Advancing a gender-responsive approach to ICT policy and decision making

At the core of policy formulation and implementation processes lies the need to have diverse groups of stakeholders to make relevant input into the policymaking process. Policymaking is thus not only a preserve of the government, normally set within the framework of the top-bottom approach but rather the contemporary environment contends that for policy formulation and implementation to be successful, a bottom-up approach is critical, as it endeavors to undertake a wider consultative process that enriches the entire process.

In many parts of Africa, policymaking has been constrained by the disproportionally low representation and participation of women in policymaking spaces. This means that the views of women, which could be critical in understanding key issues and challenges that women face and how these can best be addressed at policy levels, will be lacking. Gender-responsive ICT policies imply policies must equally address the challenges of connectivity and take into account the needs, values, and perspectives of diverse groups of people, including women. Meaningful access – including control over ICTs as a productive and key resource – is crucial to advancing the status of women and girls.

Decision-making processes must ensure that women actively participate and that women’s central issues get fully discussed in such forums. Gender-responsive programming at government ministries, agencies, and departments should also ensure that gender norms, inequalities and stereotypes must be considered in such processes – but more importantly, measures must be taken to address them in more substantive forms. The Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) over the years has championed the need to increase and build the capacity of women in ICT policy and decision making processes for the realization of women’s rights. Part of this initiative has seen WOUGNET and APC train more than 14 Ugandan women and men in Gender and Internet Governance eXchanges (gigX) in addition to their active participation in the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG), which prepare them to eventually engage with practitioners in the African and global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) spaces.

At the most recent Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), a debate ensued among women’s rights activists in one of the panels of experts on “gender-responsive policy models”, especially on the relevance of this engagement at the local, national and global levels. The panel of experts that were involved included organizations such as APC, the World Wide Web Foundation, Research ICT Africa, WOUGNET, and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, who investigated, among other issues, why policies must be gender-responsive, the gender digital gap, and universal access plans, including key lessons learned and the vision moving forward as far as women’s empowerment on the web and gender-responsive ICT policy processes were concerned. The need to build capacity, raise awareness and set realistic, time-bound targets and indicators to measure progress were deemed critical.

Challenges in policymaking with policymakers in most parts of Africa range from the deeply rooted patriarchal nature of our social relations to limited insights, skills, and capacity on gender, which means that engaging them takes time. Policy advocacy initiatives targeting particular areas of policy concerns affecting women must be backed by evidence-based research. The imperativeness of engaging women in policymaking spaces is yielding substantial fruits in Uganda, as many of the trainees are doing substantial work in their respective capacities, advancing the status of women locally, nationally, and internationally.

Moses Owiny attended the 2017 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) with the support of a grant from the APC Member Exchange and Travel Fund (METF).

Photo: Female participants from Uganda and South Africa in the 2016 editions of gigX and AfriSIG in Durban, South Africa.

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My experience from the 2017 African School on Internet Governance

I was lucky to be part of the participants in the African school of internet governance in 2017. The orientation was of high academic knowledge and sharing/learning where I was able to interact with different personalities from different countries. Most inspiring was the fact that women played the biggest role in this training. At the end of the school, I was able to understand what internet governance was along with other terms and events that interested me the most. These included the internet of things, multi-stake-holderism, and practicum.

Internet Governance was defined as the handling of technical coordination required for and policy issues related to the smooth functioning of the different components of internet infrastructure and the exchange of information over the internet. Having understood this concept clearly, questions formed in my mind especially questions on security; mostly cybersecurity and the state of Africa. Furthermore, I understood that there are established cybersecurity policies and laws at the international level, and yet the majority of African states do not have proper cyber laws to protect the people, more so women.

There are influential frameworks and conventions that need to be practiced here in Africa. While ensuring that law enforcement powers be subject to safeguard and ensure that rule of laws and human rights requirements are met. There is also a need to harmonize international cyber laws and national cyber laws in the inter-net spaces. After knowing that internet security is expensive and capacity building is important, cybersecurity strategies should be adopted to protecting citizens and women from cyber-attacks here in Africa. While attending school, I fully understood that cybersecurity is a process that belongs to all stakeholders. These would include; youth, women, children, civil society organizations, Inter-Governmental institutes, the business sector, and the society at large in all aspects. However, there is need to create a climate of confidence and trust towards resolutions of disputes especially clarity on women in the field of internet governance. This climate should be protective towards the women, which can be secured through striking a proper balance between legal and technological security, integrated into the international order while promoting meaningful articulation between the national, regional, and global level.

The term internet of things was a bit complex for me when I first heard of it from one of the sessions during the school. Although the term was a bit complex and too technical, I learned that it is a concept that not only has the potential to impact how we live but also how we work. I tried to learn and understand as well as how compliances and the network of physical devices work as well. Other tough concepts included, names and numbers, and the technical issues revolving around the internet. Being that I work on issues concerning women's first approach in a research institute, I was purely pleased to find out that the ICT industry is much concerned as well about the women's issues in terms of human rights and women's inclusiveness. Although this is a little on a low level and seems silent on the outside, I am glad that there was a level to which women issues were presented.

In conclusion, on return from the school to my office, I carried with me articles, writings, and different material shared by the faculty which explained different fields of internet governance and gave more explanatory and elaborate notes for further reading and usage. These have been helpful in terms of referencing and knowledge sharing with the communications team of my organization. I am very grateful to have been part of the African school of internet governance 2017, where I learned, understood, and am now sharing the knowledge I have with those who find value for it.

Sheila Nsekanabo is one of the female participants sponsored by WOUGNET in 2017 and at-tended the gender and internet governance exchanges as well as the African School on Internet Governance held in Egypt

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Relating the Feminist Principles of the Internet to Women’s Rights Online

On 26th October 2017, WOUGNET hosted a half-day National Local Level Conversation using the Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPIs). The second of its kind since the inception of a UNFGE funded project on “Increasing women's decision making and influence in Internet Governance and ICT policy for the realization of women's rights in Africa”, this particular activity was unique in design and content sharing. Most notable was the methodology used to relate the need for a feminist internet to the findings in a World Wide Web Foundation (WWWF) commissioned research and report on Women’s Rights Online: Translating Access into Empowerment - a research carried out and finalized in 2015 and which WOUGNET took part as the host organization in Uganda, representing one of ten select cities for the research.

Reflections made in the 2015 Women’s Rights Online (WRO) Report suggest that the SDGs (4, 5 & 9) on universal internet access and empowerment of women through ICTs can only be achieved if technology (ICT) policy is specifically designed to tackle and overcome the steep inequalities of gender, education, and income outlined in the study. A 2016 policy brief published by WOUGNET listed a five-point action plan derived from recommendations made in the 2015 WRO report and a 2016 WRO gender audit report card on Uganda. It pointed out the need to close the digital gender gap and suggested a five-point action plan that included the need to; focus on digital skilling and empowerment of women, improved access and affordability, protection of women’s digital rights, combating online and offline violence against women, and prioritizing relevant online content.

The Feminist Principles of the Internet are a set of principles that work towards empowering more women and other marginalized peoples in all their diversities and different realities to fully enjoy the internet. In what is now the second phase of the WRO project, the relation between the recommendations in the WRO report and the 5-point action plan, with the FPIs manifests even more strongly as is seen in the project goal. The major goal of this project phase is to engage with policymakers within government MDAs, and other stakeholders to raise awareness and instigate policy conversations in closing the gender gap online. Most notable throughout the two project phases is the relation to FPIs 1,2,3,6,8,12,13,15,17. These key principles that directly relate to recommendations and project activities presented in the first and second phases of the WRO project and more specifically to the 5- point action plan in a WOUGNET policy brief.

The 2016 WRO country report card points out that women’s exclusion from the digital revolution is primarily due to policy failure, and further suggests that policy failure can be reversed. The action points laid out in the WOUGNET policy brief are brought out in both the WRO report and the FPIs, both works strongly point out the need for women to use available online platforms to express their views and the need to engage women in decision making and particularly decisions that are meant to shape the internet that is best for them (see FPI 6, WRO report, pg. 31 and WOUGNET Policy Brief, pg. 8). The strongest relationship between the two works by far is on decision making. When women are not given the same opportunities to participate in the formulation of processes that shape and govern innovations, their needs are not catered for. The Feminist Principles of the Internet, recommendations made in the 2015 WRO report, activities designed for the second phase of the WRO project, and the key recommendations and 5-point action plan laid out in the WOUGNET policy brief, are a strong reflection of those needs and should be given the utmost urgent attention.

Get the APC Feminist Principle of the Internet here, WRO Report here, and Wougnet Policy Brief here.

Compiled by H. Susan Atim

Program Assistant, Information Sharing, and Networking.

t: @hatimsusan

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Life-changing skills that never left women the same again

As we go on to celebrate the Month of the Woman Entrepreneur (MoWE), WOUGNET celebrates the success and achievements of her women under the Socio-Economic Program.

 Awino is a young lady who is a direct beneficiary of the use of beads to make bags, purses, necklaces, earrings and bangles under the WOUGNET Skills training. WOUGNET is currently running a project titled: Strengthening effective and efficient use of ICTs and women's socio-economic empowerment to promote accountability and transparency for Improved service delivery in Eastern and Northern Uganda. The three-year project is supported by the Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions SPIDER.

She is among the young women who mastered the trick so fast and managed to outshine others in the socio-economic activities. WOUGNET Tororo office offers training to women and girls willing to learn different practical skills for sustainable development. During the Holidays, school-going girls look up to these afternoon training that becomes part and parcel of the holiday experience.

 Their products are sold locally but also linked with a lady (initial trainer) who takes the products and sells them in other places in the Jinja district. The girls have concentrated on making bags, money purse, baskets, necklaces, bangles, rosaries among others from both manufactured materials and local craft materials.

Many girls have praised the venture as rewarding and vowed to be resilient and break the cycle of powerlessness among women. The capital for buying the materials according to the girls came from small savings of about UGX 50,000/=. They said this bought beads and string they used for starting up.

 “The sale proceeds worked out the capital,” they said. According to Awino, a well-made bag whose capital goes to Ugx35,000/- can fetch Ugx. Sh. 60,000/= to 70,000/=; a nice purse can cost capital of Ugx 15,000/= and sell at Ugx 35,000/=.  A uniquely made necklace can go up to Ugx 10,000/=

Because of this initiative, there is noted satisfaction in the girls as their self-esteem in and out of school has been boosted. They also spend their time especially during holidays in a more valuable and developmental manner.

Many girls and women can now voice out concerns to leaders because they feel more motivated due to the stand they have in the community through the economic, human rights, citizen journalism, and ICT training WOUGNET offers.

Compiled By:

Nyasuna Patricia

Ass. Gender and Policy advocacy Programme Officer

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The Accelerating Rates of Teenage Pregnancies in Uganda

On July 5th2017, SpringBoard Uganda and Uganda Youth Alliance for Family Planning and Adolescent Health (UYAFPAH) organized a half-day learning event with various civil society organizations, religious and cultural leaders attended at Imperial Royal hotel. The theme for the day was “How to reduce the accelerating rates of teenage pregnancies in Uganda".

The objectives of the event were to;

  • Understand the roles of religion in addressing child and teenage pregnancy.
  • Present the role of CSOs in addressing teenage pregnancy.
  • Establish a working relationship with partners working on ending child and teenage pregnancies in Uganda.
  • Identify and share advocacy issues that CSOs can jointly work on in a sustainable manner.

During the workshop, an insightful presentation was made on the rate of teenage pregnancy and child marriage in Uganda. It was concluded that Eastern and Karamoja regions have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy compared to other regions of Uganda due to the frightening hunger rate in the regions. Furthermore, Uganda is ranked as the 9th Hotspot of child marriage in the world.

Child marriage is a violation of Article 16(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which says “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses”.

A girl from Remnant Generation shared her story of teenage pregnancy. She narrated that Prior to the pregnancy; she lived with her step-mother who had her biological children leaving with them as well. She left in search of her biological mother who stayed with her uncle. Upon reunion, her mother was not happy to see her. She became homeless, was raped, and became pregnant. The remnant Generation now takes care of her. She calls upon all the parents, especially the fathers to look after their own children, and the mothers to support the girl child. She is grateful to the Remnant Generation.

The reason for early marriages is rooted in the traditional and social norms, poverty, bias against girl child education among others. According to UNICEF, approximately 35% of girls drop out of school because of early marriage and 23% do so because of early pregnancy (UNICEF, 2015).

 In Uganda, the teenage pregnancy rate is 24% with regional variations. This increases to 34% in the poorest households. In rural areas, 24% of girls experience early pregnancy compared to 16% of wealthier households and 21% of urban girls (UNICEF, 2015).

The practice of early marriage is still prevalent in Uganda and is highly associated with lower female access to secondary education.  In regions where girls are married before the legal age of 18, female secondary education is lower (OECD, 2015). This is because when a girl child drops out of school or is being denied access to secondary education due to traditions or extreme poverty, they opt for marriage as a source of wealth to the family. These resources are sometimes used for payment of school fees for the brothers/family use due to the current high rate of hunger, especially in Eastern and Karamoja regions. This limits girls’ access to secondary education because once a girl child is married off, they are vulnerable to sexual intercourse, and this primes to teenage pregnancy among girls.

Teenage pregnancy upsurges when girls are denied the right to make decisions about their sexual health and well-being. Extreme poverty, harassment, and threats of sexual violence often avert girls from attending school and causing them to be increasingly vulnerable to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).

There is a need to encourage girls to go back to school after delivery, train senior male and female teachers to provide sexuality education and counseling to students and parents because investment in the girl child is an investment in the future.

Girls must also be trained to have the aptitude to make decisions about their own bodies so that no girl is left to endure an abusive situation where she cannot thrive.

 Let us not worry about what a girl will become tomorrow and forget that she is someone today.


Sandra Aceng

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