Empowering Women & Girls Through ICT
The ICT (Information and Communication Technology) is increasingly used across the continent to empower women. It can be a very powerful force when it is used for good purposes as much as it can for bad.
UNESCO & INTEL have realised the potential power that ICT can offer. Together they encourage the used of ICT in education and especially strive to increase the participation of girls, the disadvantaged and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). So far all good, but how can we encourage groups to work in and participate in STEM? Why is the overrepresentation of men within these fields so high in relation to other groups? Are these groups simply less interested, or are there underlying factors? We would argue that these groups are not necessarily less interested, but that it is a question of what you learn that you are allowed to do. That is to say that gender stereotypes affect people’s ideas about what they can and should do.
If it were simply a lack of interest and abilities it would not be possible to find initiatives such as a Radio station run only by women. They might not be operating through ICT but they surely provide a good example of what women can do. In Mogadishu Aman Radio is both a female run and operated station where women hold all posts from journalists and photographers to technicians. It also functions as an educational space, providing both practical experience and the courses needed for the different roles at a radio station. This is a really interesting initiative as it directly provides the women connected to the radio with a place where they set the agenda and decide priorities.
In Rwanda a group of young and adolecent girls go out to schools to inspire more girls to choose ICT as a profession. They also aspire to inspire girls to make the most of the opportunities that ICT skills and knowledge provide within any profession.
What can ICT and media actually be used for? In Zambia it is used in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV). GBV organisations use social media to help raise the awareness about and to educate the public about GBV. One needs however to ask, how many and who are reached by these initiatives? Access to internet and by that social media is limited in many places. It is estimated that only 5 percent of the world’s internet users are found in sub-Saharan Africa. ‘‘Connectivity ranges from some to virtually none across the region.’’ With the potential that ICT brings the issue of access to it is something that needs to be addressed by governments, regional and international organisations (such as the African Union and the United Nations). Here initiatives such as the one taken in Rwanda can help speed up the process, by giving incentives and providing that it is a required service. It is also a fact that there are many knowledgeable individuals who are more than willing to take on the work of developing the ICT technology and features.
Another fact is that money is essential for ICT usage in a country. This means that the more financial resources you have the more likely you are to have access to the internet and owning a mobile phone. It is also true that where you live in a country has a strong influence on your access to ICTs. It is urban areas (cities) that are the placees to be if you want to be connected. You are also more likely to be anan ICT user if you have a high level of education. All of these issues can be related to government priorities and the state of infrastructure across the continent. If the will to improve and increase access existed, it would be possible. If there is will to improve and increase access also in rural areas this is not impossible. What is interesting however is that gender has a low impact on the access to ICT, something which is really positive despite the statistics in general. However, there are other sources that indicates that there is in fact a gender-gap in access to internet. What can be said is that ICT can be provided to all regardless of gender, income and location.
All the while, what is essential is that ICT and social media can prove to be an important tool to forward ideas, visions, and respond to what is going on at the local, national, regional and international levels. To reach this access needs to be improved for all.
‘‘Social media helps capture ordinary voices in communities’’
Yes, but who’s voices? How do we make sure that access to ICT becomes available to more people within the close future? How do we let people speak up about the future they want, and how do we make every woman’s voice count?
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