Opening up spaces and voices

Young women from disadvantaged backgrounds on the Cape Flats in Western Cape, like many other countries of the South face multiple barriers in receiving and communicating information regarding public services and local governance. Traditional communication tools were not used successfully to catapult young women into the arena of participatory governance as many political spaces have closed down on them. Youth in general are drawn to the creative spaces opened up by digital information technology, but do not all have the same access to these. It is important to explore if young women from poor backgrounds who experience access barriers to digital information tools can connect with local governance spaces if they have better access to digital spaces through feminist capacity building approaches.

For young women to improve the quality of their lives, self-express and be active citizens, an enabling environment needs to be created. This environment should ideally be co-created by a responsive local government that affirms their voice and validates their experiences and needs and in turn creates spaces for their legitimate participation. As local government spaces are patriarchal and most often alien to the aspirations of young women, programmes aimed at elevating the issues and concerns of women onto the agenda of local government, are seen as wasteful expenditure. In the context of a lack of political will of local government leadership, it is important that young women are empowered with information tools that would enhance their emancipatory potential and allow them to generate options for disrupting oppressive governance as well as building supportive information networks. This requires a paradigm shift from the ‘knowledge and technological elite’ to a more bottom-up informal information community. The project makes explicit an interesting tension between the use of Internet spaces as a potential revolutionary space as well as a public space. It will be interesting to see over the next two years how digital spaces are indeed opening up for young women while at the same time raising awareness of the continuous need to be active in public spaces and whether linkages between the two spaces can be created.


Vainola Makan, Cape Town, South Africa