtitled, A Safari Into the Cross-Cultural World of Womens Knowledge Exchange. It focused on creative strategies for using new ICTs in combination with traditional media and communication venues. Women from 45 countries discussed ways to use ICTs to enhance human rights, including in war and conflict situations, and to combat poverty and other social, economic and political problems.
FIREs workshop included live a Web cast in French with women from DR Congo, and participants evaluations were very positive, with comments such as, the most amazing thing Ive ever seen in the use of ICTs and very, very inspiring. FIREs innovative media multiplication strategy was also highlighted by the conference newsletter, which congratulated FIRE for harnessing new technology to radio, the most widely used and effective form of mass communication in Africa.
The station is planning to hold a workshop on developing Internet radio for advocacy skills to be held in Ciudad Colón. Funded by the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS) of the Netherlands, the workshop will train 30 Latin American and Caribbean women activists in the use and development of online fora, listservs, threaded discussion boards and sound files.
Katerina Anfossi (co-founder of FIRE) provides multi media training for Latin American and Caribbean women activists (1999)
María Suárez Toro
Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE) broadcast on shortwave radio between 1991 and 1998 and moved online that year. The essence of its programmes remains the same, and the oral world of women remains its central focus, but the Internet presents FIRE with new challenges and opportunities, both technical and political.
From the technical point of view, FIRE activists have had to teach themselves from scratch how to design, build and run a womens Internet radio. The technicians - male and female - who helped FIRE have also had to adjust to the fact that the technical process of development is in the hands of the FIRE staff and its audience, not the technicians nor the technology.
The main political challenge posed by accessing the Internet has been to keep track of womens initiatives and actions worldwide to keep the process of shaping the broadcast agenda as inclusive and collaborative as possible. All too often the process is defined either by mainstream media or very local community groups. FIRE aims to work in a global, autonomous context -through a process of interactive autonomy - but this is no easy feat!
FIRE reaches its audience directly through its multilingual broadcasts and bilingual, multimedia Web pages, and through its strategy of networking, rebroadcasting, re-distribution and re-publication of its programmes. These activities are consistent with FIREs aim to connect voices, technologies and actions, to amplify womens voices worldwide.
The international womens movement and media use FIRE broadcasts and multimedia products to inform themselves about issues and events, and then distribute the information to other outlets, such as Web sites, electronic and paper magazines, newspapers, radio and television stations. In addition FIRE has been featured in its own right as an innovative and courageous human rights and media organization.
Experience has given FIRE first-hand knowledge of these processes, but it wasnt until 2003 that the station was able to assess and study its audience and the impacts of its multimedia strategy. Preliminary results show this has been successful, but further studies are needed to move forward and improve on its current activities.
FIRE has affirmed its commitment to focus on womens voices in its use of ICTs and to use technology to shape an arena where women can be themselves. Launching womens voices into cyberspace has put a feminist Web radio station from Costa Rica at the cutting edge of a new age of media technology.
With this new media format, FIRE joins a new age of creative broadcasting which differs radically from radio because it is broadcast through a desktop computer and accessed anywhere in the world. It further decentralizes the power to communicate because it doesnt require a fully equipped radio station to broadcast, nor a license to use the airwaves.
FIRE, a tiny NGO from Central America, has transcended the unilateral flow of information from North to South, from men to women, from global to local and from rich to poor. The station shows how it is possible to appropriate the power of ICTs and use them to effect social change in a range of arenas - keeping gender firmly in focus, but creating alliances with other movements to move away from the margins and into the spotlight of global politics.
1 Feminist Internet Radio
2 UN World Conference Against
3 World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters
5 Interview with L. Ann Foster at WCAR (2001)
6 Gender Evaluation Methodology: A New Tool for Womens Empowerment, Dafne Sabanes Plou and Fatma Alloo (APC WNSP)
7 2001 Digital Opportunities Task Force (DOT
8 Information Technology Landscape of Costa
10 Omar Dengo
11 Instituto Tecnológico de Costa
12 Massachusetts Institute of technology
13 The Womens International War Crimes
Tribunal on Japans Military Sexual
14 Women Transcending Borders, Katerina
Paper presented at the Mixed Media meeting organized by Comunica in Tampa, Florida September, 2000
15 Radio Tierra,
16 Latin American and Caribbean Womens Health
17 AMARC Womens
19 BBC World
20 Free Speech
25 Compilation of e-mails and letters to FIRE. Compiled by Margaret Thompson, 2000
27 CEMINA (Communication, Education and Information
28 CIRANDA: International Independent Information
29 Independent Media
30 Know How