What is a feminist approach to technology?

We all recognize that technology is an important part of our everyday social and material lives – right from the tools we use for communication (mobile phones, the internet, radio), to the machines and technology that produce our electricity, food and clothes, transportation or monitor us when we’re ill. Whether in the Stone Age (when man learned to use fire to better his life) or the Bronze or Iron Age (when man began to manipulate metal for his own use) technology has been important to human society. Yet the history of technology has more often than not been a history dominated by men, and the inventions of men. While this is true about centuries past, we believe that this should not be true about the years ahead.

From this thought followed the idea of a feminist approach to technology - an outlook that questions the existing structures of technology, and seeks to incorporate women as equal partners within it. Whether in personal, social and professional spaces, women should be encouraged to participate equally in technology, take initiative in their own learning, and be comfortable in engaging and experimenting with technology.

Why technology though?

Partly because technology is something we feel very strongly about! Also because the relationship between women and technology in India is something that has not been documented or studied very closely, and this is a cause for worry for us.

Whether it’s in urban professional spaces or semi-rural household ones, we have almost no figures that highlight how women are using technology, or being introduced to it. The prevailing gender and class biases also ensure that most women and girls are almost never trained to use technology, or introduced to a very simple-level engagement with it. This is despite the fact that most women will use technological implements throughout their lives, or have it affect their lives in ways they have no control over.

At FAT we try and address this lag in our own way, through workshops, awareness programs, skill-building sessions for different groups of women (in professional spaces, unemployed women, semi-educated women) with the belief that even this small knowledge will capacitate them to make a positive change in their own lives and the lives of others around them.

Why feminist?

A feminist approach is a gendered critique of the design, use and impact of technology, and also the idea that empowering women to participate in using technology can help change the future of it. We believe that equal participation of women in producing technology and decision-making around it is important because it ensures that that widely-used technology does not alienate women, and can in turn be a tool for them to improve their own quality of life.

Why: “Feminist” and not “Women’s”?

There are 2 other reasons also for using this name.

One, there is a hatred/fear for the term feminist in India as in many other countries. People often think that feminist’s are men haters, which is not true. Feminists are people who believe everyone should have equal rights. We identify ourselves as feminist organization, so we use the term. We would not stop using the word because others don’t like it.

Secondly, in short the name is FAT. We love this acronym. As feminists we believe that the stigma around being FAT, and many other perceived “undesirable body images”, is a form of violence that everyone inflicts on themselves as well as others. We believe that being FAT is cool, and we are proud to be FAT.

Are you anti-men?

Not at all! Just because we do things for women doesn't mean we hate men. Many men have been associated with, and continue to be associated with FAT, and help us and work with us. And any men who want to lend a hand to our movement in any way are more than welcome!

When you say "technology," do you mean IT?

We take a very broad interpretation of technology. For us, technology encompasses any area where such tools are used, from electrical wiring to biotechnology. That's why we offer classes on a variety of skills, as we feel that livelihood options should not be limited to standard technological fields.

Can women really be as good as men in technical work?

India in particular sees a huge gender bias when it comes to technology. It’s a commonly held belief that boys are naturally better than girls at maths and science, that engineering and machines are a man’s domain, that women cannot understand technology, women aren’t ‘interested’ in technology and more such statements that unfortunately turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.

This is a commonly held misunderstanding that has its roots in a socially-rooted bias against women. In our work we’ve come across women from different walks of life who not only understand technology, but also enjoy working with it. Most of the young girls we’ve worked with so far have come to our workshops because they were drawn by a desire to learn how to work technology, so we’ve found that all the questions about women not ‘getting’ technology are generally baseless!

FAT believe that women are as capable of understanding technology as men, and would like to create as many opportunities as possible for women to engage with different aspects of technology in a relaxed and non-judgmental space. The more women are acquainted with technology, the better they will be placed to use it to improve their own lives, the lives of their families and the communities they live in.

We would also like to see more women creating and using technology in a professional space – either in offices, research & development wings of corporations, applied in agriculture, engineering, laboratory research, entertainment communication and technology – we are quite sure the possibilities are endless!