By AAW DURBAN, South Africa, 05 June 2006
Performing research can be challenging, especially when researchers turn to their own communities. In the – GRACE project, researchers will meet to share their findings and develop their writing skills in early June in Durban, South Africa. Organised in fourteen different teams, they “live and work” in twelve African countries and all tackle a fundamental question: How do women in Africa use information and communication technologies (ICTs) for empowerment?
The dream behind GRACE (Gender Research in Africa into ICTs for Empowerment) is to evolve into a sustainable research network that will continue to engage women into ICTs and gender issues beyond its own duration.
Inspired by this vision, GRACE embraces a strong emphasis on research capacity building in all phases of the process.
Every team has its own research focus, thereby bringing various talents and capacities together in the project. The teams’ research and methods are driven by countries’ specific needs and their own research passions.
Because very little research into women and ICTs had been done in Africa, the GRACE network’s primary methodological focus is on qualitative research
Sharing and reflecting on ‘empowerment’
At the time of writing, GRACE researchers – most of them women – are writing their research reports and preparing for the writing and sharing workshop that will take place in Durban, South Africa, from June 2 to 15.
Writing research results reveals how much one has learnt and to what extent more data collection is needed. Various researchers have, on the basis of their data analysis, decided to deconstruct the concept on which they had ‘built’ their data collection instruments – such as observation and interviewing – on: ‘empowerment’.
Does ‘empowerment’ only speak to the desire to rectify the various aspects of existing inequality between women and men, or does it also speak to the vision of a different world? Has there been archeological evidence of an alternative to the androcratic (patriarchal) systems, as for instance the ‘partnership society’ model described Riane Eisler?
If researchers would choose to approach the concept of empowerment in line with a vision of a different world, what kind of world would be coherent with what the research respondents have expressed as dreams for themselves?
In any of these questions, the way in which researchers approach this very central concept of ‘empowerment’ will have a profound impact on the way research findings, conclusions and recommendations are ‘framed’.
This makes us ask if researchers would be willing to take into account that their own perceptions and understandings could also be informed by their own socialisation processes as citizens, activists and scientists in androcratic societies? What would the effect of this reflection be on their writing?
These are only some of the many interrogations that will hopefully orient and put into perspective the unique work of GRACE researchers.
Living and working as native anthropologists
Doing qualitative research can be challenging and confrontational, especially when researchers turn to their own communities. The challenge for ‘native anthropologists’ here, is to avoid blindness to valuable research elements that they would be tempted to take for granted.
It can thus be expected that the research journeys have lead to introspection and self-reflection, more than would normally be the case in qualitative research involving women doing research with women.
And while this extra involvement may have given quite a few GRACE researchers more than they bargained for, it has made the research journeys even more worthwhile.
Researchers rely on ICTs for their work
An important component of the GRACE research is developing ICT platforms and learning new tools to enhance the research process and networking among the researchers. They keep in contact with each other – especially the research coordination team – via email. As people are in dispersed communities, email is the main medium of communication.
This virtual communication is combined with visits by the Grace research coordinator to all the research sites and two workshops that will have had been held by mid-June 2006. In between, GRACE researchers keep connected and document their research through ICT tools. An intranet is functioning where documents are uploaded and stored. Recently a GRACE blog was created followed by three research team blogs.
GRACE has been coordinated by APC-Africa-Women –the regional network of the APC women’s programme (APC WNSP)- from 2005 until June 2006 and aims to explore the ways in which women in Africa use ICTs to empower themselves, the external, structural barriers as well as the internal factors which prevent them from using ICTs to their advantage, and the strategies they employ to overcome these barriers. This two-year research project will be completed in April 2007.
GRACE is supported by a research grant from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada. The public GRACE website is at http://www.apcwomen.org/grace