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Seminar Series #8 CD-ROM

case study

A CD-ROM for Rural Women in Africa

Development of a New Information Tool

The International Women’s Tribune Centre (IWTC), working in partnership with the International Development Research/Eastern and Southern Africa Office (IDRC/ESAO), Nairobi, has developed a new information tool that offers direct access to information for women who are among the most marginalized in development --poor women with little or no reading ability. The starting place for this initiative is Africa and the starting point is a CD-ROM  “Rural Women in Africa: Ideas for Earning Money.”

Pioneered in Uganda by IWTC and IDRC/ESAO working in partnership with the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, Media One, community groups such as Council for Economic Empowerment of Women (CEEWA), Isis-WICCE and the Uganda YWCA, the technical specifications that guided the development of the new information tool were that it be used on basic computer systems at rural telecentres, require minimal technical know-how to operate, and not rely on access to the internet or worldwide web. The educational requirements were that the content material be accessible to an audience with little or no reading skills, be seen as having immediate value and be in the language of the community. Furthermore, and from a practical perspective, the new tool needed to be affordable in cost and adaptable into other languages to ensure widespread replicability and viability.

An underlying premise of this project was that the audience for this new information tool would be first time users of computers. It was also assumed that a rural woman’s initial experience in using this new information tool would be important in determining whether the woman became a repeat user of facilities in the telecentres.  In short, the new tool was expected to deliver not only useful information but also a positive experience.

The end product is a CD-ROM that uses a simple browser navigating system with graphic interface and spoken text. The content for the new CD-ROM was drawn and adapted from two primary sources: From Boardroom to Burning Sun: Interviews with 75 Successful Entrepreneurs in Uganda by Peg Snyder which offered a wealth of information on “best practices” of successful entrepreneurial women, and the small business training manual, Marketing Strategies, developed by the Overseas Education Fund (OEF) and field-tested extensively among low-income women in Africa. The CD-ROM is currently available in English and Luganda language versions.


Our work to date suggests that this new tool is affordable, adaptable, capable of carrying multiple language tracks (thus an extremely effective vehicle for several local language sound tracks) and a critical component in fashioning larger interactive communication strategies. Imagine the possibilities of offering women farmers direct access to information they need to improve their productivity without relying on an agricultural extension agent -who is most likely a man and who, experience shows, communicates only with male farmers. Or imagine what rural women entrepreneurs could do if they had access to current market prices or ideas on crop diversification, or improved animal husbandry? 

international women's tribune centre (iwtc)

Lessons Learned:

Based on our past two years of work in Uganda, important lessons learned include:

1. Empowerment of Women

The sense of empowerment that rural women at the Nakaseke telecentre experienced when they discovered that they could easily learn to use the computer and could navigate their own way through the CD-ROM, although expected, was nonetheless exhilarating. As Anne S. Walker writes in her recent visit to Nakaseke (February 2002):

"It was astonishing to see the active and vocal role played by the women farmers themselves in demanding that their telecentre be rebuilt after being burned to the ground. They wanted their computer programme back and nothing would stand in their way! They have become greatly empowered in the one year since the first field test of the programme in February 2001, and now are outspoken in their support for the project, for the information given, and for future possibilities. There is no comparison between the quiet, timid, almost apologetic group of women who first sat down to discuss the possibility of a programme that would allow them to use the computers at the telecentre for the first time...and the group of women today, who are lining up at the computers for a chance to use the programme, or to show someone else how to use it. The pride on their faces that they have had a part to play in this is infectious. And to see a mother showing her school-age child how to use the computer is wonderful to watch. These were women who were accustomed to being laughed at just one year ago when they even approached a computer, much less touched it."

2. Peer Teaching

The level of peer teaching that occurred among women using the CD-ROM was way above what we had anticipated. Although there is a brief explanation at the beginning of the CD explaining how to use it, by the time the third or fourth woman sat down to “try her own hand” at it, she moved through this section rapidly with encouragement being offered by her companions. IWTC sees this as an important lesson to be built on in the future in developing information and learning resources that offer small increments of advanced digital literacy that can be easily mastered and shared.

3. No Technophobia

Women did not demonstrate any of the “technophobia” frequently ascribed to rural, low-income illiterate women regarding the use of new technologies. On the contrary, once these women saw their neighbours using the computers successfully, they were eager to also try.

4. Importance of Technique to Positive initial Experience

The technique utilized, i.e. the use of browser software, has led to a growing confidence in the ability of the women to go onto the Internet, even though this is still down the road as a frequent event because of the charges for Internet use at rural telecentres in Africa. However, the ease with which the women move from page to page and within the programme has given them great confidence and an expertise that will be very useful when Internet use is more affordable and available to them.

5. Capacity Building

The capacity building that took place in the sharing of expertise between IWTC and a local technical team in Kampala has made it possible for the local group to expand their business considerably. They are now planning their own studios and workrooms, and hope to be able to develop four more Uganda language versions of the existing programme. It has been extremely encouraging to see the increased confidence of the local team and to watch their presentations of the project to other community groups

Beginning Ripple Effects

Following the most recent visit by Anne S. Walker to the Nakaseke telecentre and her discussions with a group of 40 women farmers and entrepreneurs who had gathered there to meet with her, IWTC received an e-mail from one of the managers of the telecentre, Henry Serunkuma, who termed himself "the coordinator of the women at the telecentre". Henry reported on the formation of a new association by the women living in close proximity to the telecentre as follows:

"In the meeting held on 1st February 2002, Nakaseke women developed an idea of formulating an association to share the benefits of co-operation. The mission of the association is to empower Nakaseke women by integrating ICT skills into their day to day income generating activities for development. Nakaseke Women Development Association (NAWODA) is moving towards targeting Nakaseke women with information and services using approaches that move the services to places where Nakaseke women convene, rather than moving individual women to service points."

Henry comments on:

1). the achievements and strengths of the group:

“With a lot of your combined effort and courage, Nakaseke women have started using computers and also developed a culture of reading. This has not only benefited them, but also their families as well, because they have encouraged their children to develop a culture of reading and this has increased the number of students visiting the Telecentre Library of which in the long-run will increase the academic performance of their children. In this regard, Nakaseke women are forwarding their appreciation to you particularly and IWTC in general for the lovely heart and spirit of empowering women with skills for development.”

2). his willingness to support their efforts:

“As a computer instructor, I will volunteer in training Nakaseke women in deferent computer packages like word processors, spreadsheets, Data base management systems, presentation soft wares and use of Internet and E-mail.”

3) on the challenges they face:

“Despite of having the aforementioned strength, NAWODA is likely to face challenges such as the following. a) In order to integrate ICTs in income generating activities, there is need to have Nakaseke women fully trained in computer skills and this presupposes that we need to have at least one computer set, to enable Nakaseke women to have free computer access in favor of their convenient time. b) Looking at farming as their major economic activity, NAWODA has got a challenge of getting modern farming equipment like watering cans, sprays, pesticides, improved seeds which will result into health yields which can favorably compete on both local and international markets. c) Searching for friends and women organizations which will link NAWODA to markets of its products and also boast fundraising for self-sustainability of NAWODA.”

Contact Information:

Anne S. Walker, Executive Director

International Women's Tribune Centre

777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017. USA

Tel: (1-212) 687-8633. Fax: (1-212) 661-2704

E-mail: Website:

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