Highlighted Selections from:

Community in Cyberspace: Gender, Social Movement Learning, and the Internet

DOI: 10.1177/0741713610380448

Irving, C J, and L M English. “Community in Cyberspace: Gender, Social Movement Learning, and the Internet.” Adult Education Quarterly 61.3 (2011): 262–278. Web.

p.263: Feminist nonprofit organizations are sites of informal and nonformal learning where citizens learn advocacy, literacy, and the practices of social democracy. With the growing use of information and communication technologies in the nonprofit sector, there are questions asto how well organizations are able to make use of this technology to further their goals of promoting social movement learning and activism. This article reports on a systematic analysis of 100 websites for feminist organizations in Canada. Websites are evaluated for content, currency, and maintenance to determine how well these sites contribute to the work of these organizations. Implications are drawn for learning and teaching in the community-based sphere. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.264: Community-based feminist organizations represent socially and economically marginalized people and are often located in a marginalized space themselves within the nonprofit world. They typically have a political mandate to work for women’s rights and to change the inequalities that exist in civil society (Ferree & Martin, 1995). Feminist nonprofit organizations accomplish this agenda through nonformal (workshops and short courses) and informal (everyday) adult learning strategies that are politically attuned. They provide educational programming; social movement learning about advocacy, change, and feminism; literacy services; and mentoring and coaching. Feminist social action groups of the 1970s have formalized over time to create the well-established community-based women’s resource centers, political lobbying groups, antiviolence agencies, and shelters that exist in the nonprofit sector today. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.266: Furthermore, feminist theoretical contributions to the development of a gendered understanding of Internet design and use highlights gender’s influence in perpetuating the digital divide and how this affects the ways women learn and apply ICT skills (Faulkner & Lie, 2007). Although barriers to ICTs are widely analyzed (Smith, 2007), critical analysis of the potential of this technology for empowerment in practice is underresearched. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.267: The current digital divide debate has shifted from mere access to more significant issues of how the Internet is used, understood, and controlled. Van Dijk (2005) describes a “deepening divide” in which marginalization is magnified: “The more information and communication technology is immersed in society and pervades everyday life, the more it becomes attached to all existing social divisions” (p. 2). Nonprofits have a role to bridge this divide, identifying these marginalized groups as their audience (opposed to corporate sector that targets potential consumers). Furthermore, they can give voice to these sectors which are denied other avenues to make their perspectives visible. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.270: Events listings were poorly maintained. Finding out current activities is typically a common reason for a person to visit an organization’s website. Yet only 46% of all websites had an up-to-date list of activities. Of those advocacy and victim services agencies sites that did post events, only half were current. In several cases they had not been updated in years. Although availability of a newsletter was low to start with, this was an area that was typically not well maintained, with only an issue or two available, and often, what was provided was not current. Less than half of the sites with a newsletter section actually had a recent issue posted. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.272: Resource center sites were least likely to provide in-depth information, indicating that they do not consider or have the capacity to expand their role as an information provider in an online format. Most organizations (70%) used their websites to promote services at their center as opposed to toolkits and useful information (e.g., for tax preparation, for voter awareness). Organizations that had a more focused website purpose, such as shelters for women affected by abuse, were more likely to consider posting content specifically relevant to their clients. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.272: Overall, only 32% of the organizations actively promote social justice issues and activism on their websites. Advocacy agencies, being more aware of the importance of strategically making their research available and educating people on social justice issues, were much more likely (81%) to provide substantive content online. Content included research findings, fact sheets on issues such as gendered aspects of poverty, activity around election campaigns, or controversial legislation. One would expect that all types of organizations would encourage involvement, yet only 63% of the sites visited provided information on how to join the organization as a member or volunteer. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.272: Drawing on Royal’s (2008) conceptualization of a “gendered space” on the Internet, we were interested in how feminist organizations identify themselves through their websites. More than 80% of the sites had a clear gender orientation. Among resource centers and advocacy groups, approximately 40% identified themselves explicitly as feminist. On this criterion of shared identity, the organizations did well. Aboriginal sites clearly designed their sites to show their identity; however, they drew from aboriginal imagery and color schemes more than gendered symbols. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.273: A newsletter is often the most public record of an organization’s activity, particularly by smaller groups that do not normally produce formal publications. There is a wealth of primary source material from second wave feminism through the newsletters published by the groups forming at that time. See for example, Duke University’s Documents from the Women’s Liberation Movement (http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/wlm/). The University of Ottawa’s text-based collection, Canadian Women’s Movement Archives, provides a critical record of second-wave feminist organizing in Canada. Through organizational websites, individual groups can create their own archive of this precious historical record. Sadly, this is not being done broadly. As women’s organizations shift their documentation to electronic, there is little evidence of a concerted effort to maintain this material for long-term preservation. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.273: Depending on the type of organization, one third to one half of the sites did not have well-maintained and useful websites, suggesting they are underused and ineffective as educational tools and supports, or as reliable archives of organizational knowledge. We recognize that there may well be inadequate funding available to support technology, yet we are concerned that so many organizations are doing poorly in this area. When we think of rural women, for instance, who have less access to learning services and supports, we realize that ICTs matter considerably to them. Women who are in need of information to access services for victims of abuse or to enroll in a literacy program are disadvantaged by the inadequacy of these sites. Adult educators working in the community and in these organizations have less of an opportunity to reach out to these women. They are restricted to face-to-face contact, which is limited for women who are confined by reasons of shame, low literacy, victimization, and geography. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.275: Battered Women Support Services (www.bwss.org) of Vancouver, British Columbia, provides a comprehensive newsletter, current newswire, and information brochures that can be downloaded. They also have a comprehensive range of policy and advocacy material. They take a broad view of the issues related to domestic violence and provide educational support around these issues, such as homelessness, immigration law, indigenous rights, family law, and child welfare -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.275: The Women’s Health Clinic in Manitoba (www.womenshealthclinic.org) also takes a holistic approach to its field—in this case, health. The site covers issues not expected of a “clinic.” In addition to wellness information, which includes feminist analyses of “body image,” the site addresses the broader social determinants of health such as housing, poverty, and education and lobbies on behalf of women for policy change. As a proponent of lifelong learning, the clinic has a particular mandate to promote education of women, encouraging community participation, and support. -- Highlighted apr 5, 2014

p.276: The main outstanding issues arising from our study are the following:

  • Work and advocacy are required to address the unstable funding situation and to identify more effective ways to support ICT development and use as an educational medium in the community-based and nonprofit sector.
  • Strategies are needed to assist organizations to develop websites that are better aligned with their educational mandate. These strategies include the use of participatory approaches with organizational staff, clients, and other groups to help in the development of relevant content that furthers their civil society agenda.
  • Attention needs to be paid to organizational effectiveness, possibly through increasing attention to a credible web presence that meets clients’ learning needs and furthers social justice.
  • Education is needed both in technical maintenance skills and in the widerranging issues of information sharing.
  • The use of ICTs as instruments of social movement learning needs to be explored further and promoted.

-- Highlighted apr 5, 2014