Nº 3 2013 > Government and industry role models
Telecentre Women: Digital Literacy Campaign
Empowerment through technology
Contributed by Maria Teresa Camba, Director of Operations of the Telecentre.org Foundation
For millions of women, digital literacy is the lifeline to a new future — a lifeline which the Telecentre Women: Digital Literacy Campaign seeks to cast in all corners of the world. This global campaign is spearheaded by ITU and the Telecentre.org Foundation, the global leader for telecentres.
The story of just one woman illustrates the empowering role of telecentres. Noura, whose name is derived from the Arabic word for light, is 27 years old and has physical disabilities. She used to spend her days in isolation, sitting in front of her house and watching people pass by. Listening to music was Noura’s only solace until she started training at the Salamieh Telecentre in the Syrian Arab Republic. Soon Noura was mastering computer programming. Today, Noura is working as a trainer for International Computer Driving Licence courses at the Studies Center for Handicapped Research in Salamieh and she is a shining light for other people with disabilities. “I was lucky enough to be able to improve my chances for a future career. The courses at the Salamieh Telecentre helped me to get my job,” says Noura.
The Telecentre Women: Digital Literacy Campaign is a global initiative to help empower the mass of disadvantaged and underserved community women by providing training that will open up pathways to knowledge of information and communication technologies (ICT). This, in turn, will lead them to personal growth and expanded opportunities for better lives.
At the helm of the campaign is ITU’s partner, Telecentre.org, a global programme that supports the establishment and sustainability of telecentres towards a vision of opening up “digital opportunities for poverty alleviation at the grassroots”.
Leveraging the combined reach of the Telecentre.org Foundation’s global network along with ITU’s 193 Member States and 806 Sector Members, Associates and Academia, the Telecentre Women: Digital Literacy Campaign has already reached out to more than half a million women, helping them to acquire digital literacy via telecentres and telecentre networks throughout the world; launched a global search for the top 100 Outstanding Telecentre Women Managers; stimulated and enlisted the support of more than 140 organizations (including networks of telecentres) from 86 countries; enlisted private and public sector partners, international agencies and local stakeholders to demonstrate the role of telecentres in empowering communities, in line with the standards set by the Millennium Development Goals.
Digital Literacy Campaign target group, movers and expected results
Global target group: One million disadvantaged community women.
Movers: Telecentre women achievers, private and public sector partners, international agencies, local stakeholders, the global network of telecentres, and knowledge workers.
Expected results: Empowerment of community women with information access, entrepreneurship and employable digital skills, opportunities for higher schooling, and membership of a supportive global digital community.
The telecentre woman comes from or is linked to the grassroots. The Telecentre Women: Digital Literacy Campaign views the telecentre woman from two perspectives.
On one hand, the telecentre woman is the manager or knowledge worker who ensures telecentre services, encourages wider use of the telecentre in the community, and maintains and generates local and external resources to contribute to the sustainability of telecentres.
On the other hand, the telecentre woman is a community woman, with or without formal education or even functional literacy, who is a telecentre user or a potential user. Even without extensive knowledge of computer operations or ICT, she uses (or has the potential to use) a telecentre to better perform her roles or expand the boundaries of her life.
An example of the latter type of telecentre woman is Nancy, who lives in Leyte, Philippines, and who had no formal schooling at all. Her life seemed to be at a dead-end when, at 38 years of age, she discovered the Tanuan eSkwela (eSchool Telecentre).
Throwing herself into learning to use computers and driven to pass the Alternative Learning System Accreditation and Equivalency Test offered by the government, Nancy succeeded in earning certificates of learning achievement equivalent to formal elementary and secondary education. Seeing that ICT had opened a new door for her, she enrolled her own son and two nephews in the telecentre learning courses too.
Today, with a high-school diploma in hand, things are looking up for Nancy. She is moving on to a vocational course to augment the family income. She says, “Despite my age, I was not ashamed to go to the telecentre, because there were others of my age there too. I also got to learn how to use the computer — a must in this day and age. I will not stop there. I will also take a vocational course, to help my husband, a carpenter, to provide a better future for our ten children.”
Bridging the digital literacy gap for women
Today’s world runs on ICT, giving people the reach and power to achieve new levels of personal growth and the means to shape events, realize aspirations, build relationships, and create their futures in ways that were previously unimaginable.
For women especially, ICT has proven to be life-changing. It has broken traditions and social prejudices, expanded their roles in society and the home, giving many a new economic and social freedom that has redefined them as people of stature and value in their communities. Seeing ICT-empowered mothers and disadvantaged women actively participating in the knowledge economy demonstrates the life-altering power of technology and shows what ICT could offer many other women.
But too many women remain disconnected from the global technological revolution, especially so in developing countries where only 20 per cent of women are online, according to Intel’s Women and the Web report. These women are trapped in traditional family roles, without the basic digital literacy that could help them grow and achieve more of their potential.
Basic digital literacy means more than just the ability to use a computer to communicate via e‑mail or through a social network. It also means being able to use ICT to improve women’s lives in ways related to the realities of their environments and needs. For women agricultural workers, it may mean taking advantage of helpful market information to produce more and sell at better prices. For home-based women, it may mean becoming a homepreneur, and finding livelihood opportunities that increase productivity and family income.
The Telecentre Women: Digital Literacy Campaign empowers one of the sectors of the population that is most vulnerable to poverty and its consequences — women. Bringing disadvantaged women into the mainstream of the digital revolution empowers them with access, information, choices, opportunities and options they never had before.
Digital literacy increases the value of the telecentre woman to her family and community, whether in Africa, the Arab States, Asia-Pacific, the Americas, the Commonwealth of Independent States or Europe. She will become more employable, and be able to contribute more, as well as being an asset to any enterprise. Promoting digital literacy provides a significant impetus to the global crusade against poverty.