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Bridging Kenya’s Digital Gender DividePosted by: admin on Wed, 2010-09-22 15:55
A focus on training girls and women in how to use information and communication technology is breaking the bonds of sexism in Kenya. ICT skills give women more economic power as they can enter new industries or be more efficient entrepreneurs.
While the digital divide affects all Kenyans, women in Kenya face additional challenges to acquiring information and communication technology skills. For 10 years, the African Centre for Women Information and Communication Technology has worked to close the gap in ICT access for Kenyan women. Now, they’re planning to expand their successful training programs to reach thousands more Kenyan women. Over the next 3 years, the Centre seeks to establish 240 community information centers countrywide and train 18,000 women.
The Centre’s executive director, Constantine Obuya, says they approach ICT training as a means to multiple ends. The training may open the door for women to jobs in the ICT industry, but it may also help them improve their financial status by integrating technology into their daily economic activities. As Kenya moves into the digital age, the Centre believes it is important to ensure illiterate women have ICT skills as well as to increase the numbers of young girls and women pursuing careers in the IT field.
“We do recognize that many women in rural areas are not literate, however, by imparting them with ICT skills they are able to incorporate it in their entrepreneurship ventures by say, keeping books of accounts, accessing market information and resources like branding, designing and printing promotional material,” said Obuya.
Giving Women Economic Alternatives
Through its “Reaching the Un-Reached” program, the Centre has trained nearly 3,000 women in ICT. The program equips women with ICT and entrepreneurship skills focusing on five areas of national priority: agriculture, livestock, trade, fishing and tourism. Currently, the Centre operates six community information centers in partnership with community-based organizations located in Mbita, Kisumu, Budalangi, Busia, Isiolo and Eldoret.
“We target women because we have realize that even with coming of the fiber-optic cables and growing of lucrative sectors like the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industry which can create thousands of jobs , women stand to lose out on these opportunities,” said Obuya. On top of limited literacy, language barriers, and the high cost of ICT training, women have to deal with many forms of gender discrimination that prevent or discourage them from gaining access to new technologies.
One region where the training has had significant impact, according to Obuya, is in Budalangi, Mbita and other islands around Lake Victoria. In these areas, fishing is the primary economic activity and is dominated by men. Women make a living by selling the fish caught by the men; however, they are frequently exploited sexually in the process. The fishermen exercise a de facto “No sex, no fish” policy in which they demand sex in exchange for selling fish to fishmongers. The fishermen refuse to sell fish to women fishmongers who do not have sex with them.
The Centre’s ICT training has given these women options to earn money besides selling fish. With their new skills, more women have been able to get clerical jobs in local government offices and within nongovernmental organizations. They’ve also found employment in ICT-related businesses like selling airtime cards and running cybercafés.
Growing IT-Savvy Girls
To prepare girls for an increasingly computerized world, the Centre operates programs to train female high-school and university students. Through its “all girls camp,” high-school girls receive training in Web design. The Centre has partnered with the International Youth Foundation to deliver training to girls and women from six informal settlements in Nairobi: Kibera, Kawangware, Mathare, Mukuru, Korogocho and Kangemi. In addition to ICT training, they offer instruction in entrepreneurship and life skills that will make the students more employable.
“We have seen some of the participants either get employment after school or go to higher learning institutions to pursue more skills,” said Obuya.
By June 2009, the project had trained more than 1,000 young women with a placement rate of 51 percent in jobs, internships and businesses, according to an external evaluation study that was conducted in February 2010. Another 25 percent had continued with their studies or participated in another training program.
Following the success of these and other programs, the Centre is branching out and starting programs for women in Somalia, Uganda, Sudan and Tanzania.