Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor
Thirty-YEAR-OLD Mrs Grace Rukuni of Musvaire Village in Mutoko picks up her phone to read a message that has just popped up on her phone.
“Mangwana, ndimi mune jana rekudiridza muriwo kumagadheni,” (“Tomorrow is your turn to water the garden”), read the message from her WhatsApp group Madam’s Channel, made up of members from their market garden project.
She smiles, tucks her handset in her apron, and continues with her ironing.
Her phone has become a very important communication gadget always stuck around her neck. It has become her link with friends, relatives and above all the markets in Harare. She can easily inquire what is selling and not on the Mbare vegetable market and other markets.
Indeed information communication technologies have become a mainstay of development giving hope to previously marginalised communities, who had no other means of accessing information.
By just a click of a button, women across Zimbabwe and the region are now able to influence their destinies, choose who to do business with and look for other opportunities across the region.
For women who have embraced technology, they say it has made it easier to conduct business within the confines of their homes and at their convenience.
They actually can multi-task while doing house chores, and they receive and send money and orders to their clients.
“I no longer have to travel to Mutoko centre to collect money and get orders since I can now do everything using the phone,” said Mrs Rukuni, who is a renowned tailor in her village.
In the current information era women who have been exposed to different ICT gadgets for their personal use say change is not only possible but a footstep away.
“We have been able to use different forms of technologies which we can afford to hold workshops, train each other in banking and to look for markets outside Zimbabwe.
“Smartphones have helped us to widen our social networks,” said 34-year-old Matilda Nhapi, who hails from Musvaire Village in Mutoko.
Her husband, Mr Lovemore Nhapi agrees, saying use of technology has proved to be a game changer, particular in the village where communication on community matters was now being handled through chat groups formed by villagers.
“Because of our busy schedules during the farming season, we use the village WhatsApp chat group to relay important information. Our women no longer spend long hours attending developmental meetings, but now relay messages on the phone,” he said.
However, the ICT bug has not yet hit everyone.
While some women are fast catching up with technology and other new communication trends and are using them to their advantage, that has not been the case with the majority of women, particularly in the rural areas.
For the majority of women, information communication devices such as “smartphones” have remained largely a communication gadget to call, send and receive messages through social media.
That gender divide in the use of the ICT has also seen a majority of women failing to access emerging opportunities, resources and information they can use to enhance their economic and social well being.
What continues to further widen the gender-divide on the use of ICT is that the majority of women cannot afford to buy various ICT gadgets available, except basic phones.
Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre Network (ZWRCN) which recently trained more than 150 women in basic ICT skills, said women needed to fully utilize opportunities that the information revolution has brought about.
“Our decision to train ordinary women was born out of the need to empower them with basic ICT skills to help them conduct business, and be able to communicate at various levels with their clients,” said ZWRCN information officer Ms Buhlebenkosi Moyo.
“During our training we realised that the majority of women had never used a computer before, but were eager to learn.
“The women that included cross border traders, teachers based in the rural areas and several others from the informal sector, were taughted for basic ICT skills such as sending an email, basic computer skills and taking pictures using a phone,” said Ms Moyo.
Ms Moyo said the programme had since paid dividends as most of the women trained were now using the knowledge to improve the well being of their communities.
“One of the participants, a female teacher from a rural school in Mutoko, has since formed a computer club at her school. The school had computers which were lying idle because there were no qualified personnel,” she said.
Sadly the ZWRCN have suspended the programme owing to lack of funds, a situation that is reflective of similar ICT initiatives targeting women that have failed to take of because off due to lack of resources.
But studies have shown that empowering women in ICTs has many benefits. Asia is one of the continents that have witnessed the empowerment and advance of women.
An organization in India, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) that has been organizing women in the informal sector since 1972, has witnessed a profound change for formerly poor, unemployed and uneducated women who now use different forms of ICT’s to grow their businesses.
Because of the various technologies, women in India use faxes, mobile phones, computers, radios, televisions and satellite communications to network and conduct business right across the globe.
Other countries around the world are also using technology to end violence against women by providing mobile phone app to report safety risks and to get access to service for survivors of gender-based violence.
Countries like South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh are using technology to advance women’s leadership and participation by creating online platforms for women across the globe, where they can connect and get information on how to run for office and get elected.
With internet providers projecting the connection of one billion users — mostly from Africa — women need to claim their space and make it to the annals of history in the use of information communication technology to develop themselves.