How are APC members improving their communities’ lives? In this column we’re highlighting stories of impact and change by our members, supported by APC subgranting. KICTANet works towards network building to bring diverse voices and pieces of evidence to the spotlight and build enabling regulation for ICTs in Kenya. The lack of women's voices and information around the local impact of COVID-19 was the focus of the latest research they led.
How can we build regulations and technologies able to bring about development without leaving anyone behind? Relying on the power of communities to raise multiple perspectives and voices, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) has been fostering a gender perspective and bottom-up initiatives to build change in the face of even more accentuated inequalities given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
KICTANet is a multistakeholder platform for people and institutions interested in information and communications technology (ICT) policy and regulation. By fostering cooperation and collaboration among civil society, industry, the technical community, academia, media and government, the network acts on multiple fronts, combining policy and advocacy with stakeholder engagement, capacity building and research to build towards better policy alternatives.
The lack of women’s voices and evidence around their realities was the focus of one research project led by the organisation during the pandemic. “There is not enough documentation of women in low-income and rural communities’ experiences with online gender-based violence, and given enough time and resources this is an area of research we would have focused on,” explains KICTANet.
By using both qualitative and quantitative research methodology approaches, they were able to build important documentation of the realities that women face in Kibera – the largest informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, with an estimated population of 500,000 to 700,000 people. For all those people living there, the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated pre-existing inequalities, such as lack of proper housing and sanitation, overpopulation, insufficient water and electricity, access to technological infrastructure and an inadequate number of schools. And these contexts disproportionately impacted women.
The report, subgranted by APC through the Local Networks initiative, aimed to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on women in the area. “The research process allowed us to conceptualise the different needs that women in Kibera have and to capture some of the initiatives they would love to see on the ground,” highlights KICTANet. From there, the report also provides key recommendations to contribute to effective and locally relevant responses grounded and led by an intersectional gender lens. Additionally, it highlights the role of community-centric approaches such as community networks and communities of care in supporting women during and beyond the pandemic.
The project was made in a collaboration led by KICTANet and the research report was written by Mwara Gichanga, Josephine Miliza, Nzambi Kakusu, Risper Akinyi, Winnie Akoko and Cecilia Maundu. This column focuses on APC members and partners, highlighting KICTANet's experience in this case.
Gendered impact of COVID-19 on women in Kibera
According to the research report, women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in Kenya, especially in informal settlements such as Kibera, where they often deal with everyday economic, political and social burdens that they need to overcome in order to create cohesion in their families and communities. Moreover, women are critical contributors to the survival of their households, tasked with ensuring the family is well fed, clothed and housed, and that children have access to education.
Despite these roles, the majority of these women are still excluded from planning and decision-making processes. And beyond all the existing inequalities, the pandemic brought more layers of concern, such as additional economic responsibilities in relation to their families and communities or even experiencing domestic abuse while isolating with the abusers.
The research revealed that 70% of women's usual way of life has been affected since the pandemic, with access to healthcare services, food, water, electricity and work extremely negatively impacted. More than half of the respondents have expressed experiencing the psychological impact of the pandemic and reported frustration, uncertainty, boredom and loneliness, as well as heightened levels of anxiety and stress.
Recommendations for supporting women and building resilience
Acknowledging that gender inequality is multifaceted, the report recommends local and gender-sensitive approaches, strategies and interventions that intentionally focus on supporting women and building their resilience during and after the pandemic. “A one size fits all approach will only contribute towards widening the existing inequalities,” highlights KICTANet. The publication presents seven recommendations to that end:
Documentation and collection of sex, disability and age disaggregated data, on varying rates of infection, economic dimensions, care burden and incidences of domestic violence and sexual abuse during and post COVID-19.
Bottom-up approaches in developing a long-term economic strategy, which address gender inequalities in the economy. Economic strategies should be inclusive of women’s participation, incentives to stimulate women’s participation in potential growth areas such as ICT and innovation and seed funding to women SMEs and businesses. National reforms should improve gender equality.
Participation and contribution of diverse women’s leadership in rapid response programs in decision making at the local, county or national level. Employing a multistakeholder approach that is inclusive of community care initiatives, civil societies and women’s rights organisations.
Recognising the seriousness of psychosocial effects and the need to safeguard the mental health of women.
Establishing localised initiatives or building on pre-existing ones such as community care that drive for free and easy access to psychosocial support within communities, through online and telephone counselling sessions for women and girls from the informal settlement and referral services that address anxiety and stress related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Community-driven, gender-centred research and documentation on psychosocial data focusing on mental health issues experienced by the women in the slums and the development of COVID-19 policies while planning interventions to fight the pandemic.
The majority of the women in Kibera are part of a social group, for example, table banking groups locally known as chamas. Additionally, there exist several women's centres or spaces in Kibera such as the power women group centre. These centres can be equipped to become safe spaces that offer support on the wellbeing and mental health issues of women in Kibera. The centres can also host women to learn from each other.
Bottom-up approaches to the digital divide that leave no one behind
Among its recommendations based on the research conducted to listen to women in Kibera, KICTANet also points out the importance of digital inclusion. In different countries, the pandemic led to the need for access in order to participate in increasing online activities such as education, in the context of social distance measures. The research showed that in Kibera, although 91% of the women own a smartphone, most of them are forced to share their devices with family members and this poses different risks like data leakage and privacy violations.
Considering the many layers of inequalities, however, KICTANet stands up for bottom-up approaches to close the digital divide, such as through community networks, which present a holistic solution to ensuring that no one is left behind. According to KICTANet, community networks are telecommunication infrastructure built with and for the community to support economic and social activities. “These types of networks are emerging as complementary access models that adopt a holistic approach to addressing digital exclusions,” highlights the report. In Kibera, TunapandaNET is a low-cost community wireless network championed by Tunapanda Institute, also an APC subgrantee, whose goal is to build a digital ecosystem with the aim of addressing digital inequalities for the socially and economically disadvantaged living in the region.
This could be a way to ensure women’s appropriation of technologies, but the research also identified barriers to their participation in community networks initiatives. In the face of these challenges, special and intentional efforts must be taken in order to identify women’ needs and co-create solutions for, with and by women, such as co-creating favourable pricing plans that are affordable and accessible to women in spite of their economic status.
Another concrete example of this approach in the publication is to explore mobile e-learning platforms and multimedia digital content, considering that the majority of the women have access to smartphones and this could be an opportunity for women to overcome many obstacles to education, such as time, reduced mobility, cost and sociocultural norms. The content should also be created in collaboration with the women and incorporate existing local knowledge.
Among its recommendations towards their involvement, KICTANet encourages other actions to promote women’s participation in community networks, build digital capacities of women and support the development of women-centred content, applications and services. They also encourage mitigation and response to online threats that hinder women’s access to and use of technology. Applying a gender lens in the participatory process for the design, implementation and operation of a community network, thus, is key.
This piece is a version of information provided by KICTANet as part of the project "Connecting the Unconnected: Supporting community networks and other community-based connectivity initiatives", adapted for the Seeding Change column, which presents the experiences of APC members and partners who were recipients of funding through APC's catalytic interventions grants, and of subgrants offered through other APC projects and staff working on subgranting in the organisation.
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