Taking Flight on the Wings of the Net
Recently an elderly women came to my office and said that she wanted to learn computer packages. Soon after a group of women learning how to make jewelry and weaved mats informed me that they would like to know how to market their products online so that they have access to an international market to sell their products since they cannot ‘fly’ out of their country. These two incidents inspired me to think about ways to have women learn how to use the internet.
The lady who came to my office started the course and after two weeks, she did not show up. I followed up and this is what I got about why she was finding it difficult to continue attending the classes. First, was the fact that the rains had come earlier than expected, so she had to harvest her maize and then prepare the land to plant. Soon after this, weeding will begin. It will take a month before she can come back to class unless she gets money to pay someone to do her farm work for her.
Second, she has to find a way to ensure her grand kids find food when they come from school at 1pm. Organizing for this is not so difficult because she can have left over dinner warmed for lunch. But she does not want the kids to come home and find no one there!!
Third, illiteracy is a big issue for women in Kenya. Women living in the village largely dropped out of school at an early age due to various challenges such as lack of school fees, early pregnancy, family problems like HIV/AIDS or drunken parents, and so on. Many women feel very inadequate and shy away from any ‘learning’ related activities.
Four, there is the issue of inaccessibility of centers when it rains. When it rains, poor roads, flooded rivers and insecurity on roads will deter women from venturing out. In addition, transport costs discourage women from looking for cyber cafes, most of which are located in towns.
The only library we have near us is located in town, many miles from our village. It will take an enormous amount of convincing women to go to town for their cyber needs once a week. For solutions, what we have done at International Peace Initiatives is to open an ICT center in the village where women can learn computer packages as well as internet as a marketing tool for their products. We also have a tutor who teaches women computer skills. Once the women complete their jewelry and weaving program, they will be taken through the process of setting up a simple website, upload their products and monitor it for sales.
Another solution with regard to security issues for women who choose to come for classes after they have completed their day chores (farm work, fetching water and firewood) is that we encourage the women to come for classes in groups so they can walk home in a group. Others choose to call their sons or husbands to come walk them back home. In this way, as they share what they learned at the cyber, they are interesting men to come for classes too.
With regard to fetching water, we have applied for funding to buy water tanks so that every homestead has a water storage tank. We also are building efficient ‘jikos’ cookers) that use very little firewood so that women do not have to go to the forest every week. We have also had some biogas installations where we use cow dung to feed a digester that produces biogas for cooking. The only challenge is that this is an expensive option and is taking time to spread. It however, is a great option because most women keep cows for milk, hence dung is readily available.
With regard to children finding no one at home, we have asked women to pack lunch for children so that they eat at school. At the end of the day, the children come by the cyber (which is set up within the Amani Children’s Home) so that they can walk home with their guardians.
We still have to contend with the rains as they are part of our lives here in Africa, and make the best of the situation. Putting bridges and repairing roads are part of the government’s obligation to citizens. However, our government’s priorities are never to ease the difficulties rural people encounter on a daily basis, rather, they want to enrich themselves first. That is a story for another day!!!
One of the safety measures we have taken for when women are online is to inspire women never to accept friendship requests from people they do not know. We also inform them of various internet dangers like pornography and people who try to befriend women online with motives to steal from them and so on.
A recommendation here would be to ensure that stringent measures are taken against people who carry out fraud activities online or people who stalk children and women online. Cyber bullying is part of these vices - where men intimidate women who speak out against violence and advance women’s rights. Legislation in these areas is very critical. Technology companies can also make computers with devices that can track down people involved in cyber crimes.
Rural women may not be able to ‘fly’ out of their villages, however, they can take a ‘cyber flight’ to any part of the globe as they surf the net and sell their products with the click of a key on their computer keyboard!!!