WOMENAID INTERNATIONAL

Women give a voice to 
the rural voiceless

The latest entrants into cyberspace are women in villages across Africa who are broadcasting the rituals of their daily lives to the world.  When you go overseas and hear about Africa you think.  "Is this the same Africa we are talking about," says Zimbabwean journalist Jennifer Sibanda.  "All you hear is negativity poverty, wars, AIDS.  You never hear a positive thing.  Now, through the Internet, we are talking to the world.  We want women's voices to be heard, we are telling our stories directly and we are giving a voice to the voiceless.

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Ms Sibanda is director of the Federation of African Media Women, which in March hosted a training workshop on 'Electronic Connectivity for Women Workgroups'.  The workshop, which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, gave 11 women journalists from Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe the opportunity to improve their Internet skills. 

The workshop was organised in collaboration with the CFTC, the Southern African Development Community, and Sangonet, a Johannesburg based Internet service provider.  The CFTC was interested in facilitating and giving value to the traditional networks women have built-in Southern Africa, and finding a more modern way for the networks to work. 

"We are not only developing our own professional capacity, we are linking it to the development of rural women in our own countries," says Ms Sibanda.  "We found we were always downloading and never uploading.  We needed more content about what is happening in Africa on Internet, and to popularise our culture.  There is so much knowledge in rural communities, and we have to let people know about what happening in Africa on the Internet, and to popularise our culture.  There is so much knowledge in rural communities, and we have to let people know about the work being done at this level." 

Problems along the Internet path remain.  The main languages of the Internet are English and French, not local African languages, which is a barrier to wider local participation.  A further barrier is the skill required.  Communications technologies are still taking root in Africa, and the Internet is new to most African women in the media.  "Women always seem to be the last ones to have these technologies and to learn to use them for their development," says Ms Sibanda.  "These networks give us the opportunity of sharing our experiences, developing ourselves from isolation.  Governments in our countries can't do everything.  Media has a critical role to play in development and in ensuring that rural communities are heard and this is one way of doing that." 

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