Rural Women & Missed Online Opportunities

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“If only we could afford a smartphone, even if we are not taught how to use it, we would find our way around it to be able to access the Internet!”

Twenty-Seven-year-old Susan Okoth, a student residing at Potela, Kidera village, expressed her enthusiasm for the Internet in communicating with her family and friends. However, Over the Top (OTT) has taken quite a toll on her finances. She strains more sojourning an estimated two kilometers journey to Rubongi sub-county, searching for a service provider to pay six thousand shillings monthly subscription fee.

Recently I embarked on a ten kilometers journey to Rubongi sub-county, Tororo district in Eastern Uganda, to research the livelihood of rural women regarding Internet rulings in Uganda. I met thirty women ages twenty-three to twenty-seven, inclusive of students and single mothers from various business sectors.

The purpose of my research was to find out about the usage of online spaces provided by the Internet, and find possible solutions out of their barriers to access the Internet, and indulge in any opportunities availed by the system.

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Carol Apio, a counsellor who’s currently using a buttoned phone model (commonly known as Kabiriti), expressed her disapproval for confiscating her phone and therefore denied by her husband the privilege to access the Internet for one reason, womanhood.  Thirty-three-year-old Racheal Ajwang, a possessor of a moderate Techno phone and a former social media user, had excellent knowledge about the Internet and its usage. However, all that ceased when some unknown person decided to shame her by writing inappropriate stories about her on facebook.

A yet another narrative from a lady whose names remain disclosed after her husband threatened her with divorce over internet usage. She requested her fellows not to reveal her identity to outsiders, or she stands a chance to be beaten back home. So, is this the end of the road for her? As women who are cultured to stand up for one another, they vowed to help her engage the husband with law enforcement officers to have her freedom.

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I discovered that one out of five women in rural areas accessed the Internet. Given the outbreak of the  pandemic which is likely to carry on for an estimated period of three or more years, it is therefore vital for everyone to access the Internet given that it’s the most reliable means of communication across the globe, passing on opportunities and helping in the fight against Covid 19.

The women thought it as an advantage point to them if the concerned stakeholders or civil society organizations developed an interest in bringing technology and long-term training to reach their populations’ low-income earners and rural women in Uganda.

Policymakers and civil society organizations should address market challenges that impact the affordability of Internet platforms by ensuring a healthy online platform while supporting rural women directly through different empowerment programs.  Isaac Amuku, Programs Officer with Women of Uganda Network noted that as an organization they have had different projects with the rural women in capacity building, policy advocacy and access to information with the overall goal of having the rural women inclusive online and participatory.

This in the long run will avail opportunities that addresses their needs as it was in the recently concluded Twitter campaign dubbed – #SafeSpacesEA  thatbrought together different civil society organizations like  Women of Uganda Network, Digital Woman Uganda  among others in finding ways on how to have the rural women included on the Internet online space.  

“If only we could afford a smartphone, even if we are not taught how to use it, we would find our way around it to be able to access the Internet!”

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