African Feminist Forum
As women living in Africa we have many things to confront: the process
of African enlargement and our participation in the globalised world,
the decline of national states, the dominance of market and
consumerism, growing poverty, social and political inequalities or
insecurities within Africa and outside in the face of neo-conservatism
and dominance of the United States.
Many gains made by women’s rights movements are under threat as the
state retreats and new forms of fundamentalisms appear in the guise of
appeals to the family and the care economy. We need to understand how
women from all corners of this large political and economic domain
called Africa live their lives, tell their stories and histories, fight
their struggles, and create the space for change, survival and
celebration. Can we today identify ourselves as African feminists?
Can we craft a dialogue that is multi-faceted, multi-cultural perhaps
even multi-political and inspire much needed economic and social
transformation in Africa? How are African feminists going to move
forward beyond the second phase of the World Summit on Information
Society (WSIS) Tunis?
Enhancing active participations of women Despite the entire advocacy on
gender and information and communication technology (ICT) issues there
is still a lot of imbalance in equal participation of women and men in
the development, usage and control of ICT. Many woman still view ICTs
as a male domain.
The WSIS Gender Caucus is a multi-stakeholder group of women and men
from national governments, civil society and non-governmental
organisations, the private sector and the United Nations system. It was
formed during the first African regional preparatory conference in Mali
The Gender Caucus mandate during the WSIS process was to enhance
women's participation in all aspects of WSIS and its outcomes and to
avoid serious gender bias or gender blindness in the documents and
implementation programmes of WSIS.
There were occasions, such as the African WSIS meeting, when a
significant number of women could be seen participating in WSIS and one
wondered what kind of participation they offered. In many cases they
were not speaking, they were there only to give the event colour.
We also saw that being a woman does not make one gender sensitive, that
not all women have gender lenses.
Access to ICTs an issue for
Access to ICTs should be considered a basic human right and
therefore an issue for development efforts. The continent of
Africa has seen an increased growth and use of mobile technology in
comparison with internet technology.
A mobile phone in Africa is a shared tool, it is not so private as in
developed countries. “Many people in Zambia can use a mobile phone on
the streets of Lusaka to make a call or send an SMS to their friends.
There are some people who can only receive phone calls on other
people’s mobile phones,” said Shuula Habenzu, CEO of the Communications
Authority of Zambia.
The rise in cell-phone technology usage can be attributed to the fact
that Africa is a continent with many languages. Unlike the
internet, which is missing a local language interface, a mobile phone
enables people to talk in their own language.
Furthermore, many women in Africa, who are illiterate due to gender
discrimination in education, prefer to use the mobile phone,
which enables them to access most information via voice.
The community radio also provides a unique space for women,
where they can express themselves in the language which their
particular community can understand. Thanks to the convergence of
technologies some community radios are broadcasting on the internet and
helping women to reach even broader audiences.
Thereby it is important to keep technology choices open for Africa, and
to let people choose what technology best fits to their needs.
WSIS process embracing gender issues?
The Geneva Declaration of Principles does acknowledge women as
important stakeholders in the information society and it states that:
“We affirm that development of ICTs provides enormous opportunities for
women, who should be an integral part of, and key actors, in the
information society. We are committed to ensuring that the information
society enables women’s empowerment and their full participation on the
basis on (sic) equality in all spheres of society and in all decision
making processes. To this end, we should mainstream a gender equality
perspective and use of ICTs as a tool to that end.” (Paragraph 12)
Beyond this paragraph of the declaration, which was long fought for,
the Plan of Action adopted in Geneva also contains a number of
paragraphs that address various concerns of girls and women. Among
these are women access to education, training and careers in ICT
related contexts; telework and entrepreneurship aided by ICTs; or media
literacy and balanced and diverse portrays of men and women. In
addition it acknowledges the need to monitor implementation and to
develop gender sensitive indicators.
These provisions constitute real achievements of the gender advocacy
that has been undertaken in course of WSIS. Yet one decisive question
remains, whether the overall framework and agenda into which
these references to women and girls were inserted is conducive for the
fulfilment of the outlined actions and principles, or whether it will
corrupt these gender related goals instead.
With a few gender advocates in ICT it is important that the WSIS Gender
Caucus evaluates various national ICT policies at national level and
also gets involved in preparing gender indicators and monitoring the
digital divide. Another priority should be the role of ICTs in economic
growth and poverty reduction.