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Internet Access; An undeniable Right to Women of the 21st Century

I am an ardent believer in the power of the internet to foster development and women`s empowerment world wide.If women are able to connect online with the right training,information flow and learning is going to change a lot in households and communities.

Last week I participated in the first international Working Forum on Women, Information and Communication Technologies and Development (WICTAD) which took place at the Institute for International Education in Washington DC,under the auspices of the Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and UN Women.The forum gathered representatives from civil society, academia, government, the private sector, and the UN to measure the social, economic, and political implications of the gender gap in Internet access. Participants shared ideas on how to expand women and girls’ access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), related services and opportunities in the ICT field. Thanks to a push from World Pulse, I was given the chance to be a voice for the women of my community in such a crucial platform.

Are you shocked to learn that I left such an interesting forum with mixed feelings?I was happy that strides were being made to narrow the online gender gap but also sad to see that doctors were discussing treatment in the absence of the sick person.The under representation of grassroots women had a sickening effect on me.Women from developing countries form a greater portion of women who are absent online.I attended a few break out sessions where I shed a light of reality into the discussions using practical examples from my community.These examples became crucial points for discussions during the sessions.However,I could clearly see that many more grassroots women were needed to discuss solutions that were practical in their communities in all the sessions.

According to an Intel report, "Doubling the number of women and girls online in developing countries from 600m today to 1.2bn in three years could potentially pump an estimated US$13bn-US$18bn in annual GDP across 144 developing countries".I totally agree with the findings of this report and I am rejoicing because I know how personally my life has been positively influenced due to my exposure to the internet.I foresee the same for millions of girls and women in many parts of the world in the upcoming years,if only the right kind of exposure is offered.

The internet can be a double edged sword when it comes to women in vulnerable communities like my own.The number of female users of facebook and other online dating sites is skyrocketing in Cameroon as the days go by.Secondary school girls are increasingly running away from classrooms into cyber cafes where they indulge in cyber sex with strange men in Europe and the US with the hope of making money or traveling out of the country for greener pastures.These girls and women send out pictures of their nudity to unknown men who in turn post them online for others to see.We are not yet done with the negative portrayal of the woman by the traditional media and here comes the internet with another clever way of degrading the feminine body.It is true that this phenomenon is in all parts of the world,but also true that it becomes more ravaging in areas already plagued by high rates of gender based violence and under development.

There has been an increase in facebook relationships that lead these girls into unprotected sex with unknown men in the same localities.I am afraid exposure to internet without the right training will go a long way to worsen and complicate the feminization of HIV/AIDS and poverty due to increase rates of unwanted pregnancies and school drop outs.Problems like breast ironing and back street abortions will intensify. Mothers would want to protect their daughters and teenage girls would want to do away with unwanted pregnancies the cheapest way possible.

How can the number of female internet users be increased without increasing the problems of women in vulnerable communities?

-Websites like World Pulse that promote learning and positive interactions amongst women should be publicized and made accessible to women when they come online.

-Digital literacy in all primary and secondary schools in developing countries.

-Digital literacy and training courses on internet usage should be encouraged in all local women`s groups and adult literacy programs.

For a woman to have internet access in Cameroon, she needs to go to a cyber cafe.In most cases she has to be given permission by her husband,parent or guardian before she leaves the house.If the authority over her does not dim it necessary,she might not be able to leave the house.

Poverty,low internet speed,frequent power outages and lack of freedom of movement for girls and women are a few factors that could impede a higher online feminine presence in developing countries.Most of these challenges can be overcome through the provision of free cyber cafes for women in poor communities.To combat the problem of the absence of electricity or power outages,a standby generator could be useful in case of unexpected power failure.

For girls in poorer communities to have opportunities in ICT fields they need access to education,which is not given to all girls poor communities.Technical education is regarded as a field for boys only.Increasing the number of girls in technical education can be fostered by the increasing the provision of scholarships to girls in poor communities and providing them with ready jobs.

The same challenges that affected women and girls of my community when I was a little girl are still there and even more complex.What is the reason for this?Is it that no one cares to make a change?Accessibility to portable water,health facilities,education and even the right to a live free of torture is still not a reality to a greater portion of women in my community.

My heart aches and beats fast!I feel there is an urgency to act!So much has been said.So much research has been done.Yes the figures are alarming?So what?I am eager to see the unfolding of a new era,where alarming figures will be registered of things done and not things said!

So many workshops and conferences have been convened.Every year thousands of women fly from one part of the world to another to discuss issues related to women`s empowerment.Exorbitant amounts of money are spent on hotel bills,food,drinks and perdiems. The same topics are addressed year in year out.

For some time now I have been asking myself whether these numerous meetings have actually had an impact on the lives of the targeted women.What if the resources used in convening these numerous gatherings were invested in making life better for poor women in remote areas through the provision of internet facilities, micro-loans,better health facilities education and training opportunities?

For years we have been fighting to break the margins of culture to bring emancipation but have recorded very minimal success,now is the time for us to remain within those margins and still ignite freedom and change.They say our place is in the kitchen,well I am typing this from my kitchen table and my four year old girl is completing her maths assignment nearby,some hard work is being done to ensure that millions of women in all parts of the world will be able to do the same just in a little while from now. Watch out for a time when women don`t need to escape the backyards to access the resources they need to change their lives. Once you light a lamp in a dark room,you cannot conceal it`s beams even if you keep it at the back of the room.So it is with the internet and women,we may have been relegated to the backyards for years but the time has come when opportunity and wisdom will collide at the backyards ushering in an unstoppable wind of positive change.

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Nakinti's picture

My dear sister, You said it

My dear sister,
You said it loud and clear, you said it so well, you said it all. Yes, access to internet is a source of empowerment to African women, yes it is. What are we going to do about the few who are internet literate and who already have access? It has been a boiling question in my mind for some time now? More than 70 % (rough estimates) of girls who are internet literate in Cameroon are using it in unproductive ways; chatting, casual discussions, cyber sex and many other things. Should we focus on the internet literate girls, teaching them how to use the internet productively? I am convinced many of them do not even know that there is more to the internet than just looking for boys or girls for diverse relationships, I am pretty sure. Something tells me that if the internet literate are targeted, new internet users will copy from their example. Take for example, I am a World Pulse or Global Press Institute user, my old and new friends will want to know what there is in these sites that i log into everyday, and they will want to be a part of it. If on the other hand I am a regular facebook, or "date in asia" user, my old and new friends will also pick interests in using these sites. For when I was in Secondary school my brother told me "If you make friends with bar goers, you learn to become a bar goer yourself, but if you make friends with book conscious people, you will always discuss matters of education," yes i believed him. While we are thinking of giving women access and control to ICT, Let's think about what we can do with the already internet literate women, and we will achieve fruitful results. Cheers Leina, your piece is so wonderful...i mean it.

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon
Email: nakinti@globalpressinstitute.org
nakintin@yahoo.com

Emms's picture

Good

Dear Nakinti

I do agree with your points totaly. I think forcusing on the already internet literate women or girls will help alot. I know alot of women who have access to internet but they dnt know how to use it productively and I have to make a step and start with my female co-workers.

Thanks you very much
Emms

+264812557560
skype: emmsmich
tulinawa@gmail.com

Leina's picture

Thanks a million my sweet

Thanks a million my sweet twin,it`s of no surprise that you quickly pick my sorrow with regards to how our sisters have used the internet in the wrong ways.We are paving a path for change and I am confident that in two years time we shall be telling a different story.This time with celebration!
blessings,
Leina

jacollura's picture

I completely agree that the

I completely agree that the internet can be a powerful tool for people in developing countries - especially women and girls. World Pulse is a safe and empowering place for people to post and exchange ideas. We must encourage our sisters to join!

I also share your fear that money spent on conferences and travel could be put to better use. This thought crosses my mind when I fly from the US to Africa for volunteer work. But, I've come to the conclusion that nothing compares to a face to face interaction. If we have the means and the ability, we should travel to other communities - to learn, to witness, to share.

Leina's picture

Dear Jacollura,thanks for

Dear Jacollura,thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts,I agree with you, traveling to other communities to learn and to share is very important.Experience is better than information.Experiencing or witnessing something is far greater than hearing about it.
kind regards,
Leina

olutosin's picture

Pronto!

Thanks for speaking my mind.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Leina's picture

Thank you sister Olu!

Thank you sister Olu!

Emms's picture

Thanks you

Dear Leina

I do totaly agree with you and your article has develop more ideas within me that I have to share the power of internet with other women and girls in my community and how to use internet productively

Cheers
Em

+264812557560
skype: emmsmich
tulinawa@gmail.com

Leina's picture

Thanks dear Ems for reading ,

Thanks dear Ems for reading , joining your voice and finding it worth sharing with your community!
blessings,
Leina

Gloriabit's picture

you are right

I agree with you, as woman from D.R.Congo, many of us have not seen the or even touched a computer. thanks to world pulse through Neema we had a experience to touch , use the computer even if we dont really know how to manipulate all features. i with they should be a campaign to teach women how to use a computer at least the basics so tht they start denouncing fact taking place in their area. you even our governors if they know we we can say loudly what they doing wrong they start changing their behavior.

Thank you very much

Gloria Bitomwa
+243995944111

Leina's picture

Thank you dear Gloria for

Thank you dear Gloria for reading and agreeing with me!I deeply admire the work done by World Pulse and Neema in your country.It is our prayer that women in all parts of the world will be able to have such an opportunity.This will give birth to a massive revolution where women will be speaking from all parts of the world against atrocities and about the blessings of their communities.
Thank you too,
Leina

Mukut's picture

Well said

Well articulated dear Leina. You have successfully represented the pros and cons of internet and technology.I could not agree with you more. I feel empowerment comes through internet, but when you talk about cyber sex and unwanted pregnancies, i feel is this empowerment justified? You are absolutely right when you mention that the correct training and understanding is required while handling this "double edged sword". This is especially true for the young girls of developing countries, because i feel they are more vulnerable and naive.

Thank you for sharing this.

Much love

Mukut Ray

Leina's picture

Thanks for reading and for

Thanks for reading and for joining your voice dear sister!

ethel tebid's picture

Good article!!!!!!

I totally agree with some of your points,yet others could be misleading as well.In as much as there has to be the bottom-up approach in resolving this ICT issues in rural communities and make it more inclusive.I think the issue is that "we" tend to forget that there are so many things we can also learn from the women in rural communities without necessarily imposing our own experiences on them.For example many consider the pigmies in Cameroon as "primitive"yet they live longer,more healthier,then the average Cameroonian.The government has tried countless times in opening schools for them and these school have been left empty.we cant talk of development without taking into cognizance the needs and cultural values of the people.Yes Africans have embraced globalization absorbing all that comes with it and letting go of their our own values.As you have rightly put it the internet is a two edged sword ,others are tapping into the richness of it and helping their economy.I have watched many up coming young female entrepreneurs who have exploited the interment in doing e-commerce etc.The issue of e-health is actually working in conflict and remote areas without necessarily jeopardizing the values of womanhood.Those of us who have access to the internet should exploit it wisely and assist others who cant.
Thanking you for sharing this ,because we take so many for granted and end up blaming the "West" for all our problems in Africa,even a thousand years after colonialism.

Leina's picture

Thanks so much for your

Thanks so much for your input dear sister.Permit me reiterate my deep quest for the voice grassroots woman to be taken into consideration each time a solution to her problem is being looked into. Not leaving out the pygmy woman.I think if you read through all the lines above you will notice my bewilderment over the absence of grassroots women(Rural)in platforms that are crucial to their development.They need to be consulted for solutions to their problems.

I am sorry if some of the points were misleading but I have not understood which of them you are talking about.
Summarily, I am advocating for an increase in the number of women online in Cameroon with the right training.
Warm Regards,
Leina

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