Our Partners’ Corner: Women's rights organizations in the digital age
Every year, the month of March is another opportunity to celebrate the progress made towards achieving women's rights, but it is also an opportunity to highlight the multiple challenges that stand in the way of gender justice and to advocate for change.
This year's theme is an inclusive digital world to fight gender inequality. But in West Africa, the reality is still far different. For grassroot organizations working to promote women's rights, it is still difficult to take advantage of the full potential of new digital technologies given the many obstacles that still prevent young girls and women from accessing them.
Several women's organizations in the Central African Republic share this observation. We spoke to one of them, the Association des Femmes Evangéliques de Bossangoa. AFEB is a humanitarian association that seeks to promote women's rights and protect children.
Question: As a grass root organisation, what does the global theme for Women's Day 2023 mean to you? "For an inclusive digital world: innovation and technologies for gender equality”
AFEB: Being a grass root organization promoting women's rights, the International Women's Day theme means a lot of things to us women in Batangafo. Firstly, it places us on an equal level with men when it comes to making use of new technologies. These information and communication tools are not only used by men, but also by women. Thanks to this digital world, we can improve our knowledge through online training or follow what is happening around the world on our mobile phones or even receive awareness messages. In a word, this topic is very important for the women of Batangafo. Why is that? It is because in some households, spouses forbid their wives to use phones. They think it is a sign of infidelity when a woman uses the phone.
Question: In West Africa, what opportunities and challenges do you think the digital world brings in terms of empowering women and youth in Africa?
AFEB: There are both opportunities and challenges in the digital world for the empowerment of women. In terms of opportunities, women in today's world can access training online while staying in their locality or country. Even money transactions, through mobile cash transfers, which make it much easier for women to run small businesses locally. Other opportunities that can be listed include: setting up email addresses, social media accounts, online businesses, participation in online meetings, scholarships for young boys and girls are some of the many opportunities for the betterment of African women and youth.
Question: What has been your experience with access to information and communication technologies?
AFEB: Our experience is mainly related to the use of mobile phones, which we use to send communications or monitor local radio news. As for the internet, we have trouble connecting to it because of the disruption of the network, as even access to suitable phones is very difficult.
Question: Has this experience had a positive or negative impact on reaching your organizational goals? If so, how?
AFEB: This experience has a positive impact on the achievement of our organizational goals. For example, when we want to hold our weekly meetings, we sometimes use our mobile phones to call each other to attend regular or urgent meetings. Even for our basic documents (Statutes and Rules of Procedure), we have computerized them using the computer of people of good faith who support us in this sense.
On the negative side, there have been cases of harassment and threats on the phone from some ill-intentioned men or even our own spouses when we take part in meetings or training workshops; this usually leads to domestic violence, couple separations due to the use of mobile phones, etc. There are also cases of phones being stolen. Finally, we always regret the unpleasant behaviour of certain husbands at home because of the use of mobile phones by their wives. This is a big challenge in achieving our organizational goals. For example, if our General Financial Officer is supposed to come to our meeting to allocate funds for our activities and her husband prevents her from attending the meeting, the whole organization is unable to do what we had planned to do because she is the one keeping the money.
Question: What are your suggestions to improve access to ICTs for grassroots organizations?
AFEB: We, as a local women's rights organization, recommend the following:
- Create a computer training centre with equipment for the women of Batangafo so that they are on the same level as other women in the world;
- Provide our organizations with computer and office support;
- Advocate for the improvement of the quality of the internet connection in Batangafo;
- Train women on digital entrepreneurship to promote our local products and articles;