NIGERIA: Finding My Courage Online
Living with a disability in Nigeria compounds challenges Celine faces in accessing the Internet—but also heightens her awareness of its power to open up her world.
It is said that the digital divide is wide, the gendered digital divide is wider, yet the disability gendered digital divide is widest.
I grew up in a remote village of Orlu in Nigeria, brought up by a widowed, poor mother. I was socialized not to think of rising above the poverty line. Any form of ambition I nursed was met with questions: Who is her father? Which family is hers? And then: Does she not know that she is a woman? What does she think she is doing?
As a girl-child growing up with a disability, I was a laughing stock. I was stigmatized and denied admission to the school I planned to attend. God forbid that a woman with a disability wants to stand on par with the able-bodied. Society saw my disability and my poor background and attempted to define me and the kind of life I should live. All my efforts to prove otherwise were perceived as hanging my coat in a position meant for elephants, and expression which means I was planning a life my society viewed impossible for a woman like me.
Growing up, I did not have access to the Internet. Women in Nigeria often confront challenges of patriarchy which subjects women to men's control, direction, and dependency, and keeps us working round the clock so that we do not have time to access the Internet. We also face erratic power supply, slow internet connections, and lack of resources to pay at the cyber cafes. Many women feel unsafe in public places like cyber cafes, and these challenges are doubled for women living with disabilities. For instance, women with some forms of disabilities are targets for ritual killers in Nigeria. These women are at greater risk every time they leave their house. When these women do take that risk, they find that the cyber cafes in Nigeria are not disability friendly. A visually impaired woman or a woman confined in a wheel chair does not have access to the cyber cafes operating in Nigerian cities.
As Nigerians increasingly are using of smart phones and personal computers to access the Internet instead of cyber cafes, women with disabilities are being left behind. In my country men rarely will get married to women with disabilities, which means a majority of women with disabilities have no source of economic support. The vast majority of persons with disabilities have been subjected to street begging as a sole means of livelihood and cannot afford to buy smart phones, computers, Internet modems, constant recharge cards, or power generating machines. In fact, persons with disabilities can hardly afford to own a decent accommodation, not to think of buying and fueling power generating machines that might enable their access to Internet and communication technologies.
This is incredibly painful to me. I see it as a right that is being denied to a segment of the society that needs empowerment more than others. If, as my World Pulse sister Busayo says, "access to Internet is access to life," then there is no access to life for millions of women with disabilities in my country. This is even more painful considering the powerful opportunities the Web has provided me as a woman. Even though I face challenges of poor connections, unstable electricity, and financial constraints while accessing the Internet, the World Wide Web has opened doors to opportunities and resources that should not have been possible for me.
Now I courageously direct the way I am defined, in a large part due to my access to the Internet. In 2009, I joined World Pulse and started using the Internet to connect to the world. I am now weaved in a global chain of sisterhood. Just contributing a comment on an issue that matters to me earned me a learning trip to a human rights institute in Canada. The experience turned my life around. Little did I know that it was the beginning of my journey. The same year I was selected for World Pulse’s online citizen journalism training, along with two other professional trainings in Indonesia and Brazil. In just a twinkle of an eye I went from a ‘nobody’ to a ‘somebody’ in the world. I was encouraged to write stories on issues that have almost been neglected by the whole world. My journal posts are being used as reference points by development agencies and policy makers around the world to transform the lives of individuals. Today, I hold an important position that gives me the opportunity to use my skills and knowledge tot change lives in my country.
As a woman living at the grassroots level in Nigeria, I have found many things that I share in common with my network of ‘sisters’ from around the world. For instance, I learned that my sister who lives in Europe also faces twice the challenges as a woman living with a disability compared with her male colleagues living with disabilities. An online friend from Asia informed me that because she is a woman living with a disability, no man has agreed to marry her. In our network of sisterhood we share our experiences. We realize the similarities of our living. The language we speak is encouragement, motivation, and inspiration, through which we push ourselves to move higher in our endeavors.
My connections with other women around the world have helped me define who I am. The transformation starts in my mind. When I believe in myself, I change stereotypes and societal beliefs that militate against me as a woman. Supporting each other in this web of sisterhood, we break barriers together and transform our world.