By ES for APCNews MEXICO, Mexico, 29 March 2007
Blogs for African Women (BAWo) has taken hold of the Nigerian blogging spirit to strengthen women’s activism. Oreoluwa Somolu, BAWo’s founder, sees blogging as a way to get women “hooked on technology”, and gain important skills for community and NGO leadership at the same time. Networking for Success, BAWo’s second initiative getting women into the blogosphere, has just been awarded an Harambee Small Grant to increase BAWo’s collaboration capacity.
Nine young women, activists in non-governmental organisations or community programmes in Lagos, will come together online and face-to-face to gain technical skills in blogging, podcasting and wikis over the next six months. Networking for Success is geared towards women who are already looking for ways that technology can help their work, who want to reach out to other organisations and collaborate more effectively. But the initiative is not just about “learning technology for technology’s sake”, says Oreoluwa. The project blog, which women will be trained how to use, will feature weekly themes of interest to women activists, such as how to start an NGO, fundraise, or organisational motivation. Every week two mentors, specialists in a given theme, will accompany the debate and questions from women. Interviews with experts will be available in podcasts. Training in new tools will take place in a local cybercafé twice a month, and the participants will collaborate in a project wiki.
“Knowing how to use technology is very empowering,” comments Oreoluwa. “You feel, I have access to this now, I don’t have to rely on someone who feels they know better than me or people that horde knowledge.” This is especially important in Nigeria, she points out, because access to information is so difficult. Oreoluwa also notes that women’s knowledge in particular is undervalued and dispersed, “We have so much information to share as African women. Blogging helps us pool our knowledge.”
Wikis and blogs are so easy to use, continues Oreoluwa, that people get “hooked on technology.” She considers blogs a “gateway technology” because they naturally lead people to dig deeper and learn more about the tools they are using. “You realise, I can DO this, and then maybe you change the look of your blog through the template, and doing that maybe you learn a bit of html.” More importantly, the collaborative spirit of the blogging community encourages people to build their skills, with many willing to offer tips when a call for help is issued. And having increased computer savvy, Oreoluwa is quick to point out, is great for women’s future employment opportunities.
Collaboration is contagious. BAWo got started because Oreoluwa posted about how she’d be mentoring young women in Middle Asia, and how she would like to do something similar for Nigerian women. “I was contacted by Sokari Ekine, whose blog BlackLooks.org is a landmark blog for all of us. She is one of the earliest African women bloggers. She said, if you really want to do that, let’s do it!” Fahamu and Pambazuka News have been staunch supporters of BAWo since the beginning, hosting BAWo’s blog.
“We are working towards having more young women being more active users of technology, and not just users but developers. It would be great to see women deciding to pursue technology related careers because of projects that they have been involved in through us,” says Oreoluwa. “I really hope that Nigeria will become a place where information is not so hard to get a hold of. It’s about building a stronger information society and having young women playing a big role in that.”