An open-source software enables women in the Global South to stand up for equality and participation.
Jiyu Uyunkar in Ecuador, Yeny Paucar in Peru and Olivia Serwa Waree in Ghana are helping develop Colmena, an open-source software that they will be able to use in their community media outlets. Colmena is Spanish for "beehive" and the software is to function like a digital newsroom, enabling the women to continue working even under difficult conditions like the pandemic. Even though it's still in the test phase, the software is already in high demand.
In times of crisis, women are often the ones lacking the digital means to provide information to their communities. However, it is they who take up issues that empower other women in their communities and give them a voice.
They need a safe place for this and that is the goal of Colmena: to provide a digital space where women can openly discuss their experiences without fearing repercussions. Domestic violence against women has increased dramatically since the pandemic, making safe spaces more important than ever.
For two months during the pandemic the community reporters in Ecuador weren't able to produce the podcast Remando
Together with her colleagues Kankkuana Canelos and Rupay Guanliga, Jiyu Uyunkar in Ecuador established Remando, a podcast for Ecuadorian women. "Women are criticized and afraid to speak out in public," Uyunkar explained, "because they are not listened to or taken seriously."
For two months during the pandemic community reporters weren't able to produce the podcast. "Almost everyone in our community had contracted the virus and we couldn't get into the studio," Uyunkar said. Producing and broadcasting from home was difficult, she pointed out, due to electrical breakdowns, unreliable Internet connections and weak phone receptions. She needed a tool that could function regardless, she said – a tool like Colmena.
At Lake Titicaca in Peru, Yeny Paucar and her 70-year-old mother Rosa Palomino produce a radio program in the Aymara language. Their weekly show is often the only information source for indigenous Aymara communities
In Peru, Yeny Paucar is co-founder of the Unión de Mujeres Aymaras del Abya Yala (UMA), a network for media workers in the Aymara and Quechua indigenous communities. The network's target audiences are women and young people who live in some 1,300 communities around Puno, a small city located on the shore of Lake Titicaca. UMA's radio programming is essential for preserving the communities' languages and culture but for four weeks during the pandemic Paucar couldn't broadcast. It was hard, she said, "because no information was going out to the Aymara population, and many died. There was so much uncertainty," she said, "but on the Internet we saw online meetings and conferences being held and knew we needed these media tools and had to be able to operate them."
Open-source software like Colmena is ideal for this: it is easy to use, secure and free of charge. Paucar will soon be able to use her cell phone to record and edit stories and share broadcasts via the mobile Internet. As a result, the Aymara and Quecha populations will continue to receive information and elders' stories will be digitally preserved for future generations.
In Ghana, Olivia Serwa Waree is helping develop Colmena and is also testing it. She works for the community station Radio Ada and translates the daily international news into the local language, Dangme. Her goal is to further reach out to women and make their issues heard.
"Women are afraid to speak in public or take on leadership roles because they've been brought up in a patriarchal structure," she said. In response she has developed a regular women's program to empower women and promote gender equality.
In the future she will be able to use the Colmena toolbox to publish content on social media. Given the pandemic, the mobile Internet has gained importance because Internet connections are often unreliable. When the Radio Ada studio had to close, mobile production became the only way to deliver news.
Those who will be using Colmena open-source software in the future need to be actively involved in the development phase. Jiyu Uyunkar, Yeny Paucar and Olivia Serwa Waree are involved and, together with others in the project, are discussing the challenges of community media and their experiences, as well as their wishes and needs. They are sharing their knowledge and learning from each other – just as bees do in a beehive.
This project is part of the global initiative "Transparency and media freedom – Crisis resilience in the pandemic" by DW Akademie and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.