Uncovering a Female-Oriented Information and Communication Technology Pathway
Monday November 18th 2013, remains memorable! My scheduled World Pulse Voices of Our Future (VOF) ‘Each One Teach Five’ Citizen journalism and digital empowerment training series debuted on that day. As I graciously stepped out of bed that morning, I had a clear cut plan in my delighted brains about how the day would look. The objectives outlined for the training includes- introduction of participants to World Pulse, sharing of success stories about many women around the world whose lives and communities have been impacted by World Pulse; and going on to invite and encourage the women to join the World Pulse Online Community. Six months before that eventful day, I never imagined that I would become a proficient digital empowerment and citizen journalism trainer and advocate.
The scheduled venue for the event was the home of Anna Avong, a grassroots woman leader and women’s empowerment activist who leads various grassroots women groups in my community. It is worthy of mention that Anna is very familiar with my work, as over the years my organization the Women’s Initiative for Sustainable Environment (WISE) has been providing various forms of support to grassroots women in and beyond her home land. This cut across knowledge and life’s skills transfer in the area of natural resource access, use, control and stewardship.
I arrived the venue armed with the printouts of World Pulse VOF Module five learning materials, Training/Event Tracking Sheets, Participant Questionnaires, the World Pulse flip book (containing an introduction to World Pulse), my laptop, writing materials, an agenda, a digital camera and my black (would love it ‘green’) berry smart phone. For this particular training which was to focus on citizen journalism and digital empowerment, Anna suggested a mix of participants drawn across her women’s groups (religious, social, political and cultural).
Although 15 participants were expected, only 10 of them showed up. It was however gratifying that the absentees sent in their apologies. On the participant’s roll call, I had: 1 Pastor’s wife, 1 barrister , 2 housewives, 3 teachers, 1 health worker, 1 local government worker, and last but not the least Anna- a retired civil servant/educationist/woman activist and community leader. Amusingly too, we also had a handful of ebullient non-participants who tagged along with their mothers. 1 baby, 3 girls and 3 boys! The children went out to play as we got down to serious business.
By the scheduled time of 4:00 p.m., I was standing gleefully before ten eager yet curious looking women, from remarkable walks of life. It was no surprise that the women collectively affirmed that local news sources hardly report on issues that are of interest to them. Salome N., a housewife said “I have been praying and looking for avenues of helping and inspiring disadvantaged Youth, but I have been handicapped as I don’t have the means”. Each woman became vivacious as I presented them with the idea of creating their own news, and informed them of the numerous opportunities that online platforms like World Pulse offer women; to report on issues that matter to them.
The women listened with rapt attention as I spoke at length about: Jensine Larsen’s journey to founding World Pulse and Stella Paul of India who survived gender discrimination as a child. I also spoke about Beatrice Nas who is using technology to liberate girls in Uganda, Chi Yvonne Leina of Cameroon who is championing online and real-time campaigns to end breast ironing in her country. Very much so, Neema Namadamu and Maman Shujaa group in the Democratic Republic of Congo who use internet platforms like World Pulse to draw global attention to the plight of women in their war torn country; among many other wonderful women across the world that make up the community. Interestingly, these stories were new to the participants.
“Hearing about world Pulse for the first time captured my attention. I am particularly glad that a forum that gives women a room to voice out and be heard, to tell their stories- good, bad and ugly and be encouraged without any criticism or stigmatization exists. As a Legal Research Officer, I witness a lot of unfair treatment meted to women by men in terms of marriage, widowhood and inheritance; and I long for a time when these women will be relieved such forms of abuse. I am glad I found World Pulse and I am eager to know more about World Pulse” stated Barr (Mrs) Dorothy A. P.
Moving forward, I shared personal stories of how having access to and making use of digital technology tools and platforms have helped me build an active online presence; and also facilitated my personal and organization’s development through capacity building opportunities, connections, and alliances. In particular, the many opportunities that it opened up for me, the women and communities I work with. Among other accounts was the opportunity extended to me by the organizers of the 1st African Women and Water Conference which held in Nairobi, Kenya (30 June- July 5, 2008); to apply to attend the event in the company of an associate. I detailed how I was able to submit a joint online application, which resulted in the selection of Anna and me.
The women got even more excited to know that we were able to actively participate and return to our community equipped with knowledge, skills, water treatment technology supplies, and $1000.00 seed grant. They were observably fascinated that an uncomplicated online application paved way for two grassroots women (like themselves), to attend an all expense paid international women’s event. Indeed, they were not left in doubt that the internet can afford them unrestricted and limitless space for self discovery and expression, provide increased access to resources, and also be used to bring about a much desired change in their lives, family and community. “I would also love to be identified with citizen journalism and multimedia storytelling as a means of realizing my strong interest in journalism” revealed Onah Eunice, a secondary school English teacher.
It was, however, quite alarming for me to find out that only two of the trainees had functional email addresses, none of them had ever heard about Skype, only one had ever been to a café, and no more than 2 could access the internet on their phones. I realized suddenly that to make the training more beneficial to the women, it was necessary to address individual needs before going on to support their collective interest in citizen journalism, multimedia storytelling and social networking. On that basis I drew up and ran a series of 4 hours per week digital empowerment sessions, which I concluded on the 17th of December, 2013.
The sessions held, did not come without hydra headed challenges. I could never forget the times that we could not maximize our practical online sessions as a result of erratic power supply and poor internet connections. There was also the problem of scheduling the sessions to fit into the personal schedules of the participants. Sadly too, there was so much to be done with the limited time available, and majority of the participants did not have access to the tools that would help them try and live out what they were taught. According to A. Josephine “I want to join World Pulse but I don’t know how to start, because I don’t have a phone I can start learning with; and I don’t have money to pay for internet service”.
Nonetheless, we weathered the odds and recorded exciting outcomes that I would always live to remember. Abigail Dariya affirmed that “the training was very useful, educative and interesting and she will extend all she has learnt to other women; and become a voice of women in her community”.
• The ten women now have personal email accounts;
• 7 have registered on World Pulse and are requesting for additional support that will help them become active members;
• On the last day of the training, 2 trainees- Onah Eunice and Ekeji Oyinyechi experienced Skype Video call as they had an opportunity to have an engaging discussion with Delphine Criscenzo , the World Pulse Voices of Our Future Training Associate;
• Anna has gone an extra mile to invite a computer professional to provide her and the other women comprehensive computer application training. She said the expert is requesting for a fee of $25 per participant for four sessions, each made up of 2 hours;
• 10 days ago, I received a call from Onah Eunice and she wanted to know when I would be with them again;
• Dorothy and Eunice informed me that they now frequent the World Pulse website to read and learn from the stories other women share;
• The 10 women are still battling with the challenge of having steady, dependable and secure access to the internet;
• I have three other upcoming digital employment and citizen journalism training events to facilitate;
• Word has continued to spread!
By having access and using technology to drive my vision for a safe and just environment for everyone, tell the stories that I am passionate about, inspire and also equip other women to do the same, I recognize that a significant portion of my work is done. Environmental citizen journalism and digital empowerment training for women and girls in my community have become a priority for me; as I work towards bringing my dream of establishing a Women’s Eco Learning, Resource and Life Skill Center, to reality. It is my own version of a female oriented information and skills haven.
The work I plan to carry out at the center has the potential to help women overcome social, economic and technological barriers, by providing women access to information and communication tools and support services, life skills and learning resources; and stimulating and strengthening women’s association and leadership abilities in environmental restoration, stewardship and community development. The various opportunities I explore and create for women through the center, will also strengthen my capability and also create more awareness and support for my work which addresses environmental issues (Natural Resource Access-Water/Land/Forest, Agriculture, Livelihood, Energy, Climate Change etc.), that directly concern and affect women.
Logically, I recognize that such a Center would only be able to achieve the goals for which it is set, in an enabling environment. It would therefore be great for the Nigerian Government to tackle the problem of power outages; and also put in place policies and regulations that will guarantee gender equity in information and communication technology access and use. It is also expedient that Information and Communication Technology developers and service providers integrate the peculiar knowledge and needs of women into the solutions they are providing. Women should be welcomed as partners and not passive receptors of technology. Essentially too, much advocacy needs to happen to correct the wrong perceptions that men have about women’s access to a resource like the internet. Men need to know that the internet is important to women because it can provide increased access to resources and help women gain more control of their lives.