Gauging the benefits of social media for women

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Global culture and activity is dependent upon the belief that innovative social thinking is the new driver of social, political and economic progress. Social media combines social behaviour with technology to form connections that can change the world’s dynamics in the social, political and economic spheres. The benefits of this new culture for women range from identifying new and efficient trends of communication to acquiring and sharing information and knowledge on new ICT innovations (UN women).

Society has for long dictated what platforms are right for women to express their views on specific issues. This belief is slowly changing as a result of an increasingly boarder blurred global community. Consequentially, social media has become a platform for discussions on a range of issues including: – politics, emerging economic activities, fashion trends, entertainment and more. It is precisely because of these boarder blurs that there is free movement of people and information which has resulted into shared cultures, practices and beliefs. We see the 21st century woman as one moving towards the same direction in terms of technology and particularly the use of social media information platforms.

Statistics currently indicate that there are 2.31billion social media users globally 1.97billion are mobile social media users. The number of social media users has greatly increased from last year by 219million with 283 million registered new mobile social media users. In Africa, the most used social media platforms are Facebook, twitter and Instagram. By the end of 2014, Facebook registered 120 million new accounts, with 80% of users updating their status every day. (We are social 2016 report). Currently in Uganda there are 11.9 million internet users and 13 million people able to access the internet. This means a 34% penetration rate (CIPESA 2015). 90% of Uganda’s population live in rural areas and do not have consistent access to communication services including limited access to internet. The majority of this population are women (WOUGNET, APC, CIPESA,Joint UPR Submission 2016).

Ugandan women can expand their social media presence by taking advantage of the opportunities available to access new information spaces. They can do this by attending short courses and trainings on ICT functions and functionalities. With the current global craze for ICT innovations, most women organisations, particularly those that advocate for community development through education now offer these services. Women can take advantage of what they have to offer in terms of free trainings, workshops & online platforms.

Organisations like WOUGNET who carry out activities and programs related to gender advocacy for development through ICT, have gained a great following over the years. This is due to the fact that their activities are aimed at rallying for both technical and non-technical innovators who can help achieve the organisation’s objectives. Like minded organisations share the same sentiments and belief that it is possible to provide opportunities for a better, increasingly connected global community by improving fairness and freedom through ICT accessibility, availability and usability.

A recent research carried out by the World Wide Web Foundation indicated that women in Uganda among other case studies for this report are 1.6 times more likely than men to report a lack of ICT skills. Also cited as a major challenge was the lack of enough money to buy internet data. On September 2015, world leaders jointly planned to end poverty and inequality in an event that saw the phasing out of the MDGs and introduction of the SDGs. The fifth SDG clearly mentions the importance of accessibility of technology for women before 2030. The challenge here would be empowering women to own and use Social media for more than just “keeping in touch”. Research has shown that women will very likely use social media spaces to keep in touch with family and friends. They are 25% less likely than men to use it for seeking employment and 52% less likely to express their views on controversial political, social and economic issues (Women’s Rights Online, 2015)

Women have access to social media spaces, the only major limiting factors are the high levels of illiteracy and poverty. These factors are obvious in the usability statistics gathered in the 201web foundation report. The reality of these findings is that even though women can have access to social media spaces due to their changing role and unavoidable changes in different communities, there is still a great risk that social networks are recreating inequalities in social media spaces rather than helping women cease existing opportunities in these spaces (Women’s Rights Online, 2015).

However, with greater exposure to the internet and especially social media, Women’s Rights Online, 2015, revealed that majority of the women use social media for gossip and non-productive reasons; compared to the men who use it for politics, business among other reasons. It would be important for institutions like WOUGNET that are involved in capacity building to redirect their interest to ensuring that women productively utilise the internet, mainly social media for economic and political empowerment.
Compiled by H. Susan Atim

Information Sharing and Networking.