This post hopes to stimulate ideas and discussion, so we invite your feedback on successful initiatives promoting female inclusion in maker spaces in field locations. We’ll implement the best of your tested strategies in the Terre des hommes Ioannina refugee camp micro fab lab.
Why female inclusion?
Fab Labs and makerspaces are meant to be a safe place to incubate ideas, or take on a pressing issue and try to solve it. The world of digital prototyping and making is guided by the core value of human-centered design, which empowers individuals to imagine and create solutions to their own problems.
Promoting female inclusion in maker spaces is an opportunity to empower women to tackle their own specific challenges.
Across the world, female inclusion is limited in many domains, affecting their safety, security and economic mobility. Girls’ and women’s access to education, knowledge, skills and tools is still very limited in some societies. Many developed countries have attempted to emphasise STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) for girls and women, to try and balance the gender equation, but systemic barriers to women’s inclusion still exist.
By inviting women and girls to share maker spaces and Fab Labs, they can be empowered to imagine, create and test solutions to issues that are important and specific to them. In refugee camps, women’s issues often receive little attention and priority, including issues of female safety, female sanitation, or simply feeling safer inside a tent. An idea as simple as 3-D printing a hook to better close the shelter might improve the feeling of safety and reduce the risk of gender-based violence, and provide dignity by being “proactive” in answering one’s own needs, and learn some new skills in the process.
Exponential technologies and new opportunities such as mobile communications, mobile financing, crowd sourcing of work, and 3-D printing, can break traditional barriers by giving women direct access to tools, work, education and new skills. Promoting female inclusion in Fab Labs and maker spaces deployed as part of a humanitarian (or development) program is an opportunity to unleash girls’ and women’s creativity, giving power and perhaps hope to those who have had the least.
Ways to improve female inclusion
Our research indicates a few key areas of focus:
Non intimidating or threatening space
A deliberate and sophisticated approach is necessary to set up a maker space or fab lab in such a way as to reduce barriers to entry. A preliminary consultation may be held with local residents with a focus on identifying situations preventing women and girls from accessing offered activities, and the mechanisms that could be put in place to avoid that.
Gender-specific marketing and outreach
Communications and promotion should include messaging specifically targeting girls and women, inviting people to come to the maker space. However, a careful balance must be found to not disadvantage boys.
Targeted activities and training
Skills training and Fab Lab educational programs should target both women and men, explaining how they can use the space and inviting them to be part of the community of makers. Depending on local norms, there may be a need to organise women-only workshops led by female facilitators.
Learning how the community want to use the space
In India, Limitless Child International has been using small versions of fab labs to enable orphans and vulnerable communities in India to learn new skills while having fun. In Puna, they tested a Mobile fab lab in a Rickshaw with female groups. The approach worked well thanks to the development of participatory workshops where the groups had the chance to design their own activities with local partners.
Meanwhile in Ioannina
The first proof of concept of the Global Humanitarian Lab’s FabKit project is being developed with Terre des hommes (Tdh) in Ioannina, Greece. The project consists of the deployment of a micro Fab Lab in a refugee camp community center, to complete and reinforce the Terre des hommes integrated response to education and protection needs of refugee children and their caregivers in the European migration crisis.
With the aim of being as inclusive as possible, GHL is seeking new ways to engage with the camp’s female population, which is roughly half of the total population. The majority of Afghan women in the camp are illiterate and have difficulty communicating due to the lack of Farsi interpreters. On the other hand, most of the Syrian women are literate, and benefit from the greater availability of Arabic interpreters.
Women in Ioannina and other refugee sites seek to create a sense of normality in their daily life, ways of engaging with community life despite their displacement. NGOs have been responding to stated needs such as sewing, cooking, or cosmetics, as examples of the types of activities that would help. However, training and support in digital fabrication may empower these women to identify new ways of addressing these needs and expand the variety of available activities.
Lastly, with some of the technology-related projects implemented in Ioannina, even though women have shown interest in using devices, there is a clear predominance of men who come first and women often wait until they are given a chance to participate later.
Share with us
How have you fostered female inclusion in your Fab Labs and makerspaces? How successful were these initiatives? What would you do better in the future?
Here are some questions to inspire your thinking and open the discussion.
- What activities and topics could encourage the participation of girls and women (but not exclusively) in the Fab Lab?
- How to design activities for women who don’t write or read, and who have a limited access to interpreters?
- Are there specific tools and machines that are more interesting or attractive for girls and women?
- Would a specific design of the space help?
- Would it help to create a specific schedule?
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