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#8 Overcoming challenges to promote women's participation in community networks spaces in Nigeria

Episode 8|7 September 2023|20 minutes

In our eighth episode, travel to the African continent once again! In Nigeria, we will meet Harira Wakili and the Center for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) – a non-profit organisation promoting democracy and citizenship through information and communications technologies.

We learn more about their work on community networks and gender issues. We also hear from Josephine Miliza, who lives in Kenya. She is the current Africa Policy coordinator at the Local Networks initiative, which aims to contribute to an enabling ecosystem for the emergence and growth of community networks and other community-based connectivity initiatives.

“Routing for Communities” is a 12-episode podcast. Here you can listen to the life stories of people who have come up with alternatives to overcome the challenges of digital inclusion in remote, rural and urban areas across the globe.

Podcast Transcript

Stories and voices that are intertwined, connected by one thread: building internet and communication community networks.

Hello! My name is Renata Porto, I am from São Paulo, Brazil.

In our eighth episode, we will once again travel to the African continent.

Today, you will go with me to Nigeria, to get to know Harira Wakili and the Center for Information Technology and Development, or just CITAD, and more specifically, their work regarding community networks and gender issues.

“So here the women are very active after school and they are very active in their communities. They work on several aspects.”

We also talked to Josephine Miliza, who lives in Kenya. She is the current policies coordinator in Africa for the Local Networks Initiative, which supports community networks across the globe.

 “A way to do this is by ensuring that more women are actually involved in policy and advocacy work, especially in the telecom ecosystem.”

So come with me. Our episode is just getting started!

Routing for communities: An audio journey tracing community connectivity around the world.

Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa, with over 216 million people. It is located on the west coast of the African continent and has great diversity amongst its population. There are hundreds of ethnicities and languages in this country.

“Host: If we look at Nigeria today, would you say that we are on the right track to connectivity?

Specialst Jane Egerton-Idehen: We still have a huge gap. Nigeria still… because even though we have mobile penetration, I think we have 50%. Internet users are still very low. That’s what you are looking at. The reasons [why] beyond the main cities people could not cope is because we don’t have access to the internet.”

This is a 2020 excerpt from Channels Television news piece in Nigeria. It broached the way digital exclusion became even more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of connectivity, half of Nigeria’s population is using the internet, and approximately 90% have cellphones. But these devices are not necessarily set to have internet data, according to a national survey from 2021.

To better understand an initiative that has been transforming this scenario in the northern part of the country, we talked to our very first guest for this episode.


Hello Harira, how are you?

I’m good.

Thank you for joining me today.

You’re welcome.”

We could not see Harira in this call, but we saw some of her pictures online, almost always wearing wraps and scarves on her head. On her social network profiles one can also see her main role: gender and internet rights advocate. Over the course of our interview, her focus became even more evident, with the gender agenda being a highlight.

“My name is Harira Abdulrahman Wakili, from Kano, Nigeria. I’m 28 years old. I’m working in the area of digital inclusion, gender marginalisation, and also working in the area of promoting women participation in digital spaces, as well as promoting women’s participation in politics, women’s participation in decision-making, among others. So, before beginning the journey in community networks, I was solely working in the areas of gender, promoting gender digital inclusion. I worked in the area of advocating, on the area of countering, monitoring speech online. I have a diploma in Civil Law and I have a B.Sc. n International Relations.”

Harira is from Kano, a city located in the eponymous state, in Northern Nigeria. It is the second largest city in the country with around four million inhabitants. The local population is predominantly Muslim.

Kano is well known for its arts and traditional crafts, besides being considered the oldest city in Western Africa. It is also recognised as an educational centre. The Bayero University, where Harira got a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations, is located there.  

Harira works as gender and community networks officer at CITAD. This is a Nigerian non-profit organisation promoting democracy and citizenship through ICTs, information and communications technologies.

The organisation was born in 1996 as a centre for educational initiatives, called Computer Literacy Project. In the 2000s, CITAD broadened its scope of action and nowadays also works in areas such as gender violence and human rights, youth entrepreneurship, digital inclusion, among others.

CITAD works with influencers and social activists in educational processes, as well as tutoring women, local youth and community stakeholders.

“Because here in Nigeria, the kind of issues that the communities are facing is, there's a huge gap when it comes to education and ICT, and social infrastructure between the rural and the urban. So CITAD is focusing on promoting and doing its advocacy from the grassroot level. Also building the capacity of local champions or to serve as community champions in order to support the communities and all of that. So, after coming up with the community network project, CITAD uses one of seven communities, which we call micro-organisation. These are communities with whom CITAD works with to build a computer centre; some community library where  people have access to digital education. So, it's a community network project that gives us the opportunity to widen our works in those areas.”

According to Oxfam, Nigeria has over 112 million people living in poverty. Gender inequality is also present in areas such as education, in a scenario where three quarters of the most impoverished women in the country have never attended school, and 94% of them are unlettered.

Consequently, gender digital exclusion calls one’s attention. Girls are less likely than boys to use digital devices, access the internet, and even in getting opportunities for a formal education and jobs in the technological sector.

And it is to challenge such an unfair reality that CITAD has been developing community-centred connectivity in different parts of the country.         

When we say community-centred connectivity, we are thinking about connectivity alternatives that are managed, owned, built, informed or controlled by the local community. Or by local persons or organisations in partnership with the community – such as the community networks we heard in this podcast.

These experiences show that there is no single solution for the digital divide. The solutions must be as many as necessary to guarantee the self-determination of communities that cultivate different ways of living.

One of these communities with which CITAD has been working in Nigeria is Pasepa, where people are mostly from the Gbagyi tribe. There are around 3,000 people living between the hills in a valley.

“An example of one of the communities is Pasepa community; it is a community whereby they have a combination of traditional rules and views. So, they were very active. At the beginning of the community network project, we discovered that both the young and elderly people in the community are very active when it comes to advocacy, when it comes to promoting their community issues and all of that. But one thing we discovered in Pasepa is that there's low participation of women. At the beginning of the project, we tried to focus on women working together with the stakeholders in the community – with the local stakeholders – to see that we sensitise them and educate them on the power of women in the community and the importance of women coming out to support, to participate in community-based activities. Because we believe that if the elderly people were active, the male youth of the community were active, so definitely there are women’s issues that are yet to be addressed in the community.”

One of the projects in which CITAD worked and was able to increase the number of women participants was at the Nigerian School of Community Network. Its first edition took place in 2021, with people from many different communities across the country participating, especially rural ones. At the core of its agenda was how to create and manage community networks.

The initiative was supported by the Local Networks Initiative and sponsored by the UK Government’s Digital Access Programme. Besides Nigeria, other countries carried out these national schools in their own models, such as South Africa, Brazil, Kenya and Indonesia, as we were able to see in previous episodes of this season.

In Nigeria, at first, the school was divided in two parts: the first one conducted face-to-face for a few days and the second through an online tutoring program for six weeks. Different themes were discussed with the participants, such as community mobilisation, fundraising, rights defence, and technical issues.

Harira told our team that, over the course of the school, they noticed that men were creating barriers for women to take part, mostly due to the meetings’ times. In some Nigerian rural community cultures, women are not allowed to go for social activities in the evening. And all the activities were scheduled for the evenings because it was when men were getting back from work.

“Women participation has always been a challenge when it comes to working at the grassroot level. So, at the beginning, we worked together with the community leaders to select members of the community to come in for the school. At the second school, we adopted the strategy of Kenya, South Africa and other countries that are doing the project to make a kind of co-op application during the preparation of the school. So, during the course of application, we worked together with pioneer members of the school in order to kind of sensitise people in the community to apply for the school, which really helped us to have a 50/50 participation of women. And what really impressed us is the participation and commitment of women after the school, which is unlike what we were having before in most of our programmes that we do at the community level. So, here the women are very active after the school and in their communities. They work on several aspects of the school, not even the part of the community network for the day, widening their commitment to other projects they are doing in their communities respectively.”

From Kano, Nigeria, we will travel a few kilometres to the city of Nairobi in Kenya, where Josephine Miliza lives.


Hello, hi Vivian. Can you hear me?

Yes, Josephine, how are you?

I'm doing well. Apologies, because of connectivity, I'll just keep my video off.”

Josephine is described on the APC´s website as a “network engineer, who is passionate about making African communities enjoy digital technologies for their socioeconomic empowerment”. She is Africa’s regional policy coordinator for community networks at the Local Networks Initiative, led by APC and Rhizomatica.

“My name is Josephine Miliza and I live in Nairobi, Kenya. My background is in network engineering. I grew up in rural Kenya. I think in the grander scheme of things I always gravitated to work that looked to resolve issues around inequalities. So, whether it is inequalities in terms of access to education or inequalities in terms of access to opportunities that are available online… I started working in community networks in 2015, when I joined an organisation called Tunapanda. Since then, I have championed the community talks movement here in Kenya, being a pioneer starting the first committed work in Kenya and then also supporting several other community networks not just in Kenya but also across the continent.”

At APC, Josephine works towards the advocacy of regulatory policies and environments to support community-led networks. For example, focusing on how the internet or connectivity can reduce inequalities and offer opportunities, especially for African people.

The scenario of digital exclusion in Africa is marked by inequalities in rural and urban areas. The countryside does not have a proper digital infrastructure because it is not considered profitable or feasible by corporations.

However, urban areas are also affected, fundamentally in informal settlements, which – not surprisingly – receive a large number of migrants from the countryside. Such everlasting digital exclusion has shown the need for public policies and regulations to support community initiatives, and not only for corporations.

“Over the past years, we've seen the growth in terms of the movement of community networks, especially in Eastern and South Africa; but the main challenge still remains the issue around licensing. Currently only Kenya and Zimbabwe have what we call an enabling environment in terms of an affordable licence for community networks. So definitely there is need for more regulators to be able to recognize this particular licence category of non-profit organisations wanting to offer internet services in their communities.”

In our talk, Josephine also highlighted the need for these policies to mitigate women’s digital exclusion, which is very layered, from access to education to participation in decision-making processes.

“There's a gender digital divide that's important to be addressed, but also we need to be able to have policies to mainstream agenda when it comes to policies and regulation. And a way to do this is by ensuring that more women are actually involved in policy and advocacy work, especially in the telecom ecosystem. However, currently there are not that many women, especially with the gender digital divide, when it comes to technologies. So as part of APC LocNet project, there's a program called SPACE, which provides a space for women to come and learn about the telecom ecosystem, as well as how they can advocate an enabling policy and regulatory environments in their countries.”

SPACE, mentioned by Josephine, is the Socio-Political Advocacy for Community Networks Engagement initiative, which has already happened twice, in 2021 and 2022. The initiative gathered women and others interested in gender and community network issues from Africa, Asia, and Latin America in a process of capacity-building and mentoring.

Whose voices are heard in policy and regulatory spaces?

What are our gendered experiences in these spaces?

How can we build more inclusive, diverse and community-oriented access policies?

Issues like these were discussed over this initiative, which should have new editions in the coming years.

And this is the end of another episode. As always, I hope the stories that were told by voices from different parts of the world were a source of learning, hope, and a call to action. Together and collectively, we can support more women to take on leadership roles in community networks advocacy.

If you want to learn more about CITAD and the SPACE project, visit our landing page and links we left on the description of this episode.

If you liked this podcast, please help us to share these voices. Recommend it to those you know will appreciate it as well.

You can follow the season on the main podcast platforms or on APC’s website:

We’ll meet again soon, with new experiences and stories from community-led networks that are also connected to our lives.

In the ninth episode of our show, we will get to know more about a project which takes good internet access to rural areas in the United Kingdom. The story will be told by one of the project’s founders, Chris Conder.

You’ve listened to the eighth episode of “Routing for communities: An audio journey tracing community connectivity around the world”. This is the podcast of the Local Networks initiative, a collective effort led by APC and Rhizomatica. Production: Rádio Tertúlia.

In this episode, you listened to audio content by Channels Television, in Nigeria.

Thanks, and see you next time!

This podcast is an initiative from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Rhizomatica, produced by Rádio Tertúlia.
Script and production: Vivian Fernandes.
Presentation: Renata Porto.
Editing: Beatriz Pasqualino.
Sound: Lua Gatinoni.
Coordination: Beatriz Pasqualino and Débora Prado.
Consulting Board: Bruna Zanolli, Cynthia El Khoury, Daniela Bello, Flavia Fascendini, Kathleen Diga ​​​​and Nils Brock.
Translation: Thiago Moyano.