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