Meeting aims to empower women in Africa’s IT industry

As final preparations are put into place for the regional meeting on Women and ICT, scheduled for Oct. 20-22, the three-day conference has attracted over 35 powerful regional and international speakers.

The speakers are expected to lead the debate on identifying strategies, and laying out concrete plans, that will enable African women to play a role in shaping the envisaged Information Society through the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS), whose second phase is scheduled for November next year in Tunis.

The meeting, the theme of which is “Challenges and Opportunities on the Road to Tunis”, will be held in Arusha, Tanzania, and is co-hosted by the WSIS Gender Caucus East Africa Sub-Region, the Tanzanian Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children, the Ministry of Communication and Transport and AITEC Tanzania.

“We are now in the process of finalizing the program, and putting the final touches on logistical arrangements for the conference, and we expect to have a good turn out and positive deliberations.

We can declare it is now all systems go!” says Harry Hare of AITEC Tanzania.

According to the organizers, this is a crucial meeting for the region, as the deliberations and discussions from there will be fed into the WSIS meeting next year.

“This is our strategic meeting aimed at identifying our areas of intervention in the WSIS process, making sure that the voices of African women are heard and acted upon,” says Florence Etta, the Kenya ICT Policy Project Coordinator at Canada’s International Centre for Research and Development (IDRC) and also a member of the WSIS Gender Caucus.

The conference has been designed to address several thematic issues that are considered to be pillars to the development of any nation, where ICT interventions can impact on the empowerment of women, poverty reduction and development.

For the information society to be realized, deliberate efforts have to be made to include women in the process – not just as spectators, but as active participants.

The themes that will be discussed at the meeting include policy and governance; applications, access and technology; networking, knowledge sharing and education research and development.

An estimated 60 per cent of Africa’s population is female, but only two percent of Internet users in Africa are women.

This is one of the numerous disparities facing African women today, leaving them totally marginalized as the world moves into the information age.

Some of the factors contributing to this disparity are the levels of illiteracy, poverty and bad policies.

ICTs are seen by many as appropriate tools to combat poverty and achieve sustainable development in Africa.

However, this requires political commitment as well as effective actions on the ground — actions that provide opportunities for poor people, actions that will achieve the goal of digital inclusion, enabling universal, sustainable, ubiquitous and affordable access to ICTs by all.

The meeting is expected to draw its participation from government, civil society, development agencies and the private sector.

Already more than 50 participants from the region have confirmed their participation. Some of the notable speakers at the conference include Hon Dr Maua Daftari, the Tanzanian deputy minister for communication and transport; Prof Eva Rathbeger, the joint chair in women’s studies at the University of Ottawa; Ruth Ochieng, the executive director of ISIS-WICCE; Dorothy Okello, the executive director of the Women of Uganda Network; Fatma Aloo, executive director of the Tanzania Media Women Association; and John Dadaa, executive director, Fantsuam Foundation, Nigeria.