Women's Voices is part of the international Women's Information and Communications Technology (WICT) project which works with poor urban women in Kenya, Peru and Zimbabwe by supporting their existing communication skills.
The women in each country received brief training in video use before taking control in using it to reach, inform and influence those who have the power to affect their lives.
- Case study: read about the Kenyan Women's Voices project, which won the Betinho Communication Prize for using ICTs for social justice
- Watch extracts from the videos online
- The international Women's Information and Communications Technology project, as part of Practical Action's gender and technology programme, and the lessons to be learnt
Women's voices rarely contribute to the policy debate about 'poverty'. In Kenya, Zimbabwe and Peru, as elsewhere in the developing world, women play a central role in family, community and social development. However women often remain invisible and unheard. Women more than men have to balance the complexities of surviving in extreme poverty, yet these women are excluded from discussion because they are often illiterate, they lack confidence and they lack mobility.
Virginia Njihia behind the camera
Participation depends on representation, on being heard, so it is vital that poor women speak out on behalf of all the poor in order to overcome the cultural and gender barriers to their use of technology. In a project funded by DfID, Practical Action and partner organisations set out to talk to women living in very poor urban areas in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Peru by asking them how they thought they could get their views across to policy makers, and what it was that they had to say.
The initiative focused mainly on women's groups within the slums of Nairobi, Harare and Lima. Within these slums, families live in poorly constructed shelters of mud, cardboard, and rusting iron sheets. These homes are densely packed along twisting narrow lanes, which serve as open drains. Water, sanitation, drainage and electricity are scarce, whilst violent crime, illegal drugs, alcohol, HIV/AIDS and unemployment seriously afflict these areas. Diseases and high death rates particularly among children are prevalent due to the poor environmental conditions.
One way of exploring how to get women's voices and concerns about these issues to the policy makers is through the use of modern information and communication technologies or ICTs. ICTs offer the opportunities for direct, interactive communication even by those who lack skills, who are illiterate, lack mobility and have little self-confidence.
The Kenya project has won great acclaim, featuring on many TV shows and newspaper articles as well as winning the Bethino Award for Technology and Social Justice. However, the work done by the women in Dzivarasekwa women's group, Harrare, Zimbabwe and Practical Action SA, did excellent work and are still negotiating with city council officials for tenure security.
Practical Action-EA began working with two women's groups from two informal settlements, Mathare and Redeemed Village in Nairobi, Kenya. Practical Action-EA like Practical Action SA trained these women's groups in filming - scripting, shooting and editing, using old borrowed Betamax cameras. They also discussed how they could include their whole community by showing them rough-cuts and asking for contributions to the film narratives.
Activities in Kenya
The Redeemed village was originally settled in 1978 by people evicted from a nearby settlement. A huge fire devastated the village in 1986 and the Redeemed Church contributed building materials for rebuilding - hence the name. Today they still do not have legal tenure. The women in the group are mostly over 60, petty traders selling vegetables or paper, most of them single and responsible for families, sometimes several families of grandchildren. Mathare 3B has been settled longer, since 1960 and forcible evictions started in 1980. At that time human rights activists began a sensitisation campaign on land rights. The women of Mathare 3B are younger, most of them in their twenties and thirties, a little better educated than in Redeemed Village but still with limited employment opportunities.
After a vigorous selection session that led to the identification of Mathare 3B and Redeemed Village as the project locations and the selection of a total of twenty women from the settlements, the main activity was training. This was necessary to teach the necessary skills to the women. A four-day training workshop was organised in a nearby church, followed by several weeks of practice in the field. The women then established a shooting plan and an issue script showing their lives and their dreams.
"Telling Our Story", two fifteen-minute features were produced by the two women's groups, capturing the challenges, resolves and aspirations of the women in the informal settlements. The group from Redeemed Village scripted their feature in Swahili as the majority do not understand English.
Virginia Njihia in action as Mary Kamande looks on
Shelter and secure tenure featured prominently in the two productions and vivid pictures of their squalid living conditions were captured as well as the health related risks. HIV/AIDS, the number of orphans and the plight of elderly grandparents were discussed and the scarcity of men within their communities. Young men and boys are most affected by alcohol, drugs and crime. The women also spoke of their dreams, of their daily savings club, their community fund derived from cleaning and charging for the few available latrines.
The women were very proud of their videos, which were shown on national TV. They were featured on current affairs programmes and in the national press. Their families and neighbours have admired their new skills and now respect their views. The women have clear ideas about what they need and see the resolution of their tenure difficulties as something they could resolve and which would be the basis for further development, for jobs, skills training, legal rights and HIV/AIDS services.
After only ten months the groups organised and hosted a grand 'launch' of their videos. This was held in the British Council auditorium in Nairobi where the women spoke about making the videos. The invited audience included government ministers, the director of housing, MPs, donors, NGOs, academic and women's groups from other parts of Kenya. Using their video achievement to bolster confidence the women talked directly to the policy makers in a moving presentation.
Empowerment of the women is one of the most important outputs of the project. The women have acquired new skills in video production, which they are putting to good use. They have already covered the Women's Day celebrations, World Aids day and several Practical Action-EA documentaries. The videos have also now been transferred to CDs and they have been shown around the world with the women's consent, including Zimbabwe, USA (World Bank) and Britain (DfID engineers' conference). Groups have exchanged videos and significantly, the two groups in Kenya and one in Zimbabwe identified tenure insecurity as their primary concern. They appreciate their new strength and are already in contact with regional support organisations for 'illegal' squatters.
Emanuel Njenga from APC handing over certificates to the victors Mary Kamande (centre) from Redeemed village and Sabina Wanjiku from Mathare
The Practical Action project also won the APC Herbet de Souza "Betinho" Communication Prize in recognition of information and communication technologies for social justice, a significant achievement.
The project was featured on TV in Kenya, in an Africa-wide programme, on German TV, on BBC World Service, on ABC World News USA and in a New Scientist article.
In the future the whole community hope to have an information resource centre with access to tenure legislation, training details, AIDS/HIV information, even job opportunities. The group from Mathare 3B have now acquired a video camera and also negotiated to supply TV news and development video clips to one of the leading broadcasting stations in the country. The group have covered several incidents of unrest in their settlement and provided the material to the media for use as news items.
The empowerment of the individual women within the groups has built the community's capacity to develop. It is the women's access to important information, their social contacts, family authority and their wealth of relevant knowledge, which is the foundation stone for family and community empowerment. Although this case study explored the impact in Kenya the effect in Zimbabwe has been in every way comparable.
Political representatives and local authority officials for example, now have credible, authentic and relevant information along with capable partners they can work with inside the slums. Enduring personal relationships of trust have been established and can be used to form the basis for future development. At the launch, a cabinet minister promised to recall an official report to include details learnt from the women's videos.
The Kenyan story is part of an international project, which works with poor urban women by supporting their existing communication skills. The women in each country received brief training in video use and then they took control in using it to reach, inform and influence those who have the power to affect their lives. We called this project Women's Voices.
All ITDGPractical Action's Gender and Technology action research projects specifically target the very poorest people. Almost three quarters of the world's poorest people are female and without developing a mechanism which can overcome the so far intractable problems created by misogyny, lack of literacy, mobility, access and cultural segregation experienced by women, all our interventions are doomed to interact only with the 'better off poor'.
The Gender and Technology Programme seeks to mainstream a gender perspective into all of our work but also to take a specialist approach to the development of practical tools. These tools help our colleagues and ourselves to acknowledge and support the existing skills and knowledge already held by people living in poor communities.
Without outside prompting the women in Mathare 3B and Redeemed Village gave their story of degraded infrastructure, violence and alcohol, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, the plight of the elderly, roads, energy, sanitation, waste, transportation, lack of education, lack of hope and much more besides. They explained how they maintained the three latrines and kept the drains clear. They explained how they saved regularly to buy land for their grandchildren.
Each country approached the work differently. In Zimbabwe where the project took place during a period of considerable political upheaval the women faced considerable resistance and even threats of violence. The women were a group of vegetable traders living in Dzivarasekwa Extension outside Harare.
Their families were 'removed' to the outskirts from the city centre ten years ago as a 'temporary' measure. New housing was promised. Little maintenance has been done since that time and the area suffers from inadequate water supplies, no sanitary facilities and constant sewage flooding. Two children have died after falling into flooded streams of sewage. The men faced a two-hour walk into the city for work. Over the years many men have relocated, taking new families within the city.
The women of Dzivarasekwa succeeded in influencing the decision-makers. Their involvement in creating the film inspired each of the twelve women to stand up at the policy workshop, along with their children, and tell politicians and housing department bureaucrats their opinions. Since the project ended the women have been promised new land on the other side of Harare. They are waiting to see what happens next ...
Expanding community empowerment
The experience in Kenya and Zimbabwe has led to Practical Action expanding the idea of community empowerment through media. There are two new projects, which will utilise lessons from Women's Voices.
Distance Support for Rural Women is set in Northern India and Bangladesh. Using videos and other communication technology, village women producers, researchers and teacher trainers are linked together for mutual support. The academics are informed about production techniques which are most relevant to those living in poverty, and they can draw on this information to make both their teaching and their research more useful. The women for their part can expect technical and market support
The Participatory Energy Appraisal project is set in Nepal, Sudan and Senegal. This is in two parts, the first allows the women, using participatory media and the Discovering Technologists Manual developed by Practical Action, to design their own energy proposal after considering for themselves their energy resources, vulnerabilities and needs. The second part is the implementation of this project, co-ordinated by the women themselves.
The lesson for us is clear. We must learn humility in our work and support, not direct, the people we work with. We need their partnership, as they need ours. Poverty, like much in life, is experienced differently by women and men, by children and elderly people and so it follows that strategies to impact poverty must be informed by those they seek to affect. The Gender and Technology Programme offers a way in which those most affected can be supported to speak for themselves and take that message in their own words to the highest levels. It means that other people do not define the women's problem and decide the solution but rather the poor themselves have the power to directly affect their future.
Making modern ICTs accessible as a tool for individual empowerment is vital if the new technology is not to compound the existing injustices. Democracy depends on representation, on being heard. It is vital that poor women speak out on behalf of all poor people and that somehow they overcome the cultural and gender barriers to their use of the technology.