I recently had the pleasure of attending the first ever Lusaka Internet Forum hosted by the Embassy of Sweden and the Zambia Governance Foundation. It was a two day forum on the 10th and 11th of May that discussed access and use of Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) in a Zambian context. The three key areas were, Sustainable Agriculture and ICTs, Freedom of Expression online and Gender and Access to ICTs. The forum was held under the theme of “Leave No one offline” which is focused on the SDGS, ICTs for development and principles of digital development.
Among the attendees were people representing different sectors of ICTs and its users, farmers, journalists, activists, Non-governmental organizations, policymakers and other individuals. The main goal was for all of us to discuss how far we have come with ICTs in Zambia, where we need to go and what we need to do to get there.
I sat in the two-day panel discussions and work lab on Gender and Access to ICTS. One of the first things our panelists reminded us was that ICTs extend beyond computers, mobile devices and tablets, they include radio and television. Audio-visual mediums are often the most common way that people living in rural areas can access ICTs, radio is the most common and widely used across the continent. One of the main issues discussed was that Zambia’s Internet usage is not very high and what the barriers to access are and how they can be resolved.
The first thing that became apparent in our work lab was the need to define Gender, as our lab on its first day was 90% women and 10% men. The common misconception about Gender conversations and politics is that only women can participate but this is not the case, we need men involved in the conversation in order to change the narrative. Gender is not about men vs. women, it deals with the social constructs of gender roles and gender relations; e.g. women must stay in the home, men should be educated and be the breadwinners. It is about enforcing equality and in this context equality in ICTs and access to them.
In the ICTs community the old school of thought was always that computers and technology were male oriented subjects that women shouldn’t participate in and wouldn’t thrive in. One of the panelists, Sara Longwe emphasized the need to unlearn bad habits that perpetuate gender inequality in ICTs. Another key moment is when we were reminded, “the internet is a school everyone is qualified to enroll.”
Overall the main issues addressed were the lack of access for Zambian’s in rural areas or areas without towers. The lack of digital literacy among women was also brought up with a statistic from ZICTA that showed 6% of Zambian women use the Internet. Guest Speaker Wakabi Wairagala from CIPESA (http://cipesa.org/) noted that 2016 research in the African region showed that men are almost doubly connected to the Internet than women. He noted that there could be many reasons behind that, culture, literacy, low income and the cost of data itself. My Gender and Access work lab also addressed this by noting that in the rural household the man is often the one in control of the mobile device. Online violence is a real problem and is increasingly one sided towards women with revenge pornography, cyber bullying and hate speech against women.
Solutions that the work lab came up with were:
1. Zambia needs stronger laws regulating online platforms so that women and children are protected from abusers.
2. Educate on online privacy and how we can all protect ourselves as well as how parents can protect their children while still providing them access.
3. Sensitize users on the usefulness of social media when it comes to business, free speech, educational purposes, etc.
4. There are pre-existing female oriented ICT projects taking place around the country are often running at different times, if these organisations and workshops worked together they could do better work and reach more people. The efforts need to be better co-ordinated.
5. Male children need to be taught that women are their equals; this goes back to unlearning bad habits that society has instilled in us that have limited women from progressing.
6. We have to approach and engage with parents to educate them on why their children should have access to ICTs and also teach the parents so that they are capable of monitoring their children.
7. We need to pool and share research already conducted by NGOs, policymakers and government so as not to overlap and to give everyone access to relevant stats on Gender and Access to ICTs.
Overall ICTs for Development has a long way to go within Sustainable Agriculture, Freedom of Expression online and Gender and Access. Developing countries have to work with the network providers, policy makers, and government in order to ensure Digital Development is sustainable and effective. To see more of what happened at the Lusaka Internet Forum use the hashtag #LIF17