For as long as I have been coming to Africa I have always been struck by the profoundly important role African women play in society here and have been equally astounded about how unacknowledged that role is. Women literally do everything here. You rarely see women sitting around doing nothing.
They are either cooking, looking after children, washing clothes, cleaning houses, sewing, collecting water, working the land, running small enterprises like second hand clothes shops, fruit and vegetable shops etc. The list goes on and on. They truly are the fabric that holds African society together.
And yet more often than not they have no voice, no rights, no place to go if things go wrong in their domestic lives. Oftentimes they are forced to leave school early to look after the home and so go through life with little education unable to get out of the prison they are effectively in. In many parts of Africa, primitive practices like marrying off children as young as 8 years of age still take place. Female circumcision in the rural areas is still practiced. Domestic rape is rampant but more often than not abused women do not speak up for fear of the consequences. And even in some of the more ‘advanced’ cultures women are literally slaves to whatever a man desires. Systems have been setup that protect themselves from hard challenging questions through the use of draconian punishment for ‘dissenters’.
Hence the oppressed women have no means to protest their subjugation for fear of what might happen to them and so the injustice continues.
Its one part of the culture out here that I find extremely difficult to just ‘accept’. And in most circumstances just ‘accepting’ a cultural practice is the right thing to do. It makes for better dialogue between different cultural perspectives which ultimately leads to better understanding from both sides.
In this instance I just see the cultural practice as a form of primitive enslavement and a crass and abusive use of power on the part of men.
I visited a project the day before yesterday which was truly inspiring.
A couple of years ago a group of women got together under the magnificent leadership of a Masai woman called Veronica (I do not know her second name and I am sure that is not her Masai name!) to campaign for womens rights particularly in the rural areas of Kenya. Veronica is now in a wheelchair but battles on regradless. Her organisation is called TEWA.
After many years of hard work (and effectively no funding) they finally managed to convince the Kianda Foundation (a large educational foundation in Kenya) to support their cause.
In about 3 months time the magnificent TEWA training center in the Kilifi district (about an hour north of Mombasa) will open. The center will cater for about 100 women at a time giving them access to courses on literacy and numeracy, tailoring, cookery and nutrition, hygiene, agriculture and of course learning to use computers!
The center has full boarding facilities, classrooms and activity rooms and is surrounded by rich agricultural land where the women are taught to farm and cultivate crops.
The TEWA team really understand that learning about technology is crucial for the women that they are training. They have no doubts that entrepreneurial activity will result in this. I have no doubts either.
The center wants to have a state of the art computer training facility and has asked Camara to provide 50 computers – a ratio of one computer for every two women – so that peer to peer learning between the women can happen.
Women naturally embrace this form of learning which is a highly effective way of distributing knowledge. Men generally need to be brought kicking and screaming to a peer to peer learning session preferring to fight their collegaue over ownership of the computer;). Ahhh what the sexes can learn from one another especially us men….
I have no doubt that the partnership with TEWA will be a success. Again, I stress that these kind of partnerships are ideal for Camara particularly around the area of training.
If we can link with well established organisations that are reaching out to the most vulnerable members of the community here then it makes total sense that Camara provides the technical infrastructure and the training for these initiatives. And of course the trainers are local people who have been trained in the digital hub here;)
Suddenly, you can see people getting jobs from what they have learned here in the hub. An example of a development initiative that links education to enterprise – in my mind the holy grail of any development intervention.
If you can teach somebody something positive from which they manage to get a job then you are genuinely making a difference to somebodies life. And the catalyst for making this happen is these extraordinary educational tools we call computers. Thankfully not rotting in landfill sites…