Women of Uganda, Network!

1017769_10152364776648570_4008314960827640168_nLife in the 21st century is unimaginable without the dynamics of ICT, which are adding unprecedented dimensions to humankind’s interaction on global, economic and social levels. In 2000, gender equality and empowerment of women became the third Millennium Development Goal adopted by the United Nations.

by Pauline Bugler

While attainment of this goal still hangs in the balance in Africa, the Ugandan women’s organisation WOUGNET is reaching out to women across the country to help them grasp the opportunities afforded by ICT. Combined with traditional media, their enthusiastic efforts are helping raise public awareness of corruption and wrongdoing and opening up new horizons for women.

Access is the most basic gender equality issue in ICT. The concentration in cities of bandwidth and technical services can disadvantage poor women in rural areas who have little or no connectivity. But accessing technology alone is not enough. Training in ICT skills is also crucial.

Recognising this need, several women’s organisations in Uganda joined forces in 2000 to form the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET). These fearless advocates set themselves the daunting task of promoting the use of ICTs among women – skilled, unskilled, disabled, young and old, urban or rural: all are welcome.

“This drive to empower women would help address national and local problems of sustainable development in the long run”, said Goretti Amuriat of WOUGNET in an interview with eLearning Africa.

Two-thirds of the world’s 876 million illiterates are women. And this phenomenon is prevalent in Ugandan society as well. Many women lack Internet skills, Amuriat pointed out, and they often have no knowledge of the dominant international languages online.

Women’s multiple roles as housewives, mothers and breadwinners leave them with little time for other projects and no financial means to purchase their own ICT equipment. Many women are restricted in their mobility and cannot simply attend a tech course in the nearest city. Even if they do manage to go there, many feel uncomfortable visiting a cybercafé, which might be perceived as inappropriate behaviour.

Providing female support staff and trainers could alleviate this situation, as could modifying the schedules of training centres to suit women, who require affordable, timely instruction in a language they understand.

The shadow of gender stereotyping does not help either and can exclude women from career paths in mathematics, computer science and engineering, Amuriat said. Men and women in Uganda do not have gender specific ICT needs, but access and use diverge.

“Men…they  learn from one another and they are not constrained in movement like women,” she said.

The work of WOUGNET is part of a general trend among women in developing countries who are getting involved in advocacy and networking activities online.

The focus today is increasingly shifting towards eGovernment services. Backed by the Swedish Program for ICTs in Developing Regions (SPIDER), WOUGNET is currently running governance and accountability projects in northern and eastern Uganda, targeting women and men in a ratio of 70 to 30, Amuriat said. ICT tools combined with community radio, mobile phones, the Internet and the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform are highlighting awareness of public service delivery in the five districts of Apac, Kole, Oyam, Amuru and Gulu in northern Uganda.

Now the local population can demand improved public services, greater access and efficiency, transparency and accountability of government processes. This in turn encourages citizens to participate in their own governance. As a consequence, people are now more likely to file complaints with the responsible authorities.

Not only are those acting as monitors on Voluntary Social Accountability Committees (VSACs) honing their skills in the process, they are actively exposing corruption and shoddy work by emphasising transparency and accountability. VSACs have also encouraged parents to play more active roles in school programmes and take account of community issues when implementing development plans.

Another WOUGNET project in partnership with the multi-dimensional Kubere Information Centre is targeting women farmers and rural development, catering to the needs of a fledgling entrepreneurial sector in Uganda.

Managing Diversity and Equal Opportunities” is the title of the session at eLearning Africa where Goretti Amuriat will be appearing alongside WOUGNET colleagues and others from outreach programmes across Uganda. View the full programme of eLearning Africa 2014 here.

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