The girls come out of the salon excited. The determined look in their eyes strike a chord in my heart. They smile shyly at me as we exchange greetings. Soon we are chatting and giggling like old friends as they tell me about their work and the help they have received from MERCY CORPS Zimbabwe. They have talent and a will to succeed. Beauty and Marvellous are both 17 and unmarried whilst Marceline is 21. They dream of opening their own hair salons one day and help other girls like them who are poor, uneducated or educated but can’t proceed with their education. It is what they can do with their hands that will make a difference. But here is the most interesting part-They want to share their stories with the global community. They are amazed when i tell them about my WORLD PULSE journal.” Really, other girls can read about us?” they query amazed and excited. And so can you I say. You can also read about them and offer solutions on how you have made it. That seems to surprise them. The fact that someone could be helped by reading their journal entry on the internet interests them. "We want to participate," they say with a definite voice. And I explain how they can be a part of this great network and add their voices by using technology to make a difference to women who are miles away. It is because of organisations like MERCY CORPS that such an opportunity to be empowered technologically is possible as well as a chance to become their sisters' custodians through support and education. For the meantime, because they do not have access to reliable and easily accessible internet, I will be helping them by mentoring them and sharing their stories with the world. With big promises and as they begin to work around their profiles as I am told we must leave, another group is waiting.
We arrive to meet the next group filled with great excitement and expectation. The women are fired up. I tell them about global sisterhood and the impact they can make to fellow sisters in all countries of the earth via sharing information online. They want to add their voices, even more when they hear that all women face discrimination and oppression even those in Britain and America. They had thought GBV was peculiar to them-black, poor women but the knowledge that they can change things and even fight together with women worldwide gives them hope. They want to share their stories too. It is a meeting filled with happiness, I feel like I have known the young women I meet here for years. All the young women in this group are in their early twenties and their faces carry the evidence of difficulties but the zeal to live and conquer is greater. “So what exactly do you do?” one of them asks. “I am a citizen journalist,” I explain. As I tell them my experience with Voices of Our Future and WORLDPULSE and what has happened in my life since then, they are glued to my every word. They cannot believe it. My words open opportunities in their minds. We didn’t know you could protest and be empowered on the internet. “So will you write about us? We want the world to know about us, what we have been through and how we have found our lives back through the vocational training we have received from MERCY CORPS. Many young women were not as lucky and we are really grateful for the chance,” one of them says,” and we want to also help our fellow women.” Having grown up in a poor community in St Marys, one of the oldest communities in Zimbabwe close to Chitungwiza all seemed lost and all but one are already married or have children, having dropped out of school due to poverty. Shyly one of them says, “Please I want you to write about me, I don’t want any other girl in the world to go through what I went through.” Once again as they return to work my heart feels heavier just as their steps seem lighter. They believe in me and the power of the internet to get their stories to the world. And these are women not looking for money or hand outs but having understood the power of technology and the internet they want their voices to be heard. They cannot be silent anymore and want to hear the voices of other women in the world and the world to hear their stories.
They are appalled to hear that even in other countries women have no voices as I tell them about mukut in India and jampa in Tibet. They have no idea where that is but they are equally angry and want women there too to find a voice.
Once again time has flown and I have to leave to meet another group of women who have been waiting patiently for my arrival. As I arrive I am speechless, my widest thoughts could never have imagined the group I see. It is a group that is versatile with women with ages ranging from 22 years to about 84 years. I am welcomed like a long lost friend and we enter the compound chatting like age mates and again old friends. As I explain my work they all agree that they wish they had access to the internet to share information. The oldest woman in the group assures me she will write her own journal one day and share her wisdom for the world. She has hopes, dreams and aspirations. Her life has not been rosy but she bemoans the lack of space and voice as the factors that have let women down. i rpomise to teach them to write a frontline journal and the women promise to write a frontline story for my next visit so that I can share with the world what it means for them to be women in Zimbabwe. The trip has awakened a strong desire in me to take technology and digital access to underprivileged women in Zimbabwe. Technology can help women do away with appropriate answers and give them a window to view the world from any angle and express themselves as they wish with no cultural or moral constraints.
In Zimbabwe outside of social network sites many women are unaware of the other benefits of the internet to their health, general wellbeing and empowerment. Internet, for these women mainly means Facebook and twitter. The internet is dominated by men and many women are afraid to openly air their views even when they use pseudonyms. There is always the threat that their identity might be revealed and this could cause harassment and even violence. In addition, it is the men who purchase the devices for the women and its ingratitude to have a different opinion from them. Many young girls are being abused by older men who buy them cell phones and laptops and this becomes detrimental to their empowerment. As such many women’s access to internet is determined by the men. When women are courageous enough to post on the internet, they are still scared of hostile comments and further threats of violence especially sexual violence. Even when they are unknown to the other users, the women are treated as sexual objects on the internet. Of those women who access the internet some have to ask their husbands for permission to access sites and any site that can empower women is viewed as unbecoming of a married woman. Thus even the women who can access the internet choose not to because of internet violence or domestic violence. Sadly, other women join in abusing and bullying other women on the internet or keep quiet to protect themselves.
I am using my journal and presence on the internet to show that only when all women are empowered can I be proud and say I am empowered. Women need to be safe on the internet and they also need to support and stand as one to achieve true empowerment.
The challenges women and girls face is access to technology due to poverty, lack of education, low self esteem and lack of information. The cost of accessing the internet is prohibitive for many women who shoulder the responsibility of taking care of the family as breadwinners. In all the places I had visited there was no public internet café and they could only access internet on their phones which is expensive. Also many women suffer from time poverty due to their multiple roles and are too tired to access the internet and explore. They are unable to access information in a timely manner and hence remain ignorant to their rights and welfare. The world needs to hear ALL our voices and to know our stories that way even when you have not opened your mouth your voice is heard. Where opportunity is lacking technology will make your voice be heard.
And as I leave one of the women states that she will write and share her views with the world. She also wants an opportunity to be educated as it is an opportunity she did not get as a young girl. “One day I will write,” she says again determinedly. I know the day is not close at hand because many women in Zimbabwe have no access to the internet but where there is a will there is a way. A ray of hope has been found, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The focus group discussions are the first step.
The last module of Voices of Our Future is my hope for the future as I continue with each one teach five. It’s an on-going process for me and I have termed it each one teach millions and yes we will reach out to millions. As I move around teaching girls and women on using technology and sharing their voices with the world I know my dream will be achieved. One day all girls and women the world over will swim in a pool of unity and never again shall a fellow sister standby whilst another is abused. Through sharing, gender based violence will be eradicated as we all join together, in unity, our voices and purpose intertwined by our shared vision as we all strongly, unashamedly and fearlessly say NO to gender inequality and violence and YES to girls education and dignity. I am using the internet to bring women together, to help women learn to help other women, for women to gain a voice and empowering women to make a difference to other women through belief in themselves and other women and a common purpose to be empowered. The internet is our only hope for a chance to be heard.WWW: Women Weave the Web