Seven women and thirteen men from Anglophone and Francophone Africa and the Caribbean met during the last days of September in Gorée Island, Senegal. They have many things in common, but one in particular is their ability to make innovative connections in gender, agriculture and information and communication technologies (ICTs). This ability has led them to be finalists of the Gender, Agricultural and Rural Development in the Information Society (GenARDIS) small grants fund.
What are the issues?
Climate change affects women and men differently in rural Nigeria. While some people are worried about improving irrigation systems to deal with scarce water resources, no one seems to be paying attention to the fact that women must bear an extra weight, as they are responsible for bringing water to the household. This is the kind of issue that Data, from ARDA Nigeria, wants to deal with through interactive radio programmes for rural women. Programmes would consist of radio soap operas that present agricultural issues in a way that speaks to these women. It would then be followed by a question and answer session with an expert, where women can send questions via mobile phones.
In Burkina Faso, when cereals are planted and harvested properly, farmers get better prices in the markets. Most women do more than 80% of the agricultural work in rural areas. If they received proper training, their revenues could increase dramatically. Koritimi, from FEPPASI, has confirmed that with the help of ICT tools, knowledge is acquired faster and is better incorporated into the field. She has also witnessed on many occasions that when rural women learned to manipulate computers to design their own training, their self-esteem increased significantly.
In Uganda, as farmers cannot afford to go to the capital to negotiate good contracts, middle men take the biggest share of the profits. However, thanks to emailing and mobile-phones,a group of maize producers managed to gain a six-month contract with an organisation from Kampala. Johnstone’s organisation, ToroDev, found that women are being left out of this empowering and income-generating process, since only one out of ten has basic access to ICTs.
Thirteen other initiatives from participating countries, such as the Dominican Republic and St. Vincent in the Caribbean; Mali, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cameroon and the Congo in Western Africa; Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern and Eastern Africa were shared in the workshop.
Data, Kortimi, Johnstone and the other people of this diverse and dynamic group exchanged knowledge and experiences in whatever language was at hand, which included not only French, English and Spanish but also drawings, body language and songs. The aim of the workshop was to give finalists training in project formulation, gender issues and gender evaluation, and most importantly, to create a space where everyone could learn from each other. After the workshop finalists were to re-submit their proposals, from which the final fifteen grantees will be selected.
What do we mean by gender?
“Women will only be able to learn how to use ICTs if men are involved in these initiatives as well.” Workshop attendees had to stand on the right if they agreed with this statement and to the left if they did not. Those who neither agreed nor disagreed stayed in the middle. When a participant was asked to justify his opinion he said: “Men are the ones that create the technology, so they must help out when women are trained.” Another participant disagreed: “In some contexts men won’t let their wives or girls participate in training sessions.” Another one said: “But the statement says that women are ONLY able to learn if men are around: This is not true!”
Through games and group discussions, participants engaged in debates on gender, gender roles and women’s empowerment. They received training on Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM), a tool that allows evaluators to determine to which extent ICTs are addressing gender issues and improving women’s lives.
GEM did not provide answers but it did helpe generate useful questions. What are the gender issues at stake? How do we include the women we’re working with not only as beneficiaries but also as active agents of their own change? What is the change that we’re facilitating and how are we going to measure it? How do we make sure that we’re not talking on anyone’s behalf but rather providing people with spaces in which to express their own voices?
The workshop ended with everyone singing and clapping their hands. What were they singing? “Educate a man and you’ll educate a person, educate a woman and you’ll educate a nation.”