Women and ICT: Challenges and Opportunities on the road to Tunis

Introduction

 

The idea of this workshop that was mooted in the corridors of Palexpo Exhibition Centre, was inspired by the exhibition stands of the ICT4D Platform during the phase 1 of World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in December 2003 in Geneva.

 

The idea was to chart an Eastern Africa route to Tunis and, thereafter, for the Information Society through regional consultations and meetings where the issues hindering women' s access, use, adoption, adaptation and development of ICTs in the region, could be discussed and examples of good practices would be shared and or showcased.

 

The 3-day conference welcomed 50 delegates from 12 countries, mainly from Eastern Africa, with a few from other parts of Africa, e.g., Southern Africa, and West Africa; and a couple from North America. The team came together to share experiences and exchange ideas on the critical question of women and ICTs in Africa.

 

Day One - Wednesday October 20 2004

 

Seven presentations were made on the opening day of the conference. Mr Harry Hare, from private sector, (AITEC Tanzania), who was the local focal point of the organising committee welcomed delegates and spelt the conference objectives as, networking, knowledge sharing, and exchange of ideas and identification of opportunities. Showcasing of experiences of best practices on use of ICTs for social economic transformation particularly for women was also expected to take place.

 

Welcome Remarks

 

Ruth Ochieng, Coordinator of WSIS Gender Caucus East Africa region delivered a welcome speech, which underscored the importance of identifying the missing links between development, ICTs and Gender. She appreciated the important role played by women in economic development all over Africa, and observed that women still do not enjoy the right to communicate as much as men do especially in rural areas. She called for the need to be remedied by making concrete and genuine plans in the development of the information society. Ruth Ochieng invited the delegates to be critical in their interrogation of how ICTs will help Africa position itself, and its concerns in developing an African Information Society for the benefit of the African people. It was critical she said to bring women's recommendations for ICTs development to the global agenda fore the Information society.

 

Looking back and looking ahead

 

Eva Rathgeber Professor and expert on Gender and ICTs who had carried out extensive work on continent presented a brief history of the WSIS Gender Caucus and how it has managed working alongside other organizations with similar goals, to place gender issues within WSIS process and documents. Gender, ICTs, and Information Society Sophia Huyer gave a global sweep of issues of women, technology and social development, laying the background for many of the other papers and a point of reference for the rest of the conference. Huyer gave a perspective on how women have been viewed in relation to ICTs and the challenges they have had to overcome to reduce the gap in access and use of ICTs. She underlined that in most cases where women access ICTs, it is usually upper class women who do so, making the emphasis on equality imperative.

 

Millennium Development Goals, ICTs and Women

 

Hendrica Okondo of UNIFEM-Somalia gave a brief of the MGDs and their relation to ICTs suggesting that while governments recognize the role of ICTs this recognition was not adequately represented in government agendas. She cited the example of the recently concluded Great Lakes meeting in Kigali where some the delegates did not appreciate the need to include ICTs in the final conference document.

 

The Conference was opened by the Tanzanian Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Transport and Communications; Honorable Dr Maua Daftari (MP). She shared the progress currently being made by the Tanzanian government in ICT policy making pointing out that the ICT policy published in March 2003 demonstrates government's commitment to ICTs. She urged delegates to come up with creative ideas of interventions and recommendations, which will help women use ICTs for their benefit and that of the community.

 

Prof. Eva Rathgeber in her keynote address entitled; Hype or Reality? Can ICTs Leapfrog Basic Education in developing countries' based on her extensive experience in Africa suggested that Africa would need to more than signing international agreements to achieve universal education. Noting that the right to Education is a fundamental right, She also recognized education as an effective means for societal participation and this would make a genuine world information society a reality. While appreciating that Africa has other more pressing problems such as HIV/ AIDS, and Conflicts, Eva argued for the training of teachers and principals in ICTs as well as budgetary allocation as keys to achieving the education goal. Telecentres were cited as examples of opportunities for expanding adult education.

 

Dorothy Okello of WOUGNET dissected the word ICTs in her discussion of Applications, Access and Technology: Why women and ICTS giving participants a chance to appreciate the various dimensions of ICTs and how they relate to everyday life. It was pointed out that women need to have a say in what applications are developed and promoted, and the only way is to get more women into the labs and factories as well as giving women a chance to access learning and training.

 

In a presentation of 'ICT Policy And Governance: Challenges And Opportunities For Women' Dr Florence Etta of lDRC Nairobi, observed that if lCTs and women or gender are not mentioned in government policy, then no government funding/budgetary allocation will be made for them. Interrogating two national policies of Kenya and Tanzania. she noted that women were almost invisible in the documents and when mentioned they were associated with the youth, disabled and disadvantaged groups, making it difficult to address the needs of the said vulnerable groups differently. She called for critical analysis of ICT policy documents.

 

Days Two & Three - Thursday October 21, Friday October 22,2004

 

The 7 presentations made on the second day of the conference made significant contributions to the body of knowledge and information (indigenous information) in the subject matter. Sophia Huyer's Digital Exclusion or Digital Opportunity? identified ICT opportunities, which had been taken to benefit women in the provision of health information women in rural areas. In a counter argument, Joseph Kiplang'at's presentation on "Bringing Agricultural Information to Rural Women via ICTs in South Africa" showed that despite the institution of rural development strategies and telecentres by the South African government the majority of women involved in agriculture remain un reached. He recommended the involvement of rural women in policy formulation.

 

Asking if "Women should Participate, Wait, Negotiate or fight in the ICT Policy Process", Patricia Litho, Uganda, suggested that women be involved in technological innovation and design appropriate training mechanisms and policy making noting that individual commitment is a vital ingredient for this engagement. A great challenge in this engagement was recognized as ICT disempowerment even of women in higher education. In a case study of the Lagos State University (LASU), Nigeria by Bosede Ammo dispelled the widely held view that "urban" or "educated" women have more access to ICTs more than the rural women. She showed that academic women lack ICT competencies recommended training. A similar study by Dr Nwabuno Nwaboku in the same institution showed that even among students computers are under-utilised and major challenges exist as ICTs were not commonly used in university teaching.

 

E-learning was identified as a major opportunity to address the growing need for higher education and training in Africa by Vitalis Angati, Jifunzeonline, Tanzania and Charles Senkondo of Tanzania Development Learning Centre citing low cost, responsiveness and flexibility as the valuable elements, all of which are important to women. New ICT devices and ICT application were discussed by a number of participants Sally Ibeere, Ski-Pix Kenya, introduced the idea of using Touch Screen Kiosks in Rural Poverty Alleviation, while Eva Rathgeber showed a CD-ROM developed is in English and Luganda, that is currently being used in rural as well as urban Uganda for literacy as well as ICT training. Hellen Prytherch (GTZ), Cecila Matanga (SAfAmS), and James Onyango of Kenya showed how ICTs are being put to good use in the fight against HIV/AIDS in different parts of the continent.

 

Faustin Kamuzora of State University of Agriculture Tanzania showed new ways by which women can benefit from the long and early use of ICTs in Tourism. Ruth Ochieng showed examples of the impact of convergence of ICTs in successfully giving a voice to women, and communicating their issues of concerns during in situations of conflict, and the issues being addressed. She emphasized the need to provide women with ICT skill for their empowerment. Rose Cheche the Director of Upendo Women and Child Care community Based organisation in Kenya- gave the flavour of the reality of working on ICTs in rural Kenya. This was a valuable and much appreciated contribution to the conference. In 2 plenary discussions on the first and second days, participants elaborated on the presentations, identified opportunities for ameliorative action, as well as some examples of good practices and projects and challenges that they still face in introducing ICTs to women.

 

Participants drew up recommendations for actions and follow up which were presented to Honourable H. Ngowi, at the closing of the conference.

 

Juliet Were Oguttu

Assistant Programme Coordinator, Information and Documentation

Isis-Women's International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) 32

Bukoto Street, Kamwokya P.O.BOX 4934 KAMPALA

 

Tel: 256- 41 543953

Fax: 256- 41 543954

E-mail: [email protected], [email protected];

Website: http://www.isis.or.ug


2003 WSIS Gender Caucus