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Digital Talk and Walk- Grassroots Women's Voices, A Priority.

mama Philomena Fokchetke (Source: Greengirl)

Women, it is talk and walk time and it's all happening digitally! Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the internet now drive the talks and walks that can make a lot of difference in the lives of women, especially those at the grassroots. I am also talking, walking and learning and supporting others along the way.

Few weeks ago, the enthusiastically digital side of me got stirred up as I interacted with 94 year hold mama Philomena Lahu Fokchetke in her home. Considering her age, I wondered if she knew anything about computers and if she could possibly have interest in what the device is capable of. In carrying out my spontaneously planned research, I showed her a laptop, an iPad and a blackberry smart phone; and went on to explain how each of them can be used to document information and also connect with people, information and opportunities globally.

Mama Philomena's face beamed a radiant girlish smile as she listened with child like curiosity. Done with my unsolicited lecture, I picked up the iPad and accessed a video titled 'Gbagyi Women, Trees and Forest: A story of Interdependence'. It is a video I produced and posted It in my World Pulse journal (Reference- http://worldpulse.com/node/78918) as part of an assignment for the 2013 Voices of Our Future Correspondent Citizen Journalism and Digital Empowerment Training Program, which I participated in. Her eyes glowed in amazement and she chuckled intermittently as she watched the video. Suddenly, she stretched out her hands towards the iPad and said, "please can you give me this one?".

The octogenarian's request caught me unawares. I became speechless and got lost in thoughts as I tried hard to figure out what she was up. "I want to connect to an d see the world too" she announced, like a proficient mind reader. I was quite excited by her keen interest in accessing and experiencing the wealth of resources which the Web offers, but could not ignore the fact that it would be a herculean task for her to productively navigate her way online without help; as she could neither read nor write. I am, however, certain that if she ever gains informed ability to use digital tools, she will find joy in using it to share her wealth of life's experience and wisdom with the rest of the world.

We are in a smart age and ICT is fast determining, shaping and driving everything about and around us.The transformation is phenomenal and the world is fast becoming a global home as a result. Everything is getting really close to becoming a click away! Talk of mobile/smart phones, smart boards, smart applications, digital photography. Then, e banking, e commerce, e business, e learning, e democracy, e agriculture, e health, e mail, e government, e conference, e newspapers and newsletters, webinars video conferencing, social networking, blogging etc.

Access is no doubt key to using information and communication technologies and it's associated resources. Apparently, those who have access have greater potential to benefit from it. " I usually source for information on reproductive health and nutrition on the internet especially when I am pregnant or any of my children has any health challenge" says Abosede O. an educated housewife; adding that she however lacks basic computer knowledge and skills. As the global environment continues to evolve, technology skills gap have been identified by several studies as critical.

I bare witness to the fact majority of those who are caught in web of the unfavorable end of the digital divide are women, particularly those in the rural areas. A handy example came to bare at a One Day Sensitization Workshop on 'Biotechnology for Community Sustainable Development' held on February 17th at Gangara, Giwa Local Government Area of Kaduna State. The outdoor event which appeared to be an all male affair had 106 male participants and only 12 females in attendance. Based on social cultural reasons, the women did not sit with the men. Rather, they sat together in one of the adjoining mud-built structures within the District head's compound, venue of the event.

In the course of documenting proceedings I had the privilege of interacting with the 12 participating women, on a one on one basis, Having reoriented the women on the whole idea behind the unfolding Biotechnology Project, I began gathering pre decided background information; covering participant's name, phone number(s), contact address, gender and signature. It was a shock that of the 12 women present, only Rabbi Bello M. and Saadatu Isa had mobile phones. When I asked Rabbi for her number, she stretched out her mobile phone towards me and said, " I don't know my number by heart neither do I know how to retrieve the stored contacts". I immediately collected her phone, searched out the number, documented it and took out time to guide Rabbi through the process of retrieving and storing numbers on her phone.

Saadatu who was seated next to Rabbi confidently dictated her number to me, off hand. It didn't take me long to find out that she was the only one who could read and write among the women. In excitement, I asked her if she had any ideas about the internet . "Yes I know about the internet because I have heard so much about it from different youth in this community; particularly how it can be used to learn about what is happening around the world; but I have never used it" she enthused.

Bayi M. was the last of the women and I was happy when she handed me a dual sim Sony Ericsson phone. She muttered in very low tone that "she also didn't know her number by heart". What mattered to me at that moment was that she had a phone, so I gladly collected the phone from her. The excitement which reverberated within me quickly dissipated and gave way to heightened concern, when I discovered that there was no network (carrier) connection on the phone because it was void of any subscriber identification module (SIM) card. Even at that, no single contact was stored in the phone memory. To save Bayi any form of embarrassment, I did my best to conceal my feeling of awe and simply told her that I could not find her name in the contact. "Okay, maybe it is because I have not purchased airtime today" she responded. Deep within me I could hear Bayi's enthusiastic but unspoken yearning for inclusion in the digital information and communication world.

I left Gangara concerned that the role of the community women in the unfolding Biotechnology for Sustainable Development project may be undermined if the organizers ever opt for voice calls or text messages (SMS) as a means of maintaining contact with the workshop participants. It will definitely spell unequal and ineffective participation for the female participants and many others like them who lack access to and have no knowledge about how ICT tools (devices and platforms) work. In such situations, one cannot but appreciate that owning or having access to ICTs and internet is a necessity; because they are desirable for creating and learning skills as well as establishing profitable connections. Bisi Adebayo, an early child education expert says " In this digital age, It is very important for women to learn how to use information and communication tools like mobile phones and the internet as they can easily pass such knowledge and skills to their children".

Many grassroots women are becoming aware of the importance of mobile phones (as well as related digital devices) and would love to own and use them. Sadly, high illiteracy, poverty, and low digital awareness levels are among other barriers, limit women's ability and their capacity to access and make informed choice and use of available technologies and platforms and services. Without reliable and informed access to digital tools, it becomes even more difficult for these women to become included an fully engage in ongoing local, national and global digital conversations; in ways that will position them to effectively take advantage of digital learning opportunities.

I therefore count myself very privileged that I have informed access to the ICT and the internet. Both have become formidable working and learning tools for me as I have continued to use them to learn, pick up new skills, create and share information, and also establish a network of profitable global connections that contributes a great deal to my intellectual, career and organizational competence and advancement. I also use it to equip women in my community with information, communication and leadership and skills and present them with opportunities, that will help them take control of their own ingenuity, learning, sharing and networking. No woman should be left out of witnessing and experiencing existing and emerging breakthroughs in the ICT sector.

Towards addressing digital ignorance and exclusion issues that plague and limit majority of the women in my community, it has become a priority for me to keep providing opportunities for as many of them as possible, to join the digital talk and walk. As a strategic intervention, digital skills training and internet cafe services will form an integral part of the activities of the Eco Women Resource, Life skills and Learning Center which I plan to establish in my community. The digital program of the Center focus on developing and offering solutions that are responsive to the needs of grassroots women in particular. These include tackling issues that bother on accessibility, availability, affordability, suitability, usability, sustainability and safety.

In this way women in my community will be integrated into the digital learning and sharing revolution. Every woman-unreached, underserved young and old, rich and poor, learned and illiterate, among other societal groupings will have equal opportunity to share in the many exciting benefits (such as social networking, economic empowerment, skills development, knowledge and information sharing and sourcing etc) which ICT and the world wide web provides. Our forests will happier for it too because digitized means of communication, sharing information and networking means lesser dependence on paper materials and more standing trees. I have caught the digital bug and there is no going back!

This story was written for World Pulse’s Women Weave the Web Digital Action Campaign. Learn more »

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Comments

phoang's picture

Great post!

Hi! Most people are probably aware of the lack of opportunities for women, and the hypocritical social norms and cultural attitudes towards women and girls using technology. But few people go out of their way, much less make it a priority to create and implement initiatives to equalize the opportunities for women. Gender equality is more than just a women's issue, and I hope more people follow your lead to include more women in the digital world and access to technology. Best of luck to you. I hope you're able to find all the resources and connections you need to make everything happen, and I look forward to hearing more from you. Thank you for sharing!

Phuong

Greengirl's picture

So glad to hear from you!

Dear Phuong, it gladdens my heart that you shared your insights, as well as your thoughts on the post. The realities on ground as it concerns women's access to opportunities that will help them make the most of ICTs is certainly underestimated and under reported. Little wonder why interventions are not yet reaching those who really need it; thus contributing to the widening gender technology gaps. I believe the seemingly little efforts everyone of us makes to address a challenge always counts and adds up.

I sincerely appreciate your very motivating words of encouragement and well wishes. It is my utmost hope that my efforts will connect with the support needed to ensure that much more is achieved.

Greengirl

hanasazi's picture

Dear Greengirl, thanks for

Dear Greengirl, thanks for this caring and informative post! Your account of your meeting with Mama Philomena really puts the current situation in perspective. In the West we already take access to digital tools for granted and this kind of reporting goes a long way to helping us understand the challenges that women in other countries still face. I'm so glad you were able to take the time to attend the Biotechnology for Community Sustainable Development workshop, and your interactions with the women there are also very helpful to know. Your dual focus on the environment and digital inclusion for women is so very admirable and important! I'm very concerned at the moment about a seemingly unrelated but incredibly vital issue that will be decided on May 15 by the US Federal Communications Commission, which is being called Pay-to-Play. If passed, this new policy will open the door for rich and powerful companies to dominate the "fast lane" of the internet while the little people like us are relegated to the"slow lane" that would then arise. Since awareness of how this will negatively impact women in countries like your own, I'm encouraging my World Pulse sisters to let their voices be heard by signing the petition that is being circulated now. It has a comment field where women can tell their own stories about why preserving Net Neutrality - the equalizing principle upon which the Internet was founded - is vital, and even life saving for them. I hope the women who read your excellent post will take a moment to weigh in themselves. Here's the link to the petition: http://kos.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=9dWV%2Bzqohagmis%2FZCOVgONv...

Greengirl's picture

Dear Hanasazi

It feels great to hear from you. You are such a strong, focused and very determined personality and you inspire me in very significant ways. Thank you loads, for being you.

I was taken aback to read about current happenings in your country about internet access. Going by current global outcry for digital inclusion and the search for solutions on how identified gaps can be bridged, it remains an irony that a system that will further worsen existing technology gaps is being considered. Where does the push for equity, fairness and justice stand in the proposed policy. In my opinion, there is no sense in encouraging discriminatory policies in this age and time. I really hope that reason will prevail.

I am all too glad to lend my voice to halt such an unwelcome policy and will definitely look up the link to make my contribution. Thank you so much for sharing with me!

Much love and respect,
Greengirl

hanasazi's picture

Thank you so much for signing

Thank you so much for signing and sharing one or more of these petitions, Greengirl! Everything you say is true, and it is ironic in the "hardest" sense of the word...In fact, this statement from another petition email says it too: "Ironically, the news of the FCC's impending action emerged on the same day that Brazil created the world's first Internet bill of rights -- protecting exactly the democratic principles that Chairman Wheeler and his FCC cohorts are on the verge of assaulting." The bottom line is that big corporations would pay for faster delivery of their content, making it difficult for smaller operations to compete.

Unfortunately, while America does offer hope to many people around the world (though mainly in its ideals and not necessarily in its realities), being a democracy that recently sold out its human beings by allowing corporations "personhood" and designating political campaign contributions as "freedom of speech" makes it a hope that is given with one hand and taken away by the other.

Rich and powerful corporations have been steadily eating away at all our rights, privileges and environmental health ever since the "Citizens United" ruling by our Supreme Court by financing the campaigns of politicians and then expecting favorable legislation in return (often writing it themselves, as in this case of Pay-to-Play, which was written by FCC Chairmen Tom Wheeler, a former cable TV and cell phone industry lobbyist) and this is one horrible example of the lack of consistency and continuity in our systems that results from such a disastrous turn in the justice system (it was a Supreme Court ruling that started all this nonsense.)

But the people still have a voice, and online petitions are one way we have to oppose such rulings. Thank you so much for being one of those voices!

We are working hard to overturn the original Supreme Court ruling that made such horrific developments as the Pay-to-Play proposal possible, but meanwhile the deadline on the Net Neutrality/Pay-to-Play proposal looms large, so we have to do all we can to voice our disfavor strongly by May 15.

The other side of democracy is that it is the responsibility of its citizens to maintain it. This requires ongoing battles, and though every fight seems to be a David & Goliath match since we're contesting wealthy corporations at every turn, the widespread use of online petitions has prevented and reversed other such onerous proposals from going through, so I hope we can succeed with this one, too. From teachers who use the Internet to show the world to their students to doctors who use it to find the latest medical research that could save lives, an open Internet, free from discrimination, benefits us all. We must let our disapproval of anything that would prevent our free and equal use of the internet be known.

♥ Hannah

PS: A recent email from one of the petition sites made the importance of this fight very clear with this short list. Please take special note of number 3 on the list:

1. Small businesses and retailers pushed into the slow lane could lose out even more to the Amazons and Targets of the world, as research has shown that even marginally slower download times drive people away from websites.1
2. Eventually, websites might pass the cost of fast-lane access on to their users, forcing us to pay more for goods or services.2
3. Communities of color and other marginalized groups, who have used the Internet to catapult often ignored issues into the media headlines, could be silenced by the pay-to-play scheme.3

Sources:
1. "For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait," The New York Times, February 29, 2012

2. "Internet Fast Lanes May Raise Consumer Costs," U.S. News & World Report, April 30, 2014

3. "This is Why the FCC's New Net Neutrality Rules Could Disempower Communities of Color," Fusion, April 28, 2014

Greengirl's picture

Thank you so much!

Thank you so much for sharing this information with me. I count it a great privilege and opportunity to speak out against such a discriminatory plan. I don't even want to spare a thought on the kind of setback such a policy will impose on already underserved and marginalized groups. It is really sad that a privileged few continue to deploy their resources in ways that suppress and trample on the rights of a vast majority who are caught in the web of just enough or worst still the web of far from enough. Such injustice!

I will share with my networks and encourage them to also take action by signing the petition. To get more World Pulse community members involved, have you considered sharing this Pay-to-Play development as a need under resource exchange?

Best wishes,
Greengirl

hanasazi's picture

I was not sure it would be

I was not sure it would be appropriate there, Greengirl, but now that you have mentioned it I will. I'm sorry I did not see your comment before they made a preliminary decision on this (3-2 in favor of Pay-to-Play unfortunately), but articles I have read since May 15 indicate there may be further opportunities to voice our opposition to such a reversal in the internet's founding principles that would be so damaging to so many, so I would very much like to encourage a greater segment of our community to get involved while we can. In addition, there have been overtly false news reports in our country as to the results of the decision, saying that the 3-2 vote was overwhelmingly FOR a free and open internet (The New York Times is one prime example). Therefore, Avaaz.org, which distributed a petition that anyone in the world could sign, is determined to keep up the fight to preserve Net Neutrality, and there appear to be several internet giants like Google which are also committed to fighting the Pay-to-Play proposal. I will check up on the time frame they will be open for public comment and collect and update everything I have written in my journal into one article to post as a Resource Exchange Need. Thank you so much for your insightful and valuable suggestion! You are so wonderful, dear Greengirl. I hope everything is going well for you and pray God will protect and #BringBackOurGirls .

Greengirl's picture

Hello Super Mum

It's always a delight to hear from you. I really hope and pray that the hydra headed form of discrimination that 'Pay to Play' is introducing into internet access and use will die a natural death. It is just so unfair that while some of us are working so hard to bridge the already wide digital divide in our communities, the big players are backing a policy that will make our efforts futile. I am glad to know that Avaaz.org and Google are not giving up the fight. As soon as I am done with this comment, I will check on your journal posts. I also look forward to seeing the one you plan on sharing as a resource Exchange Need. Please keep me posted. I want you to know that your seemingly little efforts counts and will definitely go into account.

Many thanks to you for your thoughtful words and prayers for the abducted Nigerian teenage girls. We are all keeping hope alive and trusting God for their safe return, a speedy one at that.

Much love,
Greengirl

hanasazi's picture

Thank you so much, Greengirl...

Oh, you have such a way with words! I just love the way you write, and your comments are straight up and true. I will do my best to put that post together tomorrow. I had hoped to do it this afternoon but got a call from a client who was having trouble and had to spend an hour and a half on the phone with her, and then it was time for dinner. It looks like next week will be a busy one for me, so posting this vitally important need would best be done over our weekend. Thanks so much for your ever-encouraging words, my friend. I will let you know when it's posted.

♥ And I will keep praying for our girls, just as so many other caring hearts are doing. From your lips to God's ears, please bring them home safely and soon. ♥

Greengirl's picture

Dear Hanasazi

It feels great to hear from you. You are such a strong, focused and very determined personality and you inspire me in very significant ways. Thank you loads, for being you.

I was taken aback to read about current happenings in your country about internet access. Going by current global outcry for digital inclusion and the search for solutions on how identified gaps can be bridged, it remains an irony that a system that will further worsen existing technology gaps is being considered. Where does the push for equity, fairness and justice stand in the proposed policy. In my opinion, there is no sense in encouraging discriminatory policies in this age and time. I really hope that reason will prevail.

I am all too glad to lend my voice to halt such an unwelcome policy and will definitely look up the link to make my contribution. Thank you so much for sharing with me!

Much love and respect,
Greengirl

Drpkahn's picture

You go girl!

Dear greengirl, wow your passion and dedication are amazing. I am so excited for you to be on the front lines of change in this revolution. And make no mistake, a revolution it is! women all over the world will support you as you go forward. Your plans to open an Eco Women Resource, Life skills and Learning Center focus are excellent. Please keep the world pulse community updated as you establish the center. It is assumed you will encounter many challenges and the world pulse community may be able to help each step of the way. This is such a supportive community. Share your challenges and you will likely come in contact with someone who has encountered the same issue and can help. Blessings to you!

Greengirl's picture

Dear Drpkhan

Thank you so much for reaching out to me with your profoundly positive and supportive words. Very reassuring and empowering indeed! The World Pulse community has been a great source of inspiration and pillar of support on this journey; and I am confident that will not change as I work towards making my dream a reality. Your voice symbolizes that inspiration and support.

Your words made my day!

Greengirl

And also hope that you will post updates as your dream becomes a reality! Love everything you do, Greengirl! You are EPIC!

Greengirl's picture

Enjoying all the support!

Thank you super mum for the acknowledgement and support. It counts a great deal as I forge ahead!

Blessings and very warm regards,
Greengirl

Kadidia's picture

Internet

Dear Greengirl,

The story about this illiterate old woman is fascinating. It shows how every one of us is open to new knowledge if there is a possibility to do so.
Technology is such a wonderful educational tool. Having taken the time to approach this old lady with an ipad is a testimony of your willingness to integrate your entire community in this new journey we're all experiencing as a global community.
The worldpulse platform is the right place to share your stories.
Thank you for doing so.

Kadidia Doumbia

Greengirl's picture

Hello Kadidia

Thank you so much for your very thoughtful feedback. the sad reality is that, more often than not, most people in the society are actually excluded from opportunities they actually need; because they are not presented to them. This is where equity, justice and fairness comes to play in development. Everyone should be given equal opportunities and allowed the power of choice.

I really appreciate your kind words of acknowledgement!

Regards,
Greengirl

MariaAle's picture

Dear Greengirl, The story of

Dear Greengirl,
The story of Mama Philomena confirms that it is never too late to learn something new. Your dedication and vision to help your community are amazing. Thank you for being part of this technology literally revolution and as a result you are helping to change lives.

Like you wrote: I have caught the digital bug and there is no going back! Yes, it is only moving forward. ;)
Please keep sharing your stories!

Blessings,
MariaAle

Maria Alejandra Alcaraz

Greengirl's picture

Warm Greetings to you!

Warm greetings to you Maria! It is very true that it is never to late to learn something new. One major problem we have in the world is that opportunities are not distributed in a manner that gives everyone equal access. I believe that the World will witness lots of positive changes when development becomes very inclusive. My sincerest desire is to be able to create equal opportunities for as many women and girls in my community, so that together we can better our world.

Yes, it is only moving forward. Together we can and will make our world a better place! :)

Hugs,
Greengirl

Kadidia's picture

Internet

Greengirl,

Never get discourage! Keep on doing what you've been doing and keep your faith.

Kadidia Doumbia

Greengirl's picture

Hugs to you!

Dear Kandidia,

Thank you for your kind words. I am encouraged.

Blessings

Aishawahan's picture

Thank you for sharing

Yes we can. Only the intention.

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