More Access, More Empowerment for Women and Girls.
When I joined World Pulse in March 2009, I was so excited to read stories of women from all over the World, to access opportunities and be in touch with the reality happening in different communities globally. To be honest, I cannot recall how this journey began, but I thank God it did. I found a place that gave me an opportunity to try out my 'journalistic' skills, to fan up something from within that I loved to do, but didn't feel qualified enough to do it. I found a community that was secure, that didn't judge or hinder one from speaking out, but instead encouraged me to speak out and tell my story for the world to read. I found a place of immense opportunities and vast possibilities, a worldwide platform with no limit to how far my story could be heard. I found a community of experts. A place with solutions and advice and mentorship, not forgetting the endless information, which not only helps to grow my career but most importantly, provides me an opportunity to enlarge my vision and take off every limit.
When I think a few years back from this time, I was introduced to the internet in my early twenties, while in India where i had gone to pursue my undergraduate degree. I was amazed that one could send an e-mail and search information on the internet, and I used to wonder who put all that information there for all to access. All this would not have been possible, had it not be for the World Wide Web, which has totally changed people’s lives globally.
However, with all the benefits of the internet, there's still a huge gap in access, especially for women. According to the Report by ITU and UNESCO on Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women & Girls in the Information Society, 200 million more men have access to the Internet than women, this means that there are more men who have access to resources, information and opportunities than women. It also means that they can progress more while the women lag behind in terms of accessing opportunities for employment and funding for initiatives. This reflects gender inequalities that we face not only in technology, but in areas such as access to opportunities, basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. However, the report shows that there's a push to have gender equality in access to broadband by 2020. These are steps in the right direction. The more women and girls access the internet, the more empowered they are.
I am grateful to have full time employment with a safe and reliable internet connection. I have also recently acquired a tablet which i use while at home. This is not so, for many women and girls and especially in the rural areas. As much as the society in Kenya is more informed, gaps are still evident in some areas especially where illiteracy is high. According to a report by Verah Okeyo, carried out in one of the Kenyan Dailies on 10th March this year, it indicated that, 27% of women have no access to any media, thus would not have the opportunity to even read the story. It further stated that 19% of women in Kenya are illiterate, and this is according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, while 14% of Kenyan women aged between 15 and 49, cannot read at all compared with 7% of men in the same age group. These are worrying statistics, if we will ever see that vision of every woman having access to internet at all!
The Government of Kenya is already moving towards e-Government systems, providing services online, notwithstanding the many challenges its experiencing. These services may not work for everyone, especially because most people still do not have access to a safe and secure internet connection. I would therefore recommend that;
1. The Government should partner with technology companies to provide cheaper wireless internet connections and hot-spots, while ensuring safety measures are put in place,
2. Women groups, community leaders should team up to lobby for internet access in their community,
3. Policies ought to be place with stringent measures to protect online users, and especially women and girls against cyber bullying.
4. To increase learning, create awareness and increase usage among women and girls, libraries should be set up as safe spaces within the community that can be accessible, and with internet access available. This will also increase the literacy levels among women and girls.
I recently posted in my journal a need for support to build a community library. This with the vision of empowering women and girls by providing a safe space for online learning, mentorship, peer education and learning through comprehensive library services and networking, which will in turn improve the quality of education, build on women capacity for entrepreneurship and further create a reading culture within the community. This will play a role, though beginning in a small way, in transforming the world, starting with my community.