Access to infomation
Access to Information
Access to information is an essential human need and, is therefore a basic human right. Without it, no individual or community can prosper. Democratic societies are characterised by the free flow of information which enables citizens to make informed decisions, propels them to act and makes them who and what they are.
The current situation in Zimbabwe with regard to access to information by citizens poses a serious threat to democracy. After 28 years of political independence, Zimbabweans still survive in an environment characterised by restrictive media laws, limited and expensive information and communications technologies, unaffordable and poor circulation of newspapers and tightly monitored and controlled radio and television services that have failed to cater for the diversity and plurality of all citizens.
This sad state of affairs has greatly impacted on women. Gender-specific inequalities and lack of access to resources have deprived women of equal access to information and communication technologies. Most people in the Zimbabwe have their first encounter with computers and the internet at tertiary institutions. This is also the critical stage as it shapes one’s future. Most institutions in the country are dominated by male students. The majority of girls who fail to get tertiary education also fail to get information and basic training on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The few women who manage to go to college may face challenges in accessing the computers. Most colleges have limited computers and as such there is much shoving and pushing resulting in female students being pushed off. Failure to get computer skills ultimately leads to failure to access information that is vital for them to make informed decisions in a democratic state.
Women’s access to ICTs can expand their opportunities and lead them to economic empowerment, as well as enhanced gender-sensitive policies. ICTs can help overcome access and infrastructure constraints, and social and cultural impediments. They can also narrow development and gender divides.
ICTs can enable women to enjoy and utilize new freedoms. Recording videos of abuse on the cell phone and sending them to on-line publications or one’s blog, creating supportive e-learning and work environments that do not require entering the patriarchal public sphere; enhancing existing advocacy networks are options that can improve women’s situations.
The majority of women are engaged in the informal sector where they operate in temporary or makeshift facilities unlike their male counterparts who work in established offices where they can use ICT facilities such as the internet. This is because of the historical factor where women are viewed in the terms of the domestic role. In Bulawayo, for example, there are scores of women who are engaged as vegetable vendors, money changers and all other sorts of work while men operate from offices. Even though they may earn more money in the informal sector, they can not expand their businesses because of lack of investment information and any other information that can enhance their lives.
Limited access to information has also reduced the participation of women in the political arena. Zimbabwean politics is characterised by extreme skulduggery that requires individuals to have immediate access to information that is objective. The mass media have been called the fourth estate, since they form public opinion. The few media institutions in the country have not faired much in terms of providing independent coverage of events. In some extreme cases, some sections of the Zimbabwean media, under the stewardship of men, have peddled outright lies that have created an impression of politics as violent and “for men only” occupation.
It is not surprising that the few media institutions are controlled by men. Currently, the Zimpapers stable, that is, The Herald, The Chronicle, The Manica Post and The Sunday Mail all have male editors. The Zimbabwe Independent, The Financial Gazette and the Standard also have male editors. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation has a male Chief Executive Officer. This means that women in these institutions have peripheral roles and can not advance women’s cause. The internet and other ICTs can enable women to break the barrier of male dominance. ICTs will not only enable women to access information but to send information as well.
The government and other development partners should take it upon themselves to ensure that women are empowered through providing them with access to information. Creating other socio-economic conditions, such as the means for surviving, may help women to be able to give some of their time to making use of computer-related ICTs, and to be empowered by this use in a number of ways.
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