In conversation with Peace Oliver Amuge, executive director from the Women of Uganda Network, an organisation that aims to address the inequality between men and women with regards to access to the internet and the use of technology.
Can you tell me about the Women of Uganda Network and the work that you do?
Women of Uganda Network is an NGO that was initiated in May 2000 so we are 20 years old now. Women of Uganda Network is an organisation that envisions a society where women and girls are able to use ICT for gender equality and for sustainable development.
We promote the use of ICT by women and women-led organisations. We do a lot of digital literacy research to make sure that we have gender-disaggregated data and our research focuses on women’s access to internet use of technology. Our research has been focused on gender and ICT. We also do a lot of policy advocacy, We advocate for gender-responsive ICT policies in Uganda. Our work is informed by the research we do and as well as research from other entities, civil society organisations and government.
We use this kind of research to inform our advocacy work and produce policy brief papers, create collaborations among civil society organisations and have dialogues with policymakers. We also do a number of projects and initiatives to empower women economically and socially. We work with women in rural areas and urban areas. We also work with women farmers and we promote the use of technology amongst farmers especially in the Northern part of the country. So in all our projects, we try as much as we can to use technology, ICT, radio, phones and all those traditional tools.
Can you tell us about the technological tools your organisation uses?
It depends on what the initiative is or what the project is about. For instance, working with women farmers in the rural community, we use an app where these women can come on to sell their seeds or access information regarding their input. They can also use the app to share information about what’s happening in their field and about diseases that are affecting their crops and the app also connects them to experts. This app has been used by these communities and it was successful.
Our work also includes digital literacy training where we teach community members how to use these apps. We also use an SMS platform and we’ve used it in a project for social accountability, where these communities are able to register on this platform and use their basic phones. Smartphones are not easily accessed by most of these communities, especially women. The basic phones are more easily accessed and so they use their phones to tell us about the issues that they have in their communities. On the platform, we also have the service leaders for these communities registered and where we are able to let the community leaders know about issues in their communities.
Do you think these tools have the potential to bridge the digital divide in Uganda?
There’s still a lot to be done because there are still so many women who do not have access to ICT. For us to bridge this gap is not only about making these tools available but making sure that they are accessible. Then we look at the infrastructure which needs to be worked on. Some of these rural areas do not have the infrastructure and they do not have connectivity. Affordability can ensure that these tools are available for people in these communities. So I think having the infrastructure in place, making these tools accessible and affordable for these communities and also having policies that promote the use of technology and policies will make it easier for people to use technology. But there’s still a lot to be done if we want to close the digital divide.
You mentioned affordability and infrastructure. Is there anything that your organisation is doing to tackle these issues?
We want to have two community networks, especially in rural communities. It would really help because internet service providers might not really want to go to these places. What we have done is set up information centres in these communities where we work where people are able to come in to access the internet but we have been having conversations around how we can create community networks in these communities with these communities.
What are the challenges that your organisation faces?
The legal frameworks that we have and the gaps that we have in them is one thing. Some policies are really nice but the implementation of these policies is what we do not really see. As an organisation that advocates for gender equality, some of the policies are not gender-responsive. The third one would be the patriarchal societies, the communities are male-dominated and some people in these communities believe that women should not be using technology. So this is really a challenge for us because we’re talking about having women use ICT and about having women in decision-making positions.
What impact do you think you’ve had on women and girls in Uganda?
In these communities that we worked in, we have seen how perceptions have changed the community and a number of women have been really empowered to use technology, which has improved their lives. We also provided data on women’s technology use, evidence-based research and reports, we engaged with policymakers and advocated for gender-responsive policies. Since Covid, we’ve supported 25 organisations to help build their capacity and help them to use these video conferencing tools.