Rural South African women join information age through telecentres
Kgatliso Pleasant Masethlha and Stephanie GingrasSouth African women are slowly playing a leading role in the evolution and sharing of new communication technologies. Their involvement has become more apparent in the establishment and running of community based "telecentres".
The need to set up communication centres, that have now grown to be called telecentres, was first met by the 1996 Telecommunications Act which created a statutory body, the Universal Service Agency (USA). The USA was designed as a dedicated agency for servicing access to basic technologies. The USA was tasked with overseeing the need for communication and access to communication equipment in all communities. A typical telecentre is equipped with telephones, computers, fax, photocopy, video, and even a television (some with satellite service). The main aim has been to ensure basic communication access and information resources for people in the previously disadvantage communities.
It is in ICT access that women have out shone their male counterparts. Their response has grown from the needs of surrounding community members. Volunteers are encouraged by women managers to be part of the knowledge and skills process. Unemployed individuals follow training courses and persuade others in exploring the environment and its resources. Through this process, more women from various communities are being trained in computer.
Of the 63 South African telecentres located in rural areas, women run 90% of the establishments. In the Northern province, women telecentres managers are presently involved in a need analysis research together. This is the first time that exclusively women conduct such a project.
The changing presence of women has made these successes possible. Prior to the 1994 elections, it was rare to find women in such high public office. Six years later the situation has improved, but patriarchal influence and reality still today remains an obstacle for equality.
The reality is the majority of the non-employed dwell in rural areas. A telecentre opening allows for some kind of alternative training. There are difficulties to encounter, though. Just like the illiteracy rate is a challenge, the need for the Information Literacy is even a greater challenge.
In the Gaseleka Telecentre for instance, 65% of the activities are run by women. Telephone operations have proved to be popular by far.
Rural South African women nowadays have the opportunity to be away from home and thus free of patriarchal control. This gives them more time and exposure to telecentre facilities. One can say telecentres are a democratic information infrastructure. Their existence also led to community initiatives by other women in activities like sewing, selling of vegetables, and in several other local initiatives. This is currently benefiting women in economic wealth.
In Mankweng Telecentre in the Northern Province women are able to access telecentres while having an off shoot project such as a Day Care Centre, look after their children.
Esme Modisane is an example of a woman who works hard to make telecentres accessible to all. Her telecentre in the Mamelodi Township is reaping the fruits of her labour. Modisane strongly believes skills transfer and experiences are fundamental and as a result, she invited students to do volunteer work. She has attended several International Conferences and her telecentre last year was awarded the Technology for Women in Business Award.
Such stories can be found in newsletters, which are published and distributed at Academic Institutions, Non Governmental Organisations, Donors, and governmental departments, throughout the country at different scales. These and other stories show the maintenance of telecentres is sometimes difficult and can end to failure. Frustrations may be felt in the community and telecentre-equipment is sometimes vandalised.
In fact, there are controversial issues just in whether there is a need to deal with such technologies or not, in whether it is affordable, favourable or making a difference, whether it is going to help on a daily basis or not. But on the other hand, there are women showing considerable concern and do get involved because of encouraging results.
Women in South Africa are taking the lead in these new organisations, capable of educational power and self-empowerment. These technologies are indeed meant to be accessible to all people. This is the brave new world.
Kgatliso Pleasant Masetlha, Assistant Project Co-ordinator at Vodacom Centre (Wits University, Johannesburg). She holds a Diploma in Information Technology, is also Bachelor of Arts majoring in Industrial Sociology, African Political Studies and Social Anthropology and holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Public Policy and Development Administration. E-mail Address: email@example.com
member of NGO ALTERNATIVES, based in Montreal (Canada). http//:www.alternatives.ca.
She recently completed University studies in Spanish Literature and Politics
in Montreal, Quebec.