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Because I am a Girl 2010

The urban and digital environments are the 21st century’s fastest-growing spheres. Both offer enormous potential for girls around the world, but prejudice and poverty exclude millions of girls from taking advantages of the transformative possibilities that cities and information and communication technologies (ICTs) can offer.  Exploitation and the threat of violence exist in both urban spaces and in cyberspace, especially for the most marginalized and vulnerable girls.

Since 2007, Plan has published annual reports on the state of the world’s girls. The 2010 ‘Because I am a Girl report’ is called Digital and Urban Frontiers: Girls in a Changing Landscape. It focuses on girls in these two rapidly expanding spaces: the urban and the digital.

The piece that I’m most interested is the segment on Girls and ICTs, since that’s the main area I currently work on. (Disclosure: I contributed to the development of the chapter). To give you a taste of what’s in the report, here’s a summary of Chapter 4: Adolescent girls and communications technologies – opportunity or exploitation. You can download the full report here.

Chapter 4’s introduction explains that online behaviors mimic offline behaviors.  Empowerment and abuse of girls reveals itself through technology as it does in other areas of girls’ lives.  Through girls own voices, expert opinion and original research, the report highlights the positive and negative consequences of ICTs, in particular mobile phones and the Internet. The authors talk about the positive ideas and new ways of thinking that ICTs open up for girls in terms of learning, networking, campaigning and personal development. They then discuss the darker side of technology  — how cyberspace makes it easier for sexual predators to operate with impunity, where girls are prime targets for abuse, and where girls are sometimes perpetrators themselves.

Section Two offers girl-related statistics on the digital revolution and the digital divide and highlights the enormous variation between and within countries in terms of digital access, and the gaps between rich and poor, male and female, urban and rural.  The report cautions that excluding girls from the digital revolution will have consequences on their growth and development. For additional global ICT statistics (1998-2009) see this post at ICT4D blog. Another resource on mobiles and women is the Cherie Blair study.

Section Three describes and provides statistics around 7 important reasons that ICTs are important to adolescent girls:

  1. To keep in touch with others and reduce isolation in countries where this is an issue
  2. To further their education and acquire new skills
  3. To take an active part in their communities and countries
  4. In order to have the skills to find work
  5. To build specific skills and knowledge on subjects they might otherwise not know about, such as HIV and AIDS
  6. Because evidence has shown that learning to use these technologies can build self-esteem
  7. In order to keep safe

Section Four goes in depth around ways that adolescent girls compete with adolescent boys for the most use of communications technologies such as mobiles and the Internet, but that often they are using them for different reasons and different purposes. Most of the available research for this chapter is from the ‘North’, yet the studies indicate that girls tend to use ICTs for communication and boys tend toward a focus on the technology itself. Studies on this from the ‘South’ are unavailable to date.

When girls are treated as real partners....

Section Five discusses the barriers that keep adolescent girls from accessing ICTs. In other words, if the importance of ICTs has been established, girls are willing and able and keen to use ICTs, then what prevents them from having equal access to ICTs? Some of the issues that the chapter discusses are those of power and control.

‘I can immediately call the wholesale market to inquire about prices and place direct orders. I am now recognized as a businesswoman, growing and selling sesame seeds, not just as somebody’s wife or sister,’ said a woman in India.

‘You’re a girl – a mobile can cause many problems, and so you don’t need it,’ said the father of a Palestinian girl.

Girls’ access to technology is limited by their societies, communities and families. In patriarchal societies where men control technology, girls and women simply have less access, because ICT’s confer power on the user. Even in educational settings, a study found that boys tend to hog available ICTs. Teachers have distinct expectations from boys vs. girls. Girls also don’t tend to go into the field of ICTs or want to have ICT careers, since the field is typically a male field. ‘Technology appears to be marketed by men for men. It’s time we started switching bright and talented girls on to science and technology,’ comments a British government official.

Women and girls in developing countries however are not receiving the basic education and training that they need to be ready technology adopters. They are seen as users and receivers of technology, not as innovators involved in technology design and development. Once they are computer literate, however, many young women see the computer industry as a route to independence. The report offers statistics on the numbers of young women in countries like South Africa, India, Malaysia and Brazil who are working in the ICT related industries and professions.

What stops girls from using technology?

There are seven key factors that prevent girls from taking advantage of technology:

  1. Discrimination – girls are still viewed as second-class citizens in many societies.
  2. Numbers – boys both outnumber girls and tend to dominate access to computers.
  3. Confidence – because they don’t have equal access at school, girls may be less confident than boys when it comes to going into IT jobs because they don’t feel they have the same skills and knowledge as the young men competing for the jobs.
  4. Language – in order to use these technologies, English is usually a requirement, and for girls with only basic literacy in their own language, this is a major barrier.
  5. Time – girls’ domestic roles, even at a young age, mean they have less free time than boys to explore and experiment with new technologies.
  6. Money – girls are less likely than their brothers to have the financial resources to pay for, say, a mobile phone and its running costs, or access to the web in an internet café.
  7. Freedom – boys are also more likely to be allowed to use internet cafés because parents are concerned about their daughters going out on their own.

Section Six digs into the dark side of cyberspace and the risks that adolescent are exposed to at a time of their lives when they are beginning to develop sexually. One in 5 women report having been sexually abused before the age of 15, according to the authors. The Internet by and large is simply a new medium for old kinds of bad behavior, however; and new technologies simply extend the possibility of abuse to new arenas. Girls who are not even using the Internet are still vulnerable, given that a photo of them can be taken and posted by someone else even if they have no computer access. Cyberbullying and cyberharrassment are other risks that girls face.

Many young people and youth organizations are active in facing these risks and protecting themselves, and various campaigns exist to help adolescent girls be more aware of how to protect themselves while using ICTs. New technology can itself also be a tool to help with counter-trafficking efforts. The chapter outlines some of the different efforts being made to protect girls online, and emphasizes the role of parents and schools in discussing on-line use and being supportive as girls begin exploring cyberspace.

There is a quite broad set of recommendations for a wide array of actors at the end of Chapter 4 that could be taken up, contextualized and fleshed out by different parties or stakeholders into specific calls to action:

Brazilian girls in a digital world. As an annex to Chapter 4 on ICTs, new research with 49 boys and 44 girls, aged 10-14 examines adolescent girls’ rights and protection in Brazil within the context of ICTs. ICT use is growing exponentially in Brazil, particularly among 15-17 year olds, where between 2005 and 2008, ICT usage went from 33.7 to 62.9 percent. The study covers use pattern, links between on-line and off-line behavior, and on-line safety.

Conclusions. The report concludes by calling for greater knowledge about ICT-related sexual exploitation and violence against girls, more emphasis on prevention and stronger international standards. It also points out that girls need to be empowered to use new communications technologies safely, on their own terms, and in ways that promote their development and build their futures.

Call to action for September 22: As part of the launch of the Because I am a Girl Report, Plan is calling for International Day of the Girl to be established on September 22. You can sign the petition here.

Resources

Download the full report here: Digital and Urban Frontiers: Girls in a Changing Landscape

Download the Girl’s Cohort Study: Real Choices, Real Lives. Plan researchers follow 142 girls lives over a 9-year period.

Download past Because I am a Girl Reports (since 2007)

Related posts on Wait… What?

On girls and ICTs

Revisiting the topic of girls and ICTS: Tech Salon Discussions

Being a girl in Cumbana

MDGs through a child rights lens

3 ways to integrate ICTs into development work

5 ways ICTs can support the MDGs


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the Ghana team: row 1: Steven, Joyce, Yaw, Samuel; row 2: Bismark, Maakusi, James, Chris, Dan

I was in a workshop in the Upper West Region of Ghana this past week.  The goal was two-fold.  1) to train a small group of staff, ICT teachers and local partners on social media and new technologies for communications; and 2) to help them prepare for a project that will support 60 students to use arts and citizen media in youth-led advocacy around issues that youth identify.

I was planning to talk about how social media is different from traditional media, focusing on how it offers an opportunity to democratize information, and how we can support youth to use social media to reduce stereotypes about them and to bring their voices and priorities into global discussions.  But all those theories about social media being the great equalizer, the Internet allowing everyone’s voices to flourish and yadaya, don’t mean a lot unless barriers like language, electricity, gender, and financial resources are lowered and people can actually access the Internet regularly.

Mobile internet access is extremely good in this part of Ghana, but when we did a quick exercise to see what the experience levels of the group were, only half had used email or the Internet before.  So I started there, rather than with my fluffy theories about democratization, voice, networks and many-to-many communications.

We got really good feedback from the participants on the workshop.  Here’s how we did it:

What is Internet?

I asked the ICT teachers to explain what the Internet is, and to then try to put it into words that the youth or someone in a community who hadn’t used a computer before would be able to understand.  We discussed ways in which radios, mobile phones, televisions are the same or different from the Internet.

How can you access Internet here?

We listed common ways to access Internet in the area: through a computer at an internet café or at home or work, through a mobile phone (“smart phone”), or via a mobile phone or flash-type modem connected to a computer (such as the ones that we were using at the workshop).  We went through how to connect a modem to a computer to access internet via the mobile network.

Exploring Internet and using search functions

Riffing off Google search

We jumped into Internet training by Googling the community’s name to see what popped up, then we followed the paths to where they led us. We found an article where the secondary school headmaster (who was participating in the workshop) had been interviewed about the needs of the school.

Everyone found it hilarious, as they didn’t know the headmaster was featured in an online article.  This lead to a good discussion on consent, permission and the fact that information does go global, but it doesn’t stay global, because more and more people are able to access that same information locally too through the Internet, so you need to think carefully about what you say.

The article about the school had a comments stream. The first comment was directly related to the article, and said that the school deserved to get some help.  But the comments quickly turned to politics, including accusations that a local politician was stealing tractors.  Again this generated a big discussion, and again the local-global point hit home.  The internet is not ‘over there’ but potentially ‘right here’.  People really need to be aware of this when publishing something online or when being interviewed, photographed or filmed by someone who will publish something.

Other times when we’ve done this exercise, we haven’t found any information online about the community. In those cases, the lack of an online presence was a good catalyst to discuss why, and to motivate the community to get the skills and training to put up their own information. That is actually one of the goals of the project we are working on.

We used a projector, but small groups would have also been fine if there was no projector and a few computers were available. We generally use what we can pull together through our local offices, the small amount of equipment purchased with the project funds, and what the local school and partners have, and organize it however makes the most sense so that people can practice.  4-5 people per computer is fine for the workshop because people tend to teach each other and take turns. There will be some people who have more experience and who can show others how to do things, so that the facilitator can step out of the picture as soon as possible, just being available for any questions or trouble shooting.

Social networks and privacy

When we Googled the name of the community, we also found a Facebook page for alums from the secondary school.  That was a nice segue into social networks.  I showed my Facebook page and a few others were familiar with Facebook. One colleague talked about how she had just signed up and was finding old school friends there who she hadn’t seen in years. People had a few questions such as ‘Is it free?  How do you do it? Can you make it yourself?  Who exactly can see it?’  So we had to enter the thorny world of privacy, hoping no one would be scared off from using Internet because of privacy issues.

One of the ICT teachers, for example, was concerned that someone could find his personal emails by Googling.  I used to feel confident when I said ‘no they can’t’ but now it seems you can never be certain who can see what (thank you Facebook).  I tried to explain privacy settings and that it’s important to understand how they work, suggesting they could try different things with low sensitivity information until they felt comfortable, and test by Googling their own name to see if anything came up.

Online truth and safety

Another question that surfaced was ‘Is the internet true?’ This provoked a great discussion about how information comes from all sides, and that anyone can put information online.  And anyone else can discuss it.  It’s truth and opinions and you can’t believe everything you read, it’s not regulated, you need to find a few sources and make some judgment calls.

A participant brought up that children and youth could use Internet to find ‘bad’ things, that adults can prey on children and youth using the Internet.  We discussed that teachers and parents really need to have some understanding of how Internet works. Children and youth need to know how to protect themselves on the Internet; for example, not posting personal information or information that can identify their exact location.  We discussed online predators and how children and youth can stay secure, and how teachers and communities should learn more about Internet to support children and youth to stay safe.

We discussed the Internet as a place of both opportunities and risks, going back to our earlier discussions on Child Protection in this project and expanding on them.  I also shared an idea I’d seen on ICT Works about how to set up the computers in a way that the teachers/instructor can see all the screens and know what kids are doing on them – this is more effective than putting filters and controls on the machines.

Speaking of controls: virus protection and flash drives

The negative impact of viruses on productivity in African countries has been covered by the media, and I enthusiastically concur. I’ve wasted many hours because someone has come in with a flash drive that infected all the computers we are using at a workshop.  Our general rule is no flash drives allowed during the workshop period.  I have no illusions, however, that the computers will remain flash drive free forever.  One good thing to do to reduce the risk of these autorun viruses is to disable autorun on the computers.  This takes about 2 minutes.  After you do that, you just have to manually access flash drives by opening My Computer from the start menu. A second trick is to create an autorun.inf file that redirects the virus and stops it from propagating on your machine. Avast is a free software that seems to catch most autorun viruses.  Trend Micro doesn’t seem to do very well in West Africa.

Hands on, hands on, hands on

I cannot stress enough the importance of hands on. We try to make sure that there is a lot of free time at this kind of workshop for people to play around online.  This usually means keeping the workshop space open for a couple hours after the official workshop day has ended and opening up early in the morning. People will skip lunch, come early, and stay late for an opportunity to get on-line. Those with more experience can use that time to help others. People often use this time to help each other open personal email accounts and share their favorite sites.

No getting too technical

People don’t want to listen to a bunch of theory or mechanical explanations on how things work. They don’t need to see the inside of a CPU, for example. They need to know how to make things work for them.  And the only way they will figure it out is practice, trial and error, playing around.  If a few people in the workshop are really curious to know the mechanics of something, they will start asking (if the facilitator is approachable and non-threatening), but most people for starters just want to know how to use the tools.

No showing off

I’ll always remember my Kenyan colleague Mativo saying that in this kind of work, a facilitator’s main role is demystifying ICTs.  So that means being patient and never making anyone feel stupid for asking a question, or showing any frustration with them.  If someone makes a mistake or goes down a path and doesn’t know how to get back and the facilitator has to step in to do some ‘magic’ fixing, it’s good to talk people through some of the ‘fix’ steps in a clear way as they are being done.

My friend DK over at Media Snackers said that he noticed something when working with youth vs adults on Internet training: youth will click on everything to see what happens. Adults will ask what happens and ask for permission to click.  [update:  Media Snackers calls this the ‘button theory‘].  Paying close attention to learning styles and tendencies of each individual when facilitating, including those related to experience, rural or urban backgrounds, age, gender, literacy, other abilities, personality, and adjusting methodologies helps everyone learn better.

Have fun!

Lightening up the environment and making it hands on lowers people’s inhibitions and helps them have the confidence to learn by doing.

**Check back soon for a second post about photography, filming, uploading and setting up a YouTube account….

Related posts on Wait… What?

Child protection, the media and youth media programs

On girls and ICTs

Revisiting the topic of girls and ICTs

Putting Cumbana on the map: with ethics


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the road to Wa

I’m in Ghana this week for a workshop in Wa, the district capital of the Upper West Region.  I wasn’t too excited about the trip from Accra (the capital of Ghana) to Wa when I heard it was a 10-12 hour drive. I figured it took so long because the road was in bad condition, but I was wrong, it’s just a long trip and there is a lot of traffic. The road to Wa is paved.  Not with gold. Not with good intentions, just paved.  And what a difference that makes.

All kinds of vehicles and travelers use the road. Motorcycles, cars, taxis, 4x4s, Land Cruisers, big trucks, small trucks, semi trucks with trailers.  People walk and bike alongside the road.  I even saw an adolescent boy trying to rollerblade – he wasn’t getting too far in the gravel but was pretty determined regardless.

All kinds of people move in and about and around all the shops and businesses along the road… people making purchases, moving supplies, carrying firewood and water, socializing, flirting, arguing.  Vendors sell fruits, clothing, electronics, car parts, prepared food, plastics, new clothing, used t-shirts.  There are tons of stalls selling airtime  for mobile phones and entire buildings painted bright red with the white Vodafone logo on the side, not to mention doorways, sides and fronts of buildings, market stalls and taxis similarly painted.  Tigo, Glo and MTN also have their noses in the business with signs, billboards, stalls, buildings and such – obviously a lot of competition for mobile phone customers.

collision

The road holds both opportunities and dangers. Some people go very fast and others crawl along, creating accident potential as drivers try to pass them on curves and hills.  As in many countries, a good number of crashed vehicles dot the roadside; though unlike past road trips, this time I didn’t see anyone get hit or observe any bodies lying on the road after being hit, a small crowd around them, fresh blood pooling around their head and twisted frame.   Every so often on this road to Wa, there are toll booths and customs check points.  Speed bumps slow you down as you enter towns.  Police officers stop you for no reason wanting bribes. The road is really happening.

Aside from the rich and fertile rolling hills in between the towns as we got further north, the most striking thing to me was the image of the funeral crowds. You see large groups of people on both sides of the road dressed in very fine black West African clothing with accents of red: black for mourning and red if the person who passed away was strong and in their prime; sometimes white if the person was very old.  Stunning. My colleague Stephen said that funerals happen on Saturdays and that is partly why the road is so busy on weekends.  He also said that politics paved the road, because the current vice president lives in the north and made this road a priority, helping him win the elections.

While driving, we listened to a lot of political talk radio.  Obama’s honeymoon is definitely over if those who were talking are any indication. “We thought there would be a change with Obama, but his foreign policy continues along the lines of Bush.” The commentators argued for nationalization and control of Ghana and Ghana’s resources without foreign intervention and without selling off resources to foreigners, a shaking off of old colonialism.  They heavily criticized the US’s current strategy of opening military bases in West Africa and the US’s failed and reckless policies in the Middle East. References to Chile, Castro and the CIA reminded me of the kinds of conversations you hear in Latin America.  I need to read up more on this, and find out who Kosmos (Cosmos?) is, and what their relationship is with Bush, Exxon Mobile and Ghana’s oil.  [Update: here’s some background on that: Ghana blocks Exxon Oil-Field Deal.] I miss being in Central America where I knew the history of all the politicians and movements, and could read beyond fiery words to interpret motives; where I could read my own truth into things.

As we drove along I thought about the road, and all the activity that it enables. Before my flight to Accra, I visited the  Museum of Modern Art in New York with my brother who studies biology, and we saw an exhibit about Design through the Ages.  Some of the modern pieces showed graphics or moving visualizations of communication networks and systems.  One piece tracked and visualized the movement of taxis in New York City.  Another showed internet connections across the world.  My brother and I talked about our fascination with micro and macro networks and systems… synapses in the human brain, the flow of blood in the body, the New York subways, sewers.

dusk settles on the long drive north

Looking out the window of the car on our seemingly endless drive north, I thought about the similarities between this highway and the internet — road networks and communication networks.  All the people traveling down and alongside the road to Wa. The communication among and between them.  The small and large businesses that have sprung up and are prospering because the road is there allowing access.  The opportunities and dangers, the police and the periodic barriers to speed.

I’m sitting here, 12 hours north of the capital city, uploading this post, with photos even, using 3G wireless internet. Not long ago that wouldn’t have been within my capacity to imagine.

I know there is nothing new in comparing communications infrastructure and networks to a road system. But I am struck today, after the drive to Wa, with the similarities — and the vital need for both. I’m convinced that, just like the roads that provide a basis for connection, communication and commerce; Internet, via undersea cable or mobile or whatever, is essential infrastructure for development.

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