APC-Africa-Women is the convenor of WENT Africa 2005, in partnership with WOUGNET, Women’sNet, Linux Chix Africa, Isis-WICCE and Bellanet Africa, and funding support from HIVOS.
Women’s organisations and women techies across Africa who are keen on the free and open source software for empowerment and social development, participated in WENT Africa 2005, the ‘Women’s Electronic Network Training’ in Kampala, Uganda. 22 women from 12 countries in Africa partici-pated to learn skills in free and open source software (FOSS) solutions. The how-to’s of installing Linux and exploring a variety of FOSS programmes were part of this 5-day workshop, which covered the evaluation of ICT initiatives, software licensing and development and inclusive ICT strategies.
The workshop opened with a round table discussion on gender, ICTs and FOSS. “Many participants who work in rural-based organisations expressed concerns around the lack of access to facilities that enable safe and reliable electronic communication,” commented Jenny Radloff, APC Africa Women coordinator. Interest in FOSS solutions has grown in Africa precisely because of the difficulty to pay for expensive proprietary software or being dependent on a particular vendor for support or upgrades.
Open source software is royalty- and license free, which means that the cost of acquiring the software is lower than that of proprietary software. Because the source code is accessible, open source software can be modified to meet the needs of users in particular contexts and languages.
Training in electronic network
The end-users of any software will need support; and making solid organisational decisions around technology is hard to do without a technological background. For this reason, WENT II approached FOSS training and awareness from two directions.
Track 1 was geared towards women systems and network administrators in order to hone their ability in the use of FOSS and prepare them to handle responses of women’s organisations technology needs. Track 2 offered technology planning training and aimed to build awareness of FOSS applica-tions for women’s organisations. This track was geared towards decision-makers and end-users in women’s organisations, to increase their ability in assessing and choosing appropriate technology solutions for their organisations, and to become aware of the full gamut of FOSS possibilities available. A a session covered web-publishing possi-bilities using FOSS, that required no greater skill than basic word processing knowledge. Both tracks required hands-on practice:
Track 1 members installed GNU/Linux distribution Ubuntu and were advisors for Track 2 participants’ detailed technology plans. Participant enthusiasm was high.
The growing camaraderie among the workshoppers is clear in the WENT Africa participant blog- open to all for perusal and comments. It features participant interviews and reflections about the workshop. Full of encouraging comments and inside jokes, the blog teases different teams with the nicknames that have emerged: ‘the hypotheticals’, the ‘e-feminists’ and the ‘e-enabled women’. The sparkle of all WENT workshops shines through in the blog: how women train women.
The participant blog allows a glimpse at the personal paths that brought the women to this moment together: a secretary who was inquisitive enough about the machine she was required to use eventually turned out to be a systems administrator, an activist is persistently now putting ICTs to maximum use in supporting women’s reproductive and sexual health decisions.
In Cameroon, commented Track 1 participant Edith Tchimeu, “ICTs present women with an opportunity to set up e-Businesses and the less literate in particular the rural women have been able to learn how to make soap and detergent, do colour separation (tie and dye) of materials through demonstrative videos and CDs that are in the local language”. Jane Nabwira’s experience in Uganda running wireless network points for the ‘Reflect ICT Project’ that has helped her own professional development, she shares, but what is more impressive is “the impact IT has by providing timely
and relevant information available to marginalised communities,…information improves, informs, empowers and enhances women’s lives”.