ZIMBABWE on Wednesday joined the rest of the world in celebrating International Womena��s Day.
It has been celebrated annually for more than a century since the first International Womena��s day was celebrated on 8 March 1914.
Although a lot has changed for women globally there seems to be some challenges in developing countries like Zimbabwe. These include social institutions and an increased risk of sexual harassment and violence, especially at work.
In Zimbabwe access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is also one of the major problems faced by women. There is no doubt that access to ICTs can be a powerful tool to be used by women to advance their rights and other issues affecting them in their daily lives.
According to a UN report, access to ICTS can give women greater power to close the gender wage gap, as it is a means of production that allows for some control and determination on the price that women can sell their labour.
The report also states that access to ICTs by women and girls has a critical role to play in making education accessible to them with possible large impact on improved quality.
With internet providers projecting the connection of one billion users a�� mostly from Africa a�� women need to claim their space and make it to the annals of history in the use of ICTs to develop themselves.
Director of Zimbabwe Young Womena��s Network for Peace building, Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje, said as Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Womena��s Day there was a need to acknowledge that women were not that active in using ICTs.
She said, for example, to advance local womena��s leadership and participation, they needed to have an online platform where they could connect globally and get information on how to run for office and get elected.
a�?Women have a phobia of embracing ICTs. It could be the backlash that comes with putting onea��s story or business in the digital world, or the low access to internet services and data prices that are very high in Zimbabwe.
a�?For us, technology can be a game-changer for women and girls. It can make the 21st century a womena��s and girlsa�� century.
a�?Our view is, we must not settle for a�?smarta�� societies, but also aspire for societies that are also a�?wise,a�� guided by rights and values, where gender equality is realised and where technology works for the poor and for women and girls,a�? said Chirenje.
Chirenje said there had been notable increase in terms of sharing information, among women through ICT platforms, for the betterment of their livelihood.
Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Member of the House of Assembly for Matabeleland South believes that different network platforms are partly to blame for failing to aid women with the necessary aid or tools, for them to realise the potential of ICTs.
a�?Mobile operators are profit driven in comparison to coming up or developing products, that provide necessary access that women need to work and get the best out of ICTs,a�? said Misihairabwi-Mushonga.
She said social media could be used to share womena��s narratives and also share coping mechanisms including where to find safe houses and exploring possibilities and synergies of health care services.
Despite less access and fewer women benefiting from using ICTs, Misihairabwi-Mushonga notes that there has been a great improvement as more women now have access to mobile phones with internet.
a�?A few years ago, women had limited access to ICTs and in some case no access at all. But now more women have access to cellphones. Nevertheless there is less penetration in using the facilities to access health tips, for agriculture, like what women in Kenya are doing,a�? she said.
In Kenya women have managed to use ICTs for agricultural purposes.
Other countries around the world are also using technology to end violence against women by providing mobile phone apps to report safety risks and to get access to service for survivors of gender-based violence.
Sandra Sibanda, a final year student at Midlands State University studying Computer Science, said despite having the potential to develop mobile applications to aid women on different societal issues, she was more concerned about accessibility of the applications.
a�?There are many applications that can be developed to ensure that women monitor their health, business, share information and in general make their lives easy. The question is, are Zimbabwean women in a position to access these applications or even know that they exist?a�? said Sibanda.
Nevertheless,A� Misihairabwi-Mushonga,A� noting how women are excluded, said if mobile operators push for better services aimed at promoting women, ZimbabweA� might be headed in a positive direction.
a�?Like I hinted mobile operators are the ones that have the potential to change the ICTs landscape in Zimbabwe. Once that has changed then the set up becomes favourable and women will be able to use ICTs effectively,a�? she said.