Project Related => Gender Balance and Internet => Topic started by: Peter Kuthan / AZFA on March 09 2015

Title: How Can We Make It Happen for Women in ICTs?
Post by: Peter Kuthan / AZFA on March 09 2015
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are quickly becoming a necessity. The health, banking, education and even the agricultural sectors have resorted to the use of ICTs for faster and convenient service delivery. As such, governments the world over are taking different measures to ensure that their citizens are up to date with the latest developments in technology.

Latest statistics from Postal Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) reveal that Zimbabwe’s internet subscriptions stand at 5.2 million. Of these, 5.16 million access internet via mobile phones while the remainder do so via fixed broadband. The country’s total broadband subscriptions rose by 6.45 percentage points in 2013, going up from a 33.4% increase in December 2012 to an estimated 39.8%.

Fixed broadband subscribers constitute fewer users because of the nature of the connection; fixed broadband is more expensive as it has fixed monthly payments. However, those on fixed broadband are more likely to have greater access to the internet than other users as investment in such technology necessitates maximisation of expenditure. At the same time, most subscribers access the internet via mobile phones because it is cheaper and convenient; one can always be online via a mobile phone as long as they have data bundles and a good network connection.

Many, however, do not have 24 hr access to the internet due to largely interacting with the online realm through internet cafes and other limited outlets. In fact, less than half the country’s population has access to the internet, creating a vast digital divide.

Policy and the Tech Divide

Zimbabwe has joined the international community in including ICTs in national development strategies with the nation being part of the two UN World Summits on the Information Society (WSIS) held in 2003 and 2005 respectively.

During the first phase of WSIS, foundations were laid by nations in reaching an agreement on a Declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action for ICT usage and uptake. The second phase, held in Tunis in 2005, is where the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society were adopted. The latter includes chapters on financing mechanisms, internet governance, implementation and follow-up.

The Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) is another major outcome of the WSIS talks. This funding mechanism is intended to cultivate south-south partnerships and target, among others, community projects run by women. The Fund has, however, faced challenges. For instance, there have not been adequate contributions made to the Fund to finance its intended objectives, from which Zimbabwe could have greatly benefited.

Local policy directives have also not fared so well.

Zimbabwe’s national ICT policy framework from 2012 has, as yet, to be operationalised with parliament and public service departments still mooting digitalisation of systems.

Through the National Gender Policy, the government pledges its commitment to promote equal access to, and control and ownership of, media and ICTs by men and women to enhance development across all sectors. While the policy acknowledges that there is need to bring women up to the same level as men in terms of access to ICTs, it does not give current statistics on use of internet by men or women in Zimbabwe; information which is crucial in addressing the gendered digital divide. Zimbabwe therefore has to rely on external statistics which may not be very accurate in defining our problem; for example, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) states that in developing countries, 16% fewer women use the internet than men, thus the urgent need to increase women’s uptake of ICTs.

Techwomen and young women’s digital innovation

In an effort to get themselves and other women involved into the use and making of ICTs, Aretha Mare and Rumbidzai Mlambo co-founded Techwomen Zimbabwe.

Techwomen Zimbabwe is an organisation that engages young women through different projects on ICTs. Currently, Techwomen is working with a number of girls and young women who have managed to create mobile phone-based applications of their own.

With various applications that help address the social and economic issues that are pertinent to women and girls’ lives, Techwomen is paving the way for women to participate in the digital era.

An application called ‘Women’s Voices’ would be convenient for most as it provides a borehole mapping service, information that is necessary to know in a country facing such critical water shortages. Using this application one can locate the nearest borehole from where one is and not waste time looking for directions, thus giving more time to other important tasks.

The other important feature is that it also provides contact details for emergency services like the police, ambulance, fire brigade to mention just a few. Women can also use ‘Women’s Voices’ to engage in group discussions about issues of importance to them.

‘Study Buddies’ is an application that gives secondary school students from Form 2 to Advanced level an opportunity to study outside their classrooms. All subjects from the secondary school curriculum are covered, and students are able to interact with tutors on a one-on-one basis.