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Questions of Empowerment of Women in Africa


I am a student, Women's Studies major at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, USA. I am also a Special Education minor with plans to go to graduate school to become a Special Ed. Teacher. My class load this quarter has my mind bouncing from one topic to another while realizing everything is more connected than it first appears. Some of our readings have been about African Women and Information & Communication Technology specifically use of mobile phones and internet access in certain countries in Africa.

Each article in our book (African Women & ICTs by Ineke Buskens & Anne Webb) approaches a different part of the topic while bringing light to some concerns and challenges the women face with the potential empowerment they gain by access to technology.

Our class is small, 15 people, mostly white women, but all acknowledging our privilege and position in the world as both students and US Citizens. In conversation about empowerment, it has come up that some of us feel the women we read about are not fully empowered because at the end of the day, they may be subordinate to their husbands or that because the husbands often control the money flow and therefore control how easily the women have access to technology. My question is directed more at women outside the US. If gender equality isn't a reality, is empowerment through technology beneficial and successful or does gender equality need to be achieved before true empowerment can exist?

Thank you for your time. I appreciate your input look forward to this conversation.

With love & respect,


Sharontina's picture

Dear Jess

I would like to put my perspective here:

The uneven distribution of information and communication technology within societies and across the globe is leading to a digital divide. Most women in developing countries are in the deepest part of the divide. As women make up nearly two-thirds of the world’s illiterates, and one out of every two women in developing countries is illiterate, women are more likely than men lack the basic literacy and computer skills that would enable them to take advantage of new global communication opportunities.

Modern communication technologies like the Internet have the potential to offer greater benefits to women than men. Despite difficulties in getting reliable and comparable data, statistics on Internet access and use across countries reveal gender as one of the most important factors influencing Internet adoption and usage. Available figures indicate that by region, women constitute 22% of all Internet users in Asia.

In India, cyber cafes are helping the Internet move from elite to a way in which marginalized sections, especially women adopt Internet so as to derive its benefits for development.

Education continues to be the biggest single factor driving Internet use among women. Activities and reasons for being online also change with experience. Men start using the Net at early age than women and men seem to progress faster and hence their width of Internet use is greater than women. Even for entertainment, a lot of sites seem to be male oriented. Historically, females have been less likely to embrace new technology than males and have less affinity to use the Internet for information. Moreover in any society it is the men who are early adopters of technology. All these factors perhaps explain the gender variations. Gender variations will likely to vanish over time as it happened in other developed nations.

I feel that both awareness on gender equality and empowerment be addressed together since one cant wait for the other. ICTs also can help provide a platform for educating girls on gender equality who are homemakers in the future.I think every girl should be given an additional subject to her curriculum of gender equality which can throw more light on the issue.


Merlin Sharontina

Wendyiscalm's picture

Dear Jess

Dear Jess,

Thank you for your good article and for asking the relevant and serious topic of whether or not women should even try based on the obvious lack of empowerment much of which is because of the childhoods habits, traditions and the way men and women have been culturized in these cultures.

I did a 4 year study to answer my own question of why nothing seems to have long term success in Africa even with all the missionaries and volunteers. You can look this 4 year study up on my website iamoneinamillion .ch. It pertains to children but it is the same in many ways.

Sabotage is huge for many of these women. But they can be taught to feel it coming and how to handle it.

At a 5 star hotel in the developing country of Livingstone, Zambia the manager of the spa told me the women who work there make more money than any one else in the hotel. BUT they have to turn over their paychecks to their husband when they get home or they are beaten. Women are not allowed to eat the gizzard of the chicken (considered to be the sweetest part of the chicken) or they wlll be beaten. If a woman will not have sex with her husband unless he uses a condom they can beat her badly and send her home to her parents in disgrace. There aren't took many women in any schools in Zambia. Many get pregnant early. Many want to bet ahead but there are so many multi-layered problems, and I think they go to funerals daily which always come first.

Should we try....YES. We must always try. BUT it is my belief that many people who try are outsiders who do not understand the inherent ethos of the people and therefore it slows things down or doesn't sustain.

I have always felt that in order for women to make progress, in addition to being aggressive, persistent and determined, we all MUST trying to teach men different ways to act. NOT by lecturing them. John Gunther wrote a book years ago called "Inside Africa" and he said that in order for anyone to change a habit or cultural myth, they must always have something of EQUAL OR GREATER VALUE TO REPLACE IT WITH.

While the obvious is to help women be assertive, with skills and all, the sabotage by men is great. But I know in general anger is a secondary emotion. Under it is either fear or hurt. So, THOSE are the feelings to be dealt with, albeit skillfully. I know so many ways to get men to change because of being a therapist. Some will. Some won't. This is a huge topic which no one really wants to hear about, I think, but it is a fact towards peace for women. We do not have peace and growth by winning over men. We have it by a win-win situation which takes skill and time to implement.

Are most men ingrained with evil, wicked physical bruteness? Probably a lot are because of how the earth started with the man being the gatherer and killing for survival meat/food. Maybe it is in their DNA now. All I know is, to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity.

You asked for opinions so I have given mine. I am from Chicago but I spend an inordinate amount of time in Zambia. Actually as I write I am stranded in Johannesburg, South Africa because I missed my flight to L/stone.

Do we have to have gender equality before women can achieve. NO. It is through the gender achieving that we get equality . it won't be in our lifetime. But there are steps that can be taken to achieve this. I just don't think the anger women have towards men who are holding them back hold much value long term. The tide comes in when you stop pushing against it.

Maybe we need more of a Gandhi approach.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together)


Wendy Stebbins
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

AchiengNas's picture

Great post

Hi Jess,
I think educating the men-to-be and women-to-be (the girls and the boys) will automatically empower them when they are adults (men and women.)
It is uncommon to find a literate family (both mother and father), reason why there's a lot of violence. In most cases the women are the literates. They have for long been taken as properties to their husbands.

The educated girls and boys are the future generation, so for Africa to advance automatically without too much hustle, Education is the way to go as number one empowerment tool.

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

mrbeckbeck's picture

Interesting question

You raise an interesting question, and I'm sure many women in our community will have responses for you. I wonder though, do you think technology can be a beneficial tool to take steps toward empowerment as a process...rather than "true empowerment" or "full empowerment" being a final destination? And, if it is a final destination, what does it look like?

I'll try directing some people towards this post to give their replies! Thanks for being an active member here.

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

Leslie Stoupas's picture

The Ladder Effect

Dear Jess,

First of all, thank you for the work you are doing. It is through such efforts that changes around the world can be made for women and girls!

While I think your question ("If gender equality isn't a reality, is empowerment through technology beneficial and successful or does gender equality need to be achieved before true empowerment can exist?") is a good one, I think it is helpful to think across the spectrum rather than in extremes. It may be a long time before gender equality exists, and there may always be gender differences that create socio-cultural prohibitions (and socio-cultural mores that prohibit what American women might consider "gender equality"), but to wait for that to happen until empowerment exists would be a never-ending wait. I would think that only through any kind of empowerment does the gender scale start to shift, even if that happens in increments. It seems that any kind of empowerment that moves one from situation A to situation B is "true empowerment," even if it is not full-scale, autonomous, gender-restriction-free empowerment. It may be that a woman who begins using technological tools goes online and joins a forum like PulseWire that reveals to her the commonality of a sexism problem she is encountering, and perhaps she reads about the beginning steps of a solution to that problem, and perhaps she begins to integrate that small step into her family life, and if that takes root in some way, she may experience a shift in her relational life to other members of her family, or her community. Perhaps a small movement takes root and a different view of economic empowerment for women in her community begins to reveal itself in such a way that it is not seen as threatening but a beneficial. And perhaps that one change begins to root itself in the community to the point that it becomes a norm. Then she is poised for the next level of empowerment...

I guess I see it as a ladder effect. One step on the left gets us higher, and then a step on the right gets us higher still. It is step by step that changes come into being rather than a leap into the state of being that is ultimately the end goal. All opportunity IS an opportunity for change! And women everywhere seem to grab these opportunities as they come into being. The educational benefits alone that come into being when one uses technological tools are already making themselves known, especially as these benefits begin to spread through word of mouth, from woman to woman, woman to man, and woman to community.

Leslie Stoupas

Great question, "If gender equality isn't a reality, is empowerment through technology beneficial and successful or does gender equality need to be achieved before true empowerment can exist?" to be considering for all women, Jess!

It appears to be the case that technology can be a support for a more free and empowered life as a woman. Culturally, I have found that so much has to do with access and level of awareness in countries. Scandinavia seems to be furthest ahead if we were to plot the continuum of how much impact tech has on gender equality. The least developed cultures often have the lowest regard for women. I commend to you data guru Hans Rosling and this TED talk.

Naturally grateful,
Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

Before the woman reach technology should get the respect as a person.
Before the technology should get education. Review and release the power of culture by the person himself. Understanding of social belonging, where rights and duties are part of everyday life.

In many countries women are hostage of male power or political regimes of your country.

The country should provide decent living conditions for women, with projects in which they participate as protagonists. She is better than anyone knows what is best for their lives.

Often, what this woman needs is protection for your own body violated by the lack of punishment, rules, laws, or law enforcement for the benefit of women.

Technology is important, participating media tools woman learns to listen and talk, but first you must learn to read to communicate?

When reading the texts of our sisters, I see how feelings and experiences are in every story, and I agree with everything, each has reason ve eyes of the culture to which they belong and myself on duty to respond.

What empondera a woman is not technology. When is freed from ignorance gains more knowledge, everything that comes after is just the strategies she experiences and learns to use to be free to act, and be inserted and its context in the world.

If we had not this registry value that technology offers us, approaching even as longincuos country or countries in each other, making us gather knowledge, this could not be descutindo emponderar form of a person, and so online.

We discussed ways to survive and sustain ideas and actions with more technique, loving and respect. We sharing this strength that we bring our experiences. Are not we blessed participating in a process where technology is the big key to disseminate knowledge?

Now I see that yes, I look here, being welcomed, loved and learning, and all because of technology. Being able to change a text by too simple to think how great is the power of influence of this pulse of love I hear the voices dear sisters and women in the world.

Grateful for the opportunit

jap21's picture

Hi Jess

Is empowerment through technology beneficial and successful or does gender equality need to be achieved before true empowerment can exist?

Empowerment through technology is not only beneficial and successful, it is crucial. We need to create more ways to get to women through tech. Tech girls are the future leaders of the world.

We are born with rights, and our souls must never be diminished. This is the line we need to repeat to every girl and woman in the world. They need to learn how to read and write online to master this line.

True empowerment exists and will bear fruit when you see that half state projects are managed by women, meaning that we are managing half the money in the world.

Internet must become free for everyone, but especially for women around the world, and computers must be made to use solar power, so that internet can reach every corner of the earth.

As I said yesterday, when we celebrated Bolivian Women´s Day and the International Day of the Girl:

"Bolivia is thirsty, Bolivian Women are the water. The world is thirsty, and Girls are the water for the world" This can also be put as "Africa is thristy, African Women are the water that will quench the thirst".

Gender equality will does not exist, what will be achieved is Equality of Rights.

In sisterhood,


Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America

jap21's picture


Well, I thought of a line that will summarize all:

"Africa is thirsty, African Women are the water, and the internet is the glass that we will all drink from"

Thanks for reading.


Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America

Greengirl's picture

Hello Jess

I found your post very interesting and stimulating, so decided contribute my views on the two very vital questions you raised. On the issue of whether empowerment through technology is beneficial and successful, if gender equality isn't a reality, I think it is pertinent to get a very clear picture and or understanding of what empowerment is. According to the World Bank’s definition, empowerment is the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform choices into desired actions and outcomes. Going by this meaning, I belong to the school of thought that believes that empowerment through technology is beneficial and successful. Basically, because technology facilitates access to information.

For many women, access to information through the use of technology has liberated them from the shackles of backwardness, and exposed many to opportunities that they may never have otherwise had. The choices that technology offers to women has been socially and economically empowering for them. Today, through the use of technology, women are gaining exposure and visibility, acquiring skills, connecting, learning and supporting one another across borders. Technology makes ALL that possible and easy! To a very large extent, such prospects are helping to bridge the gender gaps that have long relegated women to the background. They are beginning to use technology to address the often isolated and overlooked issues of women in development policies and practices.

Like many other women in my country and beyond, access to technology has been very empowering for me. For example, without technology, how could I ever have become connected with you and the many wonderful people in the World Pulse Community? Only yesterday, I was able to have a live conversation with Wendy Stebbins (a member of the World Pulse Community) upon her arrival in Zambia. The dream of speaking with her on her birthday became a reality because of Technology. Beyond that, we have been afforded the privilege of supporting each others work.

As for the question on whether gender equality needs to be achieved before true empowerment can exist, permit me to first state that ‘gender equality’ and ‘empowerment’ are two sides of the same coin. You will agree with me that lack of empowerment remains a major obstacle that reinforces gender disparities. Though gender equality isn't yet a reality, things are looking up because by the day. Globally, gender equality and women’s empowerment are now recognized as being essential for tackling poverty and achieving sustainable development. In my opinion, therefore, gender equality can only become a reality when true empowerment exists.

Best Wishes,


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