By Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
ARE ICTS OF ANY RELEVANCE TO THE POOR WOMEN AND MEN IN RURAL AREAS?
ICT is often viewed as a luxury to be utilized by the educated and the wealthy, and mainly accessed by people living in urban areas. This view is especially true for women, due to the high illiteracy level, lack of opportunities to access training, and the work burden that deprives them of free time to acquire new skills and knowledge needed to make use of ICTs. Women are often restricted to the domestic sphere which further limits their opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills that could be of relevance to them.
The majority of people in rural areas have very limited access to ICTs due to the reasons listed below.
-They have more pressing needs, such as the need for clean water and access to basic education and health services. These vital needs make them feel that attempting to acquire ICT skills would be a waste of resources. In other words, the rural person focuses on what brings food to his/her table, and not on spending their hard-earned money on ICT.
-The high illiteracy level among rural people hinders access to ICT. Most of the applications and instructions are in the English language, which most of them cannot read or write.
-The absence of basic infrastructure is another obstacle to ICT access by the rural person.
-There is also a lack of demonstrated benefit of ICT in addressing development challenges.
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), under the Spider project, “Empowering local people and communities to monitor districts’ services delivery through ICTs,” is attempting to address the ICT gap between people living in rural and urban areas. It is also attempting to make known the relevance of ICTs to the rural man and woman. The question is how?
WOUGNET had awareness-raising workshops on good governance and effective services delivery, as well as ICT capacity-building workshops in the Kole and Apac districts from the 13th to 16th December 2011. The purpose of these workshops were to equip the rural woman and man to use computers, the Internet, mobile phones, radios, digital cameras, and print media to amplify their voices on issues of bad governance and poor service delivery in their different parishes so that the duty bearers are forced to respond appropriately.
The workshop targeted participants in a ratio of 70:30 women to men. These participants were composed of Sub-County and Parish Chiefs, Local Council III Chairpersons, female Councillors, and female representatives in the Parish Development, School, Health Unit and Water Management committees. Other participants included members of women’s groups, Local Council I from the selected parishes, and the Members of Parliament from the selected constituencies.
The participants were taken through a number of presentations. First the Spider project was introduced to them, followed by presentations on good governance, the importance of monitoring their district’s service delivery, community empowerment, advocacy, networking and civic engagement. The participants were also given some basic skills on a number of ICTs, such as mobile phones, computers, the Internet, Ushahidi platform, radios, and some print media, that they can use to expose bad governance and poor service delivery in their respective communities.
At first, the participants received the project with mixed feelings, especially by the women who expressed worry since they had not had the chance to go far with education. They made comments that they were not learned and would not be in a position to use ICTs. However, as the ICT capacity-building workshop progressed, the women became enthused and showed a lot of interest in learning more. Many of them said that they felt empowered and would share their newly acquired knowledge and skills with their friends who had attended the workshops.
One old woman said, “I had never dreamt of touching a camera because I have no access to it.” She said she was so grateful to WOUGNET for having given her the opportunity to touch one and even be shown how to take photographs with it. Other women had the opportunity to type their names on the laptops. Many of these project beneficiaries were excited about having their voices captured from their monthly meeting and have it played on the different radio stations. It is strongly believed that through naming and shaming of corrupt officials, this will act as a lesson to others who have not been caught or others who are planning to engage in corrupt acts. We also believe that there will be increased respect for the citizens by those holding public offices, that absenteeism in public offices without strong reasons will be minimized, and that the community members will stand up to safeguard their rights through reporting cases of bad governance. In the long run, we hope that service delivery will improve since the community will be aware of their human rights and will demand efficient and effective service delivery in their communities.
Transparency and accountability should not be left to those holding public offices only. We as citizens should also be transparent and accountable for our actions. For example, there is a group in Akokoro Sub-county in the Apac district which benefited from the National Agricultural Advisory Services’ (NAADs) programme and was given pigs. However, these group members decided to sell off the pigs and used the money to meet their own individual needs. However, when a follow-up was made to find out how their project was doing, these people said that the project had not benefited them since the pigs had all died. The truth was later found out and these people were handled appropriately. Another example was from Bala Sub-county in the Kole district where by a group benefited from The Northen Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF II). However, the Secretary and Treasurer secretly went to the bank, withdrew the money and used it to buy personal things. These people have been ordered to refund the money. These are just a few case studies among so many others.
Despite the different perceptions that many people have of ICTs, they are so important. ICTs can help developing countries in improving good governance and enhancing effective services delivery. The most important factor is one’s interest to learn and make the best use of the skills and knowledge attained. Our request to governments is to create a favorable environment for both men and women to easily access and make good use of ICTs if we are to have a comfortable Uganda to live in.
For more information on WOUGNET, visit wougnet.org