Digital Access In Uganda
In developing nations the challenges to women logging on are the three A’s - access, availability and affordability. One needs to have access to a computer including Internet connectivity, or an Internet enabled phone, and this is not very easy in developing nations. Low education levels are another barrier, with women being the most vulnerable. The fact that most material on the Internet is in a foreign language adds to the difficulty of access to content. High poverty levels challenge affordability – for example, is digital access a priority over food?
Local public libraries could be a key to providing digital access through innovative methods. In addition to having well equipped libraries, they could utilize mobile phones to disseminate information to women in the safety and comfort of their homes. In my community, mobile phones are much more affordable than computers. Libraries could also engage with social networks to subscribe members and thus gain popularity, traffic and feedback utilizing the internet.
Public libraries are not very common in my community, and those that do exist are poorly equipped and with outdated books. Therefore digital books could be utilized for more up-to-date information and school libraries could then be opened to the public. Sensitization by libraries should be related to the daily needs of people to provide services that are more relevant to their daily lives. For example women could be informed about health information, entrepreneurship and business information which would impact on their lives positively. Free public access days or times could be encouraged as well. For example, mothers could be given one free hour of access to school libraries when they go to pick their children from school. This would be a good and timely way to target women and also gain their interest.
In my country the organization that I lead, Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) Uganda, ensures that members in the communities where we work are trained in ICT knowledge and we emphasize the need for women to have access. We have so far trained over 3,000 participants in utilization of the internet and provided them basic computer knowledge.- 1,750 being women. DOT offers free training for young people, especially women, enabling them to access the Internet through a network of community organizations that we work with. We aim that at least 60% of our participants are women.
Over the years I have been involved in provision of access and training in ICT for rural women and young girls through the various organizations that I have helped grow. One of them, I-Network, still has an active mailing list where women engage in ICT related issues and information sharing and many of the students I taught went ahead to study information technology at university. I also employ young women on my staff as both a drive to give women employment opportunities and to also engage them in the ICT activities that are embedded in our work, thus improving their knowledge and access.
I am a member of the ICT task force for the Uganda national information and communication research, development and innovation master plan and the national IT data collection and dissemination system – and I champion the inclusion of women’s needs.
To stay abreast of technology, I have many channels of communication. I have used each and every network operator in Uganda over the years, I have modems, routers, fixed lines, Internet on the phone – you name it! I want to be a role model for women to have the patience and drive to have access, no matter what.
I am vigilant about security. I use secure passwords and I check my security options, for example on Facebook, so that I do not reveal information that I would not like to be viewed by everyone. I cross check information that I get online and do not open documents from untrusted sources.
Privacy is an issue in Uganda. The government is now monitoring Internet communication I think that there should be consultation with Ugandans to seek opinions from key stakeholders. Government should curb corruption so that procedures and processes are transparent. This will make people trust that intrusion of privacy will not occur and that the Internet will be safe for “wanainchi” nationals. Technology companies should also stop selling mobile numbers to private practitioners without the consent of mobile phone owners. This is making people distrust the technology companies.
Technology companies should also improve their security monitoring and take immediate investigation action when laptops and phones, containing personal information, are lost or stolen. Telephone lines should also not get crossed, as is the case lately. All of this reduces people’s trust and interest in technology, thereby reducing the benefits that can be realized. For women, who are typically the most cautious, this only adds to the challenges of the three A’s.