Giving HER a voice
I am a digital media entrepreneur and a documentary photographer and I use the internet to share stories of other people predominantly women and girls who face hardships and abuse in a bid to "Give HER a Voice". I do this using social platforms like Facebook and Twitter and by using mobile applications like Whatsapp to share information and raise awareness about campaigns and fundraising initiatives required to help someone in need. I use photography a a tool to quickly depict and share a problem, give a face to an issue and to show how the help that is extended to individuals makes a difference to their lives.
Zimbabwe's internet services are so expensive that it is not possible to have internet connected at most homes. I connect to the internet primarily through my mobile phone and tho data bundles are expensive as well, they are much cheaper than broadband internet. Mobile Data Connectivity and "Whatsapp and Facebook packages" costing US$3 a month have given women greater access to the internet via their mobile phones making the internet access experience more personal than it would be sharing a computer in the home where our society is still very much a patriarchal society and far from achieving gender equality. The cost of general mobile communication is governed by the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority Zimbabwe [POTRAZ] however the mobile telecommunications operators participate in the setting of tarrifs for mobile data. Our primary objective for 2014- 2016 is to lobby this body and all mobile telecommunications companies by bringing them around the discussion table to look at ways of making mobile data more affordable to enable all women, rural and urban to be able to connect and have better access to the web. The challenge there is always finance but starting the dialogue around these issues is our positive first step towards a solution.
In the cyber sphere Zimbabwean women are free and express themselves without reservation. Seeing the need for Zimbabwean women to be able to talk about anything from shoes and handbags to gender based violence and unequal pay in an environment where their voices are prioritized I started conversations with women on the web that spilled over to women on the street who then went back to further the discussion on the web. Essentially these conversations take place on social social media spaces like Facebook and via Whatsapp. The goal is to give women information about anything and everything because knowledge is power! All of our online communication is primarily carried out via mobile connectivity.
The challenge we face with the current set up is, because data bundles are so expensive and so is text messaging, it is not possible to streamline the information given to any one woman to allow her to only access the information she wants to receive or would be most beneficial to her. We have explored the possibility of setting up a mobile app that allows each woman in our network to select the information she wants to receive and how she would like to receive it and when. With an app like that we would be able to reduce the cost of connecting with us and offer women more than just giving them information. We would be able to set up discussion spaces, a donation platform to help a woman in need or invest in girls by teaching them how to access and use the internet to give themselves a voice using their mobile phones. An awesome project has been carried out recently in Harare where young tech savvy ladies have been trained on 'App building' through a tech hub based in the city. I envisage us teaming up with these girls and working on building the first prototype of the app with a view to source funding support to develop it further with the primary goals of it being packaged in such a way so as it is easily downloadable at a low cost to enable any and every woman to be able to have it on their phone. We aim to identifying a mobile manufacturing company or sponsor that we will be able to work with to set up a pilot project whereby a subsided entry level smart phone can be introduced to the market that will be sold specifically to women of low income homes particularly rural women to enable them to get connected and the ideal would be that our app will come pre-loaded on these mobile devices.
Just this week I learned of a 14 year old girl who was brutally raped by her uncle (father's brother) and has been bleeding vaginally for almost a year. The damage that was done was so great that she requires medical intervention for a hysterectomy. When her mother, a widow, finally got her daughter to tell her what had happened she reported her brother in law to the police. The police immediately told her it was a family matter and should be handled as such. Going back to the village the mother was shunned for having reported the matter and was told she had, "embarrassed the family" and was thrown out of the village. The woman and her child are now homeless and destitute because they spoke out about this abuse and because of the internet we are able to share their story and seek help and intervention for them in the process. Once example of how powerful the internet can be in amplifying, "HER voice" and saying NO! This is not ok and we as women and mothers will not stand by and be silent whilst the male leaders of our villages, communities, cities and countries turn a blind eye when one of their own abuses a woman or child.
I firmly believe that the internet presents a great new world full of possibility for African Women to not only finally have a voice but have a voice that is amplified, that makes the world stop and take notice, hear and respond. These voices should be the ones that are raised the loudest when dealing with issues that affect Women and Girls in Africa and those who make decisions on our behalf on a national or global stage must take these voices into account.