WOUGNET’s overall objective is to build capacities in ICT use and application, and to expand activities to reach out to women in rural areas in Uganda.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are widely accepted as tools that can enable the participation of men and women in economic and civic life as well as promote and support national development priorities. The Government of Uganda recognises the role ICTs, can play in enhancing national development, and in 2002, the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology (UNCST) was commissioned to formulate the National ICT Policy Framework. The primary aim of the framework was to address the challenges and to develop the potential and opportunities offered by ICTs in Uganda. Uganda’s ICT policy defines ICT broadly as ‘technologies that provide an enabling environment for physical infrastructural and services development for generation, transmission, and processing, storing and disseminating information in all forms, including voice, text, data, graphics and video1.’ ICTs consist of ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ technologies including radio, television, video, mobile and fixed tele phones, print, computers, the Internet, etc.
While stories abound of ICTs as important contributory tools to addressing developmental challenges like poverty, bad governance, poor health, market shortage, low quality of education, and poor access to information, much of the potential of ICTs remains untapped. This is more so for groups experiencing time constraints, social isolation, lack of access to knowledge and productive resources. In particular, women in countries such as Uganda have been identified as being one of the most affected groups.
The need for a ‘gender lens’ on the policy
Gender is widely recognised as a critical development issue. Gender is a social construct specifying the socially and culturally prescribed roles that men and women are to follow in a given society. As such, gender determines the social roles, responsibilities, relationships, and privileges between men and women in a given society. In relation to ICTs, gender determines the access, utilisation and application of ICTs among men and women. For example, a telecentre may be located in an area where women would not be in position to visit due to location, time or cultural norms- manifested in attitudes that discourage women and girls from studying or using information and communication technology. In Uganda, research indicates that women’s awareness and usage of ICTs is nearly three times less than that of male counterparts2.
However, it is important to bear in mind that not all development concerns are gender issues. Some are general situations of disadvantage. For instance the fact that a man or a woman from a poor household cannot afford to tune a radio on account of inability to afford batteries cannot be described as a gender issue. It is a general state of poverty. But when batteries are bought and the rules governing it’s access are such that only the man gives permission or he roams the village with it and appoints himself the key listener and disseminator of information obtained thereof, then gender issues/concerns arise.
The article highlights activities by Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) to engender national ICT Policy Developments in Uganda. Established by several women organisations in 2000, WOUGNET is a non-governmental organisation that seeks to develop the use of ICTs among women as a tool to share information and address challenges collectively. WOUGNET’s overall objective is to strengthen the use of ICTs among women and women organisations in Uganda, to build capacities in ICT use and application, and to expand activities to reach out to women in rural areas. WOUGNET’s overall objective is implemented through four major programme areas of Information Sharing and Networking, Technical Support, Gender and ICT Advocacy, and Rural Access. Activities of the Gender and ICT Advocacy Programme are carried out under the auspices of the Uganda Women Caucus on ICTs (UCWI), comprising women and gender activists and organisations, formed to promote the engendering of ICT processes in Uganda. WOUGNET also hosts the UWCI secretariat.
Gender inclusive ICT policy developments
The current policy and regulatory environment in Uganda was established through the telecommunications sector policy of 1996, and operationalised by the Uganda Communications Act, 1997 (Laws of Uganda Cap 106)2. The Telecommunications Sector Policy (1996) was driven by the need to provide an acceptable minimum of infrastructure to enable basic voice communication. The Uganda Communications Act of 1997 specifically spells out the following extended objectives of the Act:
• enhancing the national coverage of communications services and products, with emphasis on provision of communication services,
• expanding the existing variety of communications services available in Uganda to include modern and innovative postal and telecommunications services,
• reducing Government direct role as an operator in the sector,
• encouraging the participation of private investors in the development of the sector,
• introducing, encouraging and enabling competition in the sector through regulation and licensing competitive operators to achieve rapid network expansion, standardisation as well as operation of competitively priced, quality services,
• minimising all direct and indirect subsidies paid by Government to the communications sector and for communications services, and
• establishing and administering a fund for rural communications development.
In addition to the National ICT Policy and the Telecommunications Sector Policy, the legal, regulatory and policy framework to promote ICT in Uganda includes the Electronic Media Act (cap 104), Access to Information Act (2005), Copyright Act (2006), Rural Communications Development Policy for Uganda (2001), and National Broadcasting Policy (2004). Bills that are in place include the National Information Technology Authority Bill, the Communications Act Amendment Bill, the Electronic Transactions Bill, the Electronic Signatures Bill, and the Computer Misuse Bill. Also, a Ministry of ICT has recently been created to coordinate, harmonise, and spearhead the development of ICT in Uganda.
A clear marker for the beginning of WOUGNET’s engagement with ICT policy processes was introduction to the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) process. This was via participation at the WSIS Africa Regional Preparatory Meeting held in May 2002 in Bamako, Mali. It was at this meeting that the WSIS Gender Caucus was initiated. WOUGNET went on to participate as a member of the interim civil society task force, established to bring together individuals and organisations working on open source in Africa and consequently seek mandate to establish the ‘Open Source Foundation for Africa’. The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) was launched on February 21, 2003 during the WSIS PrepCom2. On January 27, 2003, a National WSIS Taskforce was created to coordinate Uganda’s input to the WSIS. WOUGNET was a member of the inaugural task force that also included representatives from the then Ministry of Works, Housing and Communications, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), MTN – one of the two national telecommunications operators, UNCST.
WOUGNET in action
WOUGNET’s experiences, and through interaction in various fora as well as given WOUGNET’s mission and based on the available data with respect to the use and applications of ICTs by women in Uganda, it was clear that there was urgent need to have gender concerns explicitly addressed in all policy processes including policy elaboration, implementation and evaluation. The Gender and ICT Policy Advocacy programme builds upon WOUGNET activities and fora to gather and make input to Uganda’s contribution to the WSIS process. The programme seeks to build the capacity of policymakers, ICT experts and the media to articulate gender issues in the ICT policy making processes in Uganda, to assess the implementation of the Rural Communication Development Fund (RCDF) from a gender perspective, and to advocate for gender sensitive ICT policy processes.
With support of the Association of Progressive Communications (APC) and Hivos, and in collaboration with a variety of partners including the Ministry of ICT, UCC, I-Network, National Planning Authority, CIPESA, Makerere University Department of Gender and Women Studies, recent activities undertaken include:
• conducting training for UWCI members and WOUGNET staff in the Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM). Developed by APC, GEM is a guide that integrates gender analysis into planning and evaluation of initiatives that use ICTs for social change. This training was to build capacity in gender and ICT policy advocacy,
• a public forum targeting policy makers, ICT experts, and journalists on the theme ‘The ICT Policy: Does it address the Gender Digital Divide?’ was organised in March 2006. The objective of the public forum was to sensitise and create awareness on the need to integrate gender into ICT Policies. A total of 103 participants attended the forum. As a result of the public forum, awareness has been created on gender issues in the ICT Policy and there has been a positive response on the need to integrate gender in policy processes from policy makers. Awareness creation is a continuous process that WOUGNET and the UWCI will carry out using various means,
• a gender analysis training workshop for policy makers, ICT experts, and journalists was conducted in April 2006. The workshop was aimed at building the skills of policy makers, ICT experts and journalists in gender analysis. Participants were introduced to key gender concepts and how to identify gender issues. Participants were also introduced to the GEM tool,
• a number of advocacy materials have been developed including a position paper on gender issues and concerns with ICT policies in Uganda3, and
• a policy brief on gender issues and gaps in the ICT policy framework that recommends strategies and actions to address the gender issues and gaps4,
• an assessment with a gender perspective has been undertaken in nine districts in which projects with support of the RCDF had been implemented, These projects include district portals, multi-purpose community telecentres, Internet cafes, school based telecentres, ICT training centres. The objective is to find out the extent the fund had provided universal access to rural communications and whether the implementation process had taken into consideration any gender concerns for the equitable benefit of women and men. The findings will be used to undertake a media campaign and other advocacy activities to promote gender sensitive implementation of communication policies and to inform the policy makers of the risks taken if gender issues are not considered. The RCDF was used to argue the case for inclusion of women’s specific needs in ICT policies and programmes aimed at universal access. Currently, the Rural Communications Development Policy takes a gender neutral stand and has no mention of women or gender anywhere.
• In addition, WOUGNET staff and UWCI members actively participate in a variety of ICT-related meetings, fora and bodies, including ICT sector policy committees, the National Inter-Agency ICT/e-Government Planning Taskforce, and the National Working Group of the Regional ICT Support Programme that is coordinated by the COMESA Secretariat. Also, in April 2006, UWCI was invited to make a presentation on ‘Gendering the e-Government Policies in East Africa’ at an East African Stakeholders workshop on Cyber laws and e-Justice and Information Security. The workshop was convened by the East African Community Secretariat and locally coordinated by the National Planning Authority.
It is expected that through engagement in activities such as highlighted above, the awareness and capacity to identify gender issues among policy makers, ICT experts and journalists will be raised, and that the level of incorporation of gender issues within ICT policy processes will be increased.
‘Gendering’ ICT policy processes involves identifying and eliminating gender disparities in access to and use of ICTs. It also involves adapting technology to men and women’s needs – for example, in the case of women, taking advantage of their
strong informal networks and support systems. Available evidence indicates that without explicit articulation of gender in policy frameworks, gender issues and concerns are not likely to be considered during implementation. As such, without specific attention and action to incorporate a gender perspective,
equitable distribution of ICT benefits and opportunities for both men and women will not be realised. While the prevailing ICT policies have significant holes to plug with respect to being truly gender responsive, both in spirit and in implementation, Uganda is fortunate to have a variety of ICT stakeholders from government, private sector and the civil society that are genuinely interested
in addressing the issue of universal access to and use of ICTs by