Why debate on women in tech should digress from normal whining…

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The other day I had an interesting discussion with Juliana Rotich about the women’s movement and the activism on issues. From the talk, she is not very amused with some of the issues advanced.

Juliana reminded me one post I always wanted to write; on whether the debate about women needs to be tilted or changed, especially when it comes to tech issues. She feels that women’s movement has this feeling of entitlement, especially from men.

I do also understand that for women in engineering and science courses, affirmative action did not give you the high grades, you had to work hard and measure up, which means that you are not a victim, you have earned it.

Juliana had a point, I wanted to disagree just to raise the debate a bit but we were in the middle of Ushahidi meeting so I thought I should reflect and write this post.

I have very high regard for activists on women issues; coming from a village that until about 30 years ago did not appreciate the need of women going to high school, I know that the benefits I enjoy today is a result of activism and awareness by the women of those days.

That is why I have done my share of coverage of women issues and helped where I can. That is also why I was also excited when I was asked about women’s issues in internet governance.

But I did not strike a very nice cord with the women’s issues advocates when I argued that some of the issues are gender neutral and it would indeed raise the debate higher if women were to take up the issues.

Take for instance the cost of domains, lack of electronic commerce growth, online content etc…these are issues that affect both men and women, but if the women took it up and said…hey we will break more boundaries if domains are cheaper or e-commerce is made easier, people will start discussing such issues, maybe even wondering why they are important to women.

My argument was that women don’t have to be victims anymore; ten years ago, the story was that women don’t have access to this and that, men have the power over this and that, this protocol has not been signed among many other issues.

The growth of mobile in Africa has extinguished many of those myths, women have adopted technology, whether they understand what GSM works or not, they know opportunities in mobile money, they operate call kiosks and some of then charge their phones at a fee…while still at home.

I am always inspired when I go to my village and see how mobiles have opened opportunities, with mobile money, you can sell credit, send money, pay bills at the convenience of your shamba, you just need to be shown how it works.

Women are not victims, we take opportunities when presented, and I think the activism now should be on how to identify these opportunities that women can participate in.

While at the Africa Union Summit in January, I challenged one of the women to raise the debate by challenging RASCOMSATAR-QAF, the owners of RASCOMSTAR-1 satellite to provide bandwidth to women NGOs who are paying lots of money for connectivity, which I think would make many people want in.

RASCOM-QAF, the consortium, has an engineering fellowship or some training where African engineers are trained to operate the satellites, it would make a lot of sense if the women movement was to advocate for a third of women engineers to be admitted to the program, this am sure would attract even the women who are not interested in women matters.

RASCOM is owned by 47 African countries and they even have a giant online masters course project with India which I think would benefit many of us in rural areas with no access to some of the facilities.

Anyway, I was just trying to raise some of the issues in tech that am sure many women would be interested in. And am not sure I got a lot of supporters on that, I was talking to myself.

My argument still stands, the debate needs to change, am not sure how but am getting tired of same arguments especially when tech presents such opportunities.

Ends