Digital Literacy can Empower Girls to Make their Voices Count!
My previous journal titled 'My Life! My Script! My Passion! - Mobilizing Girls Voices traced the journey of my life and the inspiration behind Girls Voices - a non profit organisation I set up to mobilize girls to connect and share their voices on issues affecting them ranging from education, health, entertainment, and a host of other issues. I shared some thoughts around the challenges and barriers my girls face accessing the internet. And this journal follows on to look at the subject of digital literacy for girls.
A few weeks after the official launch of the Girls Voices Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/girlsvoices?ref=hl, we started to receive some interesting engagement from some of the girls. Daisy shared that her friend was being abused at home and could not report the case because her father was a police officer. I encouraged her to locate a local NGO that focused on gender-based violence (since she was not located where we had a physical office) and take her friend over to report the case and receive relevant advice. She shared that they had located the NGO and received support that has resolved the case and provided counselling for her friend and her father. Another girl, Shola, shared that her father would not allow her attend design and dance classes which she loved and was passionate about. So, I counselled her on the need to focus on her present education which may be her father's immediate concern and when I encouraged her to explore taking design and dance courses online, she pleaded for a laptop computer she could use to access the internet and take some online courses and we have commenced arrangements to get the laptop across to her to support her. Bunmi shared that she had just broken up a relationship with her boyfriend and was done with relationships for a while so she can face her studies and enjoy loving herself for a while. A number of the girls reach out to me personally and I found out Carla had posted an open inquiry about a good tattoo parlour she could go to get a tattoo. She posted this inquiry on her personal Facebook Account and series of comments were flying in the air. Sadly, a number of boys and men assumed she was inviting some sexual attention and started to make some sensitive comments that were nasty and unhealthy for the young girl. And when I had a chat with her, I discovered she was nervous and embarrassed to have brought up the subject. She said that she only wanted to get a tattoo of her mum, whom she had lost a few years back and missed dearly. She thought she would honour her mother's memory by getting the tattoo, but it turned out to be a nightmare. I encouraged her to be retract her inquiry on Facebook and be surreptitious and careful with sensitive issues like that and avoid sharing such in public spaces. She felt relieved to discuss the issue in a safer environment and with someone she could trust to understand her pain and the rationale behind her search. I shared these stories from my girls (with fictitious names to preserve their privacy) to show how digital literacy opens up a world where girls can share their voices and seek advice to coordinate their lives and advancement. It is interesting that the girls are eager to engage safe platforms they can openly share their thoughts and voices. Some of the girls are connecting with themselves and simply enjoying the feeling of belonging to an all-girls platform they can be comfortable to engage.
My vision for Girls Voices is to mobilize inspirational and healthy communication via the internet and various social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter https://twitter.com/girlsvoices1. I envisaged this would be achievable working with educated girls who have basic digital literacy and already have an online presence on the social media platforms. However, Interaction with the girls via our Facebook Page reveal that the girls face the challenge of accessing the basic tools to enable them access the internet and feel comfortable online. Some of the girls are not able to go to public internet cafes on their own (without the support of a brother or uncle etc) and they feel uncomfortable browsing and checking up their social media spaces when they are followed by such relatives. Again, some of the girls speak of using their Dad's smart phone or laptop and they don't feel comfortable online when using tools they do not own themselves. This presents an indication that the girls may feel more comfortable online if they had access to tools of their own such as a portable laptop, a tablet or a smart phone they could use to navigate the internet to study, follow their social media updates and build their digital technology knowledge. In addition, there is the cost challenge of purchasing the internet subscription needed to access the internet. However, there are ongoing efforts by bodies like the Alliance for Affordable Internet http://a4ai.org/ working hard to mobilize affordable internet subscription and access for Nigerians. We could mobilize the voices of the girls and make a proposal to the Association, so they can incorporate the girls voices in their submissions and have same reflected in their outcomes.
On my own part, I have a personal laptop that I use to work and I have a modem that I purchase monthly internet subscriptions to keep me online and working. I also have a tablet and a blackberry phone which together leave me grappling with high internet subscriptions totalling about N12,500.00 ($75) monthly and I still face occasional poor network access making navigation online difficult. This just scales up my running costs. So, the major tool I would like to access to feel more comfortable online would be lower internet subscription options that are still effective.
Using the internet continues to be a learning experience for me and I love the experience. Where faced with a big challenge using the internet, I turn to my husband or any close associates that may possess the knowledge to overcome the challenge. And if I am unable to get any physical support, I resort to the famous internet school of 'Google', 'Yahoo' and other search engines and read widely until I acquire the knowledge I require to overcome my challenge. I am constantly amazed at the wealth of knowledge available on the internet. I recall my initial challenge getting round Twitter, especially when I realized I could no longer follow any contacts. I browsed over and over again until I learnt that I could not follow more than 2000 contacts without a close corresponding follower-ship. And then I gradually resolved the challenge with my Twitter Account. Also, I loved the way I saw businesses and organisations run fantastic Facebook Pages but thought it was a big deal that only persons with some special training could achieve. Although, there are a number of professional trainings that are responsible for some very impressive Facebook Pages, I totally learnt to build and maintain the Facebook Page of my Organisation by reading up some online resources. I have also been able to take some online courses that have built my skills in consulting on gender issues, conflict management as well as photography and cinematography.
Digital Literacy is two-faced; while it is very vital to acquire basic digital literacy to thrive in today's world, it is again demanding and sometimes challenging acquiring digital literacy. And, the challenge of digital literacy manifests in various ways and dependent on individual preference. For instance, some persons are commendably versatile on the internet, but lack corresponding interests in social media. Also, the challenge of personal tools to engage and navigate the internet as often as desired presents a major barrier to digital literacy. And when faced with the challenge of high costs of internet subscription (like the case is in Nigeria), one is unable to spend as much time online as may be desired and that delays the progress of digital literacy.
In the area of high internet subscription costs, I am hopeful that the Alliance for Affordable Internet would be able to secure better internet subscription options that would be affordable for Nigerians. My first recommendation is in the area of improved internet service, there are still severe problems of poor network connection that make it challenging accessing the internet. It is important that the Nigerian government intensifies the demand for telecommunications networks to provide excellent internet service to Nigerians so that it would not be so challenging to watch videos and other media resources online. Also, students would be able to engage the wide variety of online courses available and strengthen our education and knowledge-base. Another recommendation would be in the area of improved supply of affordable tools to increase access to the internet. There is a commendable presence of cheaper options of portable laptop computers, tablets and smart phones and an increased supply of same would further boost digital literacy for Nigerian women and girls. However, there should also be increased provision of such tools. For instance, companies and other corporate organisations that conduct lottery competitions from time to time can increase the offer of such tools (like laptops, tablets and smart phones) in their lottery prizes and the telecommunication networks should also be encouraged to offer internet modems and internet access for commendable period of time and all these Organisations can be encouraged to target women and girls for such offers and this would remarkably improve digital literacy for women and girls in Nigeria.
My Organisation, Girls Voices has a growing follower-ship of young girls who present a company of individuals looking to engage the platform, but their desires are highly challenged by the absence of tools to sustain their internet access and I find that many of the girls rarely update their pages and occasionally comment when they can. These girls must have had a growing passion and some level of digital literacy to be able to open their personal Facebook Accounts and may be better engaging and inspired if they have the basic tools to sustain their internet access and boost their digital literacy.
Indeed, digital literacy possesses the capacity to boost girls' and women's empowerment and enable their voices to count in Nigeria. Where girls and women are able to secure safe online access and environments to express themselves and connect to an active, digital world. Let's join to make girls' voices count!