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Published:September 27th, 2005 09:08 EST
Rwandan Women determined to get equal access to IT

Rwandan Women determined to get equal access to IT

By Jermaine Uwahiriwe

IT is a field that is becoming increasingly accepted and relied upon in Rwanda-- and, indeed, in Africa as a whole, as a crucial means to achieve development.  Nevertheless, the IT impact is not gender neutral.  Rwanda is trying hard to fill the gap between those who have access to computer and the Internet and those who do not, all trying to achieve a gender based equality.

 

IT technology has wrought fundamental changes throughout the world.  It is a field that is becoming increasingly accepted and relied upon in Rwanda, and in Africa as a whole, as a crucial means towards social and economic development.  However, the lack of access to IT wonders for certain segments of population-- most importantly women, is evidence of technology which aggravates inequalities.  The impact of IT is not gender neutral in this region.  Rwanda is trying hard to fill the gap between those who have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not, all trying to achieve a gender-based equality.

 

The IT market offers good job opportunities, but the quota of women in this sector with IT skills is still below average.  There is a growing necessity of producing IT-based projects involving women in a bid to make changes in Rwandan women's business oriented-organizations, since Chapter J of the Beijing Platform for Action was declared.
Rwandan women who still experience the 1994 genocide legacy differently than men, are always considered as less capable of understanding and operating technologies, despite an enabling policy environment and a unique almost 50% representation in leadership positions.


To bridge this gender digital divide, Government of Rwanda, UNDP and UNIFEM have begun working together to open up access to ITs for women and girls and to empower them through the use of ITs.  Rwandan women build their hope on the strong political commitment of the Rwandan leaders toward using ITs for development and the promotion of gender equality.  Many personalities, including the First lady Mrs. Janet Kagame, are active in supporting women to achieve this.

 

“Supporting the women in the ICT: Information Communication Technology” is included in a Strategic Partnership that aims at empowering IT use in Rwanda.  The Rwanda Information Technology Authority (RITA), the Ministry of Communication and KIST (Kigali Institute of Science and Technology) have initiated this partnership in collaboration with the “African Digital Diaspora” to launched this partnership.
Within this program, all stakeholders are called to work together: The Government, NGO’s, Multinationals, Entrepreneurs and ICT Experts willing to participate in ICT women’s empowerment projects and women organizations such as AVEGA: Genocide widows association,

 

PROFEMME- a collective organization grouping 35 women associations, NDABAGA- a female ex-combatants association, AFER- female entrepreneurs association, ARFEM- association of women in media, among others.  www.profemme.org.rw

 

The program leverages the knowledge, expertise, and resources of all to contribute to the eradication of feminized poverty in Rwanda through ICT.
It supports network building between NGOs and women organizations, both being the front line troops tackling ICT inequality

 

Within the program, women are given confidence to embark on an ICT-related career in the civil and public services.  Girls are encouraged to enroll in science and technology at the Universities and Colleges, especially in ICT related courses.  So far, at KIST, 28% of the enrolled full-time students are female.  One of the largest proportions for a tertiary institution of science and technology in the region.

The Ministry of Education, in its affirmative action policy, has proposed the “positive discrimination: (Fifty-fifty or better male-to-female admission rate by 2005)”.

Universities and colleges are called to institute an award for best female student in sciences and technology.

 

Women associations are given broad ICT knowledge, ranging from basic training to more complex skill building-- such as web design-- so that they may host their associations on their websites, e-commerce, management information systems, and other technical knowledge beneficial to developing entrepreneurship among Rwandan women.  They also acquire skills on how to sponsor links and network with other women’s groups and commercial websites.  Training includes classroom activities as well as on-the-job work.
The program is just what I needed.  Now I can seek for partners all over the world.”, said Odette Uwambaye, a member of Ndabaga.

Rwandan women are struggling to achieve equal access to IT that men have, though they still encounter hindrances such as the insufficiency of funds.  They may have designed strong and reliable projects but the lack of adequate financial support to kick off their projects still stands as a barrier.

They locally try to alleviate this problem by directing the available funds they get from either the Government or its co-operating partners, such as the USAID and the EU, to an IT association that has the most credibility and network of contacts with local women it serves.  In the same way, women's associations are called to work jointly.
Women call for the Government to implement more telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas mostly under-invested.