A month ago, my first meeting with Sulemana Sumaya, a 20 year old young woman, living in the Northern Region of Ghana, took a new twist when she unconsciously uttered this quote, “If you tell me to get married at 18 because Islam says that, I will tell you; Islam also says I should get married and be a responsible mother!”
Within a splint of seconds, Sumaya had not only relayed a very powerful message about the rampant early girls’ marriage, in the Northern Region, but she had also clearly demonstrated her untapped potential to lead positive change by championing girls’ rights. According to Sumaya, she and many other girls in her community have been under immense pressure, from their brothers, to get married since graduating from Senior High School. A very decisive Sumaya, clearly mentioned that no one had a right to dictate when a girl should get married, especially if she had not gained economic empowerment.
My love for mentoring girls ignited curiosity within me, and I began a deeper conversation with Sumaya, about her current work and future dreams. She revealed to me that her dream is to be a highly impactful advocate for girls’ and women’s rights in Ghana. Indeed, her dream is already shaping up, because Sumaya is the Chairperson of the Young Urban Women, a group that advocates for women’s rights in Tamale.
Being a World Pulse Digital Changemaker and a Women & the Web Alliance project Facilitator, I knew that the one thing that Sumaya greatly needs, to realize her dream, is Digital Literacy & Internet skills. These would not only help to amplify her voice, but also help access information, opportunities, as well as give her exposure by networking and learning from women change makers around the world.
Despite owning a smartphone and a tablet, Sumaya revealed to me that she had never searched for information on the web. When I showed her how to do it using her phone, she was amazed to learn that it was a door to endless information for some of the burning questions she has always had, including child marriage in Ghana! Excited at the new discovery, she committed herself to mobilize fellow young women from the Young Urban Women group, for training on Digital Literacy & Internet skills.
Today, digital technology has enabled women to easily access information and opportunities on markets, jobs, health, and education. From enabling women to amplify their voices on traditionally sensitive topics that undermined women’s rights, to connecting women around the world, thereby, creating strong movements for change, the internet has become a crucial tool for speeding up women’s empowerment.
According to NetHope, a partner in the Women & the Web Alliance project, the Internet is a vital part of our daily lives; it’s a gateway to ideas and opportunities that could never have been imagined before. Unfortunately, there is a distinct gender gap in its use. According to a study by Intel, women in developing countries are 25% less likely to be online than men (this percentage increases to 43% in Africa). This can be attributed to lack of digital skills, among other reasons, as indicated by GSMA’s (Global System for Mobile Communications Association) ‘Accelerating Digital Literacy’ 2015 report.
Determined to unlock the full potential of Sumaya and other young women leaders in the Northern Region, I started the Digital Literacy training with 10 young women, in a Living Room Session courtesy of World Pulse. Our session took place at the ActionAid Young Urban Women Centre in Tamale, during which we discussed the uses, benefits, and challenges that participants had experienced in using digital technology. The girls highlighted slow internet and online bullying, as some of the major challenges they’ve had to cope up with while using social media.
The most exciting part of the session, however, was navigating the web trial, during which I guided them on how to search and obtain information from the web. With instructions to search anything that they have ever desired to know, the girls wowed me when they searched Child marriage in Ghana, Mitchelle Obama, How to cook fried rice, Young Muslim activists, Malala Yousafzai and How to make African Jewellery! Within a span of minutes, the girls had not only discovered the web, but also watched inspiring videos of a young Muslim woman activist, Malala Yousafzai, who they really admired for championing girls’ education. They were also wowed by Mitchelle Obama’s appeal to educate girls. Rukaya, a young mother who carried her baby to the session, discovered that she could learn how to prepare delicious meals like fried rice, via the internet.
With difficulty in ending the session, because the girls wanted to continue exploring the web, we agreed that the learning must continue! As a result, we have planned a series of workshops to train young women, in Tamale, on digital literacy & internet skills. Each workshop will comprise of 20 young women, between the ages of 18 and 25 years. The women will learn skills necessary to successfully navigate the web, the utility of internet, using social media for change, story writing, and digital advocacy among others.
My hope is that these young women will become highly effective change agents, who will champion women rights in the Northern Region of Ghana. I will also introduce the girls to World Pulse, where they’ll sign up as members. I believe that the inspiration, exposure, networks, and opportunities they’ll get on World Pulse, will go a long way in helping each one of them to realize their dreams.