Bangkok, Thailand - As Thailand braced for the verdict on its former prime minister, who once gravely threatened the media, women’s groups gathered to further discuss the kind of information and communication tools that matter to them.

The Civil Media Development Institute (CMDI), in collaboration with Isis International launched the People’s Communications for Development (PC4D), the book and campaign in Bangkok, Thailand on 31 July 2008. PC4D is a three-year study that encompassed five countries: Fiji, India, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Thailand and aimed to determine the communication tools that are more effective and empowering for women.

PC4D: Communications from the Ground
Johanna Son board member of Isis International and the regional director of Inter Press Service News for Asia-Pacific explained that PC4D is a reflection of the organisation’s goal in upholding the interest of Southern women and communities in policy processes, especially those which concern information and communications. “We have to make sure that whatever interventions we make on policy processes especially on the regional and international levels are informed by the social realities on the ground. It is in this thrust that we locate PC4D.”

Communicating to Women, Women Communicating
During the launch, most participants raised the problems of women in communications, particularly in expressing themselves and in making their issues and analyses visible in mainstream media. Usa Learsrisantand, executive director of the Foundation for Women (FFW) lamented that there are issues which have yet to be publicly discussed due to shame and denial. “There are issues which women are still afraid to discuss such as human trafficking, safety in the workplace, HIV-AIDS, and others. Some still consider these issues as personal issues,” she said.

Another participant from the National Health Foundation asserted that most women have not been involved in communications, particularly in producing content that is relevant to themselves. Some of these issues are around reproductive rights. Contraception, and sex generally, continue to be taboo subjects, which “good women” or those who express value in “chastity,” should not discuss.

The participants also bewail the common phenomenon where women only manage to land the front pages when they are “victims.”

PC4D in Thailand
Chanansara Oranop na Ayutthaya of CMDI presented the highlights of the Thai country study. Oral and face to face communications is deemed crucial as this process provides opportunities for clarity, understanding, dialogue and participation. Such preference for interpersonal communication is in light of the social barriers most Thai women face as well as the country’s mainstream media landscape.

The fora and meetings organised by the FFW, for instance, gather grassroots women and other members of the community to raise their awareness about the laws on violence against women and other issues. One participant from FFW’s partner, Amnatchareon Women’s Friend, pointed out, “As poorly educated local villagers, we cannot understand academic analysis and ambiguous texts in codes. When we attend fora, the academics explain to us how those texts can be interpreted and how they affect our lives. They always ask for our opinions, but without directing our thinking, which we admire.”

Such fora and other more basic forms of organising are likewise crucial in clarifying and even correcting the views and representations which are projected in mainstream media especially on sensitive issues such as the long-standing conflicts in southern Thailand.

Women’s Studies professor Wilasinee Adulyanont affirmed the inappropriate and alienating nature of new ICTs for most grassroots women. “Traditional media can give more trust to the user rather than the new [ICTs], where people don’t see each other. Women also have greater participation in the former since there is interaction.” Adulyanont nonetheless clarified that new ICTs are not necessarily bad, but these must be adopted to local situations. “Sometimes technology defines gender. Sometimes gender defines technology. Perhaps we need to see a combination of both,” she added. Anoop Sukumaran of the Asia Monitor Resource Center and Focus on the Global South maintained though that ICTs are a double-edged sword, that people must be keen about their potentials and dangers.

For Sukumaran, PC4D illustrates Asians' orientation towards communities and collective actions, an orientation that is being forcibly altered by the dominant paradigms of development. “Asian communities are communitarians and not individualistic, which characterises globalisation. The study highlights the question, ‘who owns the tools of communications?’ It reinforces the fact that democratic institutions must be based on the ground.”

PC4D in all the five countries
Across all five countries studied, traditional communication tools particularly radio, film and theatre remain the most accessible and effective tools for grassroots women. In the Pacific region, community radio has been a primary channel of communications for women’s groups advocating various issues associated with domestic violence, reproductive rights and other health concerns.

Aside from having a wide coverage and filling the airwaves over communities unreached by television and internet, radio is also valued because it provides listerners information without altering their routine. India similarly put a high regard to theatre which has been a cultural form and space that has been utilised by women’s and social movements. Film and video have also been cited as effective media due to their visually stimulating qualities and their emotive appeal. Print media is also highly valued in Fiji and Papua New Guinea where a strong reading culture has been developed. Of the new ICTs, only the cellular phone was deemed accessible and effective particularly in the Philippines and India.

In Thailand, theatre and film have also been cited by women as among the most effective and empowering communication tools. Based on the study, audio-visual tools are preferred by intermediary groups in reaching out to grassroots women and children. Radio continues to be the most accessible tool in the communities with 62 per cent, followed by land line (31%) and theatre (15%), validating the importance of the role of community radio especially in far-flung areas.

Meanwhile, among the most effective tools include film or video, posters, radio and theatre. The internet has been cited as the least effective tool in interacting with grassroots women by 45 per cent of the respondents, followed by computers. This finding is mainly due to cost and skill considerations. There are also areas of the country where electricity services are intermittent. Some grassroots women also found these new communication tools to be wanting in terms of interactivity and visual stimulation. Most internet content is also in English, reflecting another major barrier.

But of all the communication tools, oral and face-to-face communications remain the most empowering for grassroots women in all countries. “This mode of communication is greatly appreciated and to a large extent is inevitable because it is the best way to develop trust, nurture relationships, and encourage women to actively organise and advocate issues,” Nina Somera of Isis International explained.

Pattara Khampituk, editor of the broadsheet Post Today acknowledged these findings and other issues, affirming that women indeed have to always compete with otherwise more newsy stories. He said that PC4D is among the issues that must be picked up by mainstream media. It is a challenge for the reporter to take this agenda.”

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