The Internet Rights Bulgaria Foundation (IRBF) conducted a third local training of its kind: "Information and Communication Technologies for Women Activists" from 21 to 23 April 2005 at Expert educational center in Sofia, Bulgaria. 6 women, working mainly in the field of gender equality in Sofia and the country, took part in the training.
"Exchange of information and knowledge about ICTs", "enhancing communication in the NGO sector in Bulgaria", "to learn more about Free Software" and "cooperation" - these were some of the practical women’s expectations, announced on the first day of the training. There were some other, more general values and hopes like "charging forward with optimism", "making more people happy". Were these desires fulfilled during the four days of hard work?
The training started with a discussion on women’s work with Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), facilitated by Christina Haralanova, IRBF. She gave lots of interesting examples from the country and from the world and participants shared their experience. "I am proud that at a certain age, without ICT knowledge I created a computer club, which is helpful for more women. Women run and administer many of the computer clubs. They do it because they have to make a living somehow", shared Snejana Genkova. "ICTs have given a lot to me - I have improved my English because of them, they connect me to interesting people all over the world, I realized that women have common problems all over the world", said Mariela Todorova, coordinator at Women and Mothers against violence. "NGOs abroad have accumulated experience for decades. So, ICTs have very positive effect on our work in NGOs. Specialized courses like this are very useful because the use of ICTs in the work of social movements is specific. One feels awe have become a part of something bigger."
Irina Kirilova from Saved Future foundation added that there is still no balance between women and men in the ICT work. "ICTs are great challenge for women and men do not look upon us as equal." Women came to the conclusion that circling, sharing information is one of the best solutions to the difficulties of working with ICTs.
Various emotions and thoughts were provoked by the film Password: Women, an initiative of the International Information Center and Archives for the Women’s Movement (IIAV). The film dwells on the use of ICTs by women in countries as far apart from each other as Macedonia, Uganda and Costa Rica. "The film shows double standards of morality, which are often the real problem for women", commented the Macedonian Mariela.
On the second day Christina Haralanova went on with a presentation "How websites work" about the needs from websites and their usage. The session ended in a very interactive way, due to the different levels of experience of women, and everybody contributed to demystification of concepts like domain, hosting and design, which do not have Bulgarian equivalents and sound quite frightening for some people.
The greater part of the day was devoted to activities connected to publishing on social rights. Maria Velichkova discussed the idea of the Bulgarian Social Rights portal, its development, and editorial policies. "It is wonderful that this website exists: even if we do not have our own webpage, we can announce our activities", said Nina Todorova from the Orphan Foundation.
Participants were given user names and passwords for the information portal "Social rights", and they put into practice what they were taught by Maria Velichkova about writing effectively for the web. For the experienced writers the task was not a a challenge but others found the task of writing a portrait of another woman more difficult. In the end, everybody was satisfied with the results but some women were embarrassed with the visibility on the Internet they were going to get with publishing the articles. "It is different in small towns", said Eleonora Dimitrova from the town of Lucky, "I am not sure what women from my home town will think of me."
On the last day of the training the topic of Free Software was discussed, which was very interesting for everybody. After the discussion on advantages of Free Software Mariela Todorova asked why the Bulgarian national administration uses Windows not Linux, which provoked another debate on transparency of decision making, corporations, freedom of choice.
Although the participants used Linux on the computers in the educational center throughout the training, they were surprised to discover that, although they were not acquainted with the operational system, they did not experience many difficulties. "Hm, my son was telling me that Linux is very complicated but it’s quite easy.", said Sonia Taushanova from Culture, Art and Children organization.
The workshop on effectively searching for information with Google was also very useful, as well as the discussion on etiquette on the net (so called Netiquette), where the most debated issue was again the hot topic of using the Cyrillic alphabet.
Participants’ evaluations were very positive: "friendly atmosphere and trainers", "applicable and accessible contents of the training", "very useful". There were ideas that the training might be broaden to a five-day one because women needed more practice.
As a result of the training, almost all of the activists were more enthusiastic about upgrading their own websites or publishing on social rights, so that their activities, campaigns and projects become more visible in the country and abroad.