Thursday, March 1, 2012

Working to bridge the ‘Gender digital divide’ in Uganda

Women in Technology Uganda (WITU), held it’s very first meeting of the year 2012 0n 17th Feb with the theme “Ugandan Women in Technology: Opportunities and Challenges” at Makerere University in Kampala Uganda. Women in Technology is a forum that we founded with a focus on finding real solutions to the long-standing problems of how to attract, retain and advance more women in the IT industry.
The uneven distribution of Information and communication Technologies (ICTs) within societies and across the globe is resulting in a ‘DIGITAL DIVIDE’ between those who have access to information resources and those who do not. Women’ low levels of literacy and education relative to men as well as the negative attitude towards girls achievement in science related fields contributes to the gender dimension of the digital divide. Women still have a low degree of economic security than men and face gender related constraints on their time and mobility. They are therefore less likely to access, use and participate in shaping the course of ICTs compared to their male counterparts
The Status of Women and ICTs in Uganda
In Uganda, Women’s awareness and usage of ICTs is nearly three times less than that of men (2006 ResearchICTAfrica ). An assessment of the Rural communication and Development Fund(RCDF) from a gender perspective undertaken by women of Uganda Network in 2007 revealed that the fact that women are key consumers in the privately owned computer training centres had nothing to do with gender targeting. Many of these females went for secretarial training or to learn elementary computer skills like Microsoft office applications to enhance their gender stereotyped roles of secretary.  Women who were employed as trainers or lab attendants were the minority. As far as ownership management and control of private ICT business centres, Women were generally few. The study also revealed that although RCDF support to various ICT projects had facilitated further spread of ICT facilities and services to the less privileged areas and its communities, women have benefited less from the projects as compared to their male counterparts. Without access to information technology, an understanding of its significance and ability to use it fo social and economic gain, Women are likely to be further marginalized from the mainstream of their communities, their country and the world (Nancy Hafkin and Nancy Taggart 2003).

Meet our speakers of the Feb 2012 Meetup
We tackled the opportunities and challenges that women in technology face, how we can explore these and solve the challenges to increase the number of women technologists in Uganda. We had amazing young women who shared their experiences.  Barbara Birungi gave an overview of what WITU is and why it exists, she shared the vision, mission and purpose. She also welcomed all the members to the first meeting of the year. The sessions were chaired by Lynn Kirabo and Maureen Agena

Rosebell Kagumire a Multimedia Journalist and Human right Activists works at Chanel 16 and runs a blog spoke about “Women and Media”. She shared her work experience at the daily Monitor with participants. Rosebell acknowledged that Technology and especially social media has increased opportunities for citizen to speak out and for journalists to share ideas and opinion beyond the newsroom.
She said that ordinary people without professional Journalism training can now use tools of modern Technology and the global distribution of internet to create, fact check and argument media. Rosebell believes that tools like twitter are now changing the “Agenda Setting” function of the media.  Follow her on twitter @RosebellK

Eunice Namirembe a Program manager at  Text to Change and ICT4D specialist talked about the “opportunities of Mobile Technology for women”. She said that it is evident that there is a huge difference in terms of access, use, application and control of mobile phones between men and women. Whereas, we all agree that ICTs can enable both men and women to gain stronger voice in their communities and that mobile phones can specifically offer women flexibility in time and space, this is far from reality for many rural women here in Uganda. A big gender gap exists in accessing communication services. More men than women access/make use of ICTs because most ICT infrastructure is in the urban areas, where areas majority of the women/rural populations live in the rural areas.
Given women’s multiple roles and heavy domestic responsibilities, their leisure hours are few and therefore need a tool that can effectively reduce the “distance” between them as individuals and institutions thereby making sharing of information and knowledge easier and more effective. The mobile phone comes in handy. Follow her on twitter @gnayeunie
Evelyn Namara an entrepreneur, programmer and AfNOGChix trainer working with Solar sisters shared her experience from AfNOGChix on “Training Women in Technology”. She said that AfNOGChix was inspired by the desire to share technical challenges in setting up, building and running IP networks on the African continent. As a result, some of the pioneer Network Operators came together and established a network of key operators on the continent. The Africa Network Operators Group (AfNOG) is a forum for the exchange of technical information, and aims to promote discussion of implementation issues that require community cooperation. The reason as to why a lot of focus was on women was because Few women applied for the main AfNOG events;Women are a bit intimidated learning with male students; Women were hesistant to asked questions and finally Women usually relied on Male participants to finish up assignments. AFNOG therefore solves all these issues and bridges the gap by having women trained by women. Follow her on twitter @enamara

Esther Patricia Akello an employee of Bank of Uganda who is so passionate about Information Security shared with us “what it means to work in a male dominated profession”. Esther said that, there are few women who study technology related courses and practice what they studied professionally. She attributed all this to the cultural socialization of women and the notion that women are made to believe that they cannot think or work technically. At the meeting, Esther encouraged young ladies who are passionate about technology to own up and stop complaining about the few numbers but rather make a difference and excel in their IT related professions. Follow her on twitter @ekisesta

Last but not least was the Google ambassador and Appscircus 2012 Kampala winner Christine Ampire. As a second year software engineering student, Christine joined the AppsCircus competition and developed a mobile application called MafutaGo that saw her win in Kampala. Together with her team, she attended the recent Mobile World Congress in in Barcelona and they won the RingMater ward. She said that the secret to all this was the spirit of teamwork and commitment regardless of your gender. She said that young girls have to get rid of fear if they are to excel in Technology. Follow her on twitter @axtine831

I strongly believe that women’s participation in the creation of technology will strengthen the workforce, raise the standard of living for many women, and help to assure that technology addresses women’s needs and expands the possibilities for their lives.
The sponsors; UGOuganda, PC Techmagazine and Makerere University (Faculty of CIT)
Photos by: Javie Ssozi

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