women in the IT sector , during Google Developers Group innovative Open Ideas In Douala 2014
  • women in the IT sector , during Google Developers Group innovative Open Ideas In Douala 2014
  • a woman in a cybercafe in Bamenda
  • women and technology consumption and production
  • A woman and a man besides her working in a cybercafe Bamenda
  • women in IT during the International Women's day in Cameroon Bamenda North West Region
  • women into technology , smart phones
  • A girl talking during an IT conference in Douala. Indeed, more opportunities should be given to girls interested or not in IT to get closest to it as possble.

Introduction

Using the internet has changed the way I perceive the world and interact with it. In the Kamet African society where I come from, communication with elders and peers or others in general is summited to a lot of restrictions, codes and results at times in a lot of frustrations. It is contradictory when one has had the opportunity to access to formal education and yet been unable to make full use of it because the sociocultural environment is coercive, constraining and does not enhance the development of self-assertiveness and thus effective communication skills. However, the collectivistic nature of my culture found meaning in my encounter with the internet. The role of the environment in the development of the personality of a subject is crucial. The inability to express one's ideas and do things as one intuitively feels them because one has been trained for it is noxious. Unfortunately, not all social environments favour creativity, free and guilt-free expressivity. Fortunately, onething is sure, the internet has significantly contributed in giving me lifelong skills. The internet has contributed to unleash my creative potential!

My encounter with the Internet

When I discovered the internet in the early 1990’s I never could imagine it would give me the so many opportunities I now have. I should even say it is this writing exercise which enables me retrospectively to know how important internet has been in my life. When I used the internet for the first time, I was still a teen and I should admit it was out of curiosity I got fascinated for it. Over the national television I heard a man talk about the internet. He brought seemingly the service to the public because he opened in Yaoundé central business district a cybercafé. There I saw computers for the first time. It was amazing, (smiling). Then I had my email created at 10,000frsCFA (about 20 USD) and 1hour of internet was 1000 FRS CFA (about 2USD). You could not have lesser. My parents did not know what internet was all about and fortunately for me as well they did not oppose to my exploratory activities of the World Wide Web. Very early then I realised the net was a rich source of information and intellectual motivation and that is what I needed out of school. I was bored with the everyday school activities and I needed something new. I think my father was very aware of the changes occurring in our sociocultural environment that is why he always came back home with books or magazines that talked about computers, the internet and the World Wide Web in general. I even began using my pocket allowance to buy some magazines. With my readings, I knew much more what the net was all about. I also knew very early then that it is better to go to the internet with an idea of what one wants to do or is looking for, in other not to be idling. Especially that internet was expensive for me it not adequate to spend money on internet time without knowing what would be the outcome. Even though it is the long trial and errors and the readings that gradually gave me the computer skills I have now. The magazines my father bought greatly helped me to structure my approach to using of the net. I knew for instance that I could go to sites that could give me information about news, or sites which would connect me with other people (social networks) of similar interest to me, or sites which will enable me learn more about what I learn in school, or sites where I could find all types of information I was interested in. In short I was very ICT-aware at a very early age. The internet for me was/is in itself a different space of expression of myselves and an opportunity to use and show my talents in the activities I love. It matters to me to share the things I love with people. It is important for me to communicate with the world. The internet brought me these possibilities a great source of personal development it has since become. I love culture. Culture for me means that people are like me but that they are also different. Culture means that albeit differences we are one. It just thrills me to get into touch with differences. It is a great source of creativity getting in touch with different people. The internet made me to interact with all sorts of people. Humanity ahh yes humanity!! My love for Culture/culture, my need to understand why some categories of people are treated the way they are and the need to solve problems in society using all the types of savoir and savoir-faire gradually brought me to interest myself in all things related to the internet. With respect to this in 2010 in Yaoundé I participated in ICT for Africa. This conference was wi concerned with the scientific and social aspects of the internet. Indeed, my participation to this international conference is technically the heart of my embrace of the digital world. Since it is from this conference I knew I would use the internet to “talk-out myself to the world”. I knew after that conference I would use my skills to construct a path towards something I really love and enjoy. I knew ICT and Kulture (http://www.ictandkulture.blogspot.com) was what I had to make. A sort of environment which would involve all humanity joined by means of ICTs’.Women and Youth would be my center of interest.

From Online empowerment to Offline Empowerment?

The question of whether online empowerment can lead to offline empowerment is a very complex one since it involves a system of well-structured activities operating at all levels of Reality (real, imaginary, symbolic). It also includes a set of strongly interwonen problematics :choice , freedom and autonomy.The idea of empowerment ought to be situated within a cultural framework because since the begining of times, authority, power has always been found within the hands of a category of people.This writing exercise is in fact a process which mobilizes my lived experiences of the internet and brings me to be aware of the trajectory. It is important for every internet user to be much more self-aware when on the net. It is not what is generally observed.It is interesting world pulse thought of it. The empowering character of the internet, for the individual, cannot escape the idea that the individual is not an isolated being this he be in a virtual (e.g. cyberspace) or real world. Therefore, there is no online society without an offline society even if human society is evolving to the digital and virtual age very fast. It implies that teh digital activities of an individual can jeopardize him non-virtual life , if they are not shrewd. En passant , this calls for ICT awareness, ICT-Knowlegde/computer literacy and continous education of the public especially of risk populations (children, youths and women). Again, there is no human being who feels merry when their rights to freedom are threatened this be in the real or virtual world. I think humans strive for a certain minimum of mastery of their environments. Freedom to think, act, work, live in a dignified manner is albeits all odds a human imperative and right. There is no human who does not appreciate encouragement or support for the work they have done. There is no human being who will always continue to accept to be marginalized. The case of women and youth is worth mentioning. I think when an individual‘s freedom is threatened, they react sooner or later. Since people are different they will not always react in the same way to a particular situation. However, at times we might find that at another level of awareness there is greater tendency for human behaviour to be similar albeit differences. All these is to reveal that the essence and idea of empowerment is Cultural. I believe that the empowering power of the internet is a reality for all those that use it and that if certain conditions are met, even offline this empowering potential still exists.Yes the using the internet purposefully can serve as an external motivator. The sociocultural and even sociopolitical implications of using the internet is again a reality to underscore. For minorities the internet is such a wonderful tool and space which gives them the opportunity "to talk out their fustrations" something which real life cannot always give because of the rigid laws put into place in the communication of ideas. as suprising as it might seem many use internet as a means to exude tensions of all sorts. It procures to some real happiness. One of the most thrilling aspect of the internet is its ability to require its user to act or to engage with it in an active way.I sincerely believe there is no passivity in cyberspace. People are always active , always communicating about themselves. Action in this case is basically a communication process by the user with other users. To communicate the user can use several media for which s/he has some extent of great autonomy. This sense of autonomy is very important.One important consequence of this is that the internet also enables its users to negoitate power Each citizen of cyberspace has their corner. It is relatively easy "to see" what the user likes or does not like. Since cyberspace is an active environment where teh brain is highly requested , the users experience all sorts of emotions. Indeed, Itt is amazing to see how individuals behave in this environment.In cyberspace, life like in reality is based on humaness but life in cyberspace is also much more different.To me access to freedom of expression and communication is a reality. It is important to mention that the advent of the internet has changed the manner in which societies relate to each other. There is reason to believe that in most Western and Asian societies the culture of knowledge production and management seems to have been well preserved making it easier to rather consider the virtual world of internet or cyberspace an extension of the real world and not the contrary. Even if for minorities, using the internet can be empowering it should be understood that without the reality of a systematic and well-structured IT policy, quality education, good healthcare system and competent economy it becomes very difficult to fully tap from these technology. Indeed using internet cannot be an isolated activity. Today internet-usage is part of a well-structured system of activities linking and involving the whole world. With this in mind we see that the empowering nature or potential of the internet is limited. With respect to that, most African countries and Cameroon to start have a lot of things to do with respect to quality education, technology development, health and economy albeit the gradual improvement. The internet is not a place for anomy. The internet as a network can be seen as a society and all societies have laws. Citizens of cyberspace they like it or not have a digital life which is controlled by the law of the country in which they live. We have so many examples of how certain governments have even gone as far as restricting how some individuals use internet as means of expression. Cyberspace like any environment is unfortunately or not subjected to control. Depending on where in the globe one lives, the empowerment potential of the internet varies. Activities like advocacy, and activism are certainly more easy to practice online but in some countries the freedom cyberspace gives to practice these activities is restricted and it others it is not Therefore, I strongly believe that online empowerment can lead to offline empowerment only when for the society in which the individual lives certain things are met (e.g., a strong legal system which would enact human rights; economic empowerment which will greatly facilitate the negociation of power; opportunities for creativity and expressivity). There should be guilt-free, non-repressive spaces or mechanisms tacitly given or made for expression to be possible.If this is not present , the empowering nature of online experecience will just be an illusion. For when the computer is shut down the internet user becomes faces another aspect of reality..

Digitally empowering women

Women empowerment these days with the advent of ICTs is witnessing a radical change. In this change, women themselves are at the center.It is imperative to underscore that cyberspace has provided a SPACE for women they do not find elsewhere. It is paradoxical but like one of my life-influencers ( Breda Beban) once told me , Where I see paradoxes I ought to see possiblities as well. Indeed cyberspace is an opportunity for women of ALL kinds to become themselves. It is a possibility for them in all ways! Talking about the digital empowerment of women should take into account several important reality. We cannot ignore as i dicussed early that cyberspace is just an extention of reality it is not the whole of it. Specifically this means that if women in real life are not empowered or better still do not have the skills, the fianance , the decision making potentials lots of things relating to their digital life would just be a replicate of their real life. Stating this antithesis is an intellectual necessity since it is factual. Another fact is that we are living in the digital age and it is all about cyberspace. It is been culture fair to mention that It ifranstructure in some African countries would take still some time too fully give the potential of the internet. Moreover, women even if they are the demographic majority they are not the psychological majority. They do not fully decide on how and what to do with the internet. They are labelled negatively especially in my Cameroonian context when they use the internet. Research tend to show that cameroonian irrespective of their social class , and age engage or have engaged in some form of online dating. One of my hypothesis is that the functionality that is what internet is used for is also a matter of culture and the traditional African culture is still striving to master what the internet is all about. The traditional african culture been very practical and less abstract using the internet to communate, not neccesarily the communication of ideas, is natural.However, there might be diffuculties in using the internet for other complex cognitive activities. It is true that women are really women everywhere but albeit individual differences carry a common history of oppression and violence. It might seem extreme this idea but the reality of the evidences I experience on a day to day basis in my community gives me evidence of my arguments. Notwithstanding, digitally empowering women is an imperative, why?

If not of bad faith the reasons for digitally empowering women are evident and evidenced. One of the important reasons why we should empower women digitally is because we are living in the digital age as Toffler mentions. The digital age has created new ways of working, thinking, producing, governing, living. The skills needed are complex and need complex brain structure and functioning. Fortunately for humanity woman has a unique brain as the psychiatrist Brizedine in her book said. Women should be digitally empowered because they are statistically more numerous than men. This means that economically-wise they can produce and consume much more ICT goods and services.Women have more developed brain areas than men which can enable them be more productive. This means they can do much more complex work in cyberspace. Women can multi-task and using the ICTs is all about multi-tasking.Women can work and work very hard, for some as mothers, others as wives and a good number professionals. Women think in the long-run and are naturally enclined to practice suistanaiblity. This implies that the environment might be better protected if women are made decision makers in the IT world. Women are the gate keepers of culture , fundamental to human civilisation. This means that the Digital Revolution , the one we are living in now can last forever while other tradtional cultures remain.

In Cameroon, the advent of IT communities has brought a new perspective on how the IT sector will develop. IT communities are basically made up of youths and women are coming in numbers. Recently, with certainly a desire to be self-empowered several women IT communities have emmerged. The main goal of these women-driven IT communities is building competencies for women/girls in the IT sector, fostering women and girls participation in technology and providing a means to show women's talent. I strongly believe that this innitiative by women themselves would drastically shape the digital empowerment of Cameroonian women online and offline. for this enhancing the education of the young girls in STEM is imperative. I am still to find out how many of my female students know the cyberjournalist Dorothee Danedjo Fouba (www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTD8Ke5ouX4) or IT specialist and Entrepreneur, Appstech CEO Rebecca Enonchong. These women can serve as role models for Cameroonian women and girls if a well structured framework is developed. I think that if a gender responsive guidance and counselling is practiced in schools with respect to the choice of science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, the participation of women and girls in knowlegde and technology production/developement will increase.This will directly have an effect on the digital empowerment of women in Cameroon. Yes, Cameroonian women have been empowered digitally. Facebook is a blatnt evidence. This space gives them the opportunity to show their creativity , their beauties , their skills. It is helping several of them to see themselves positively-differently. It is enabling so many of them to have another taste of life.

Digitally empowering women is important and will transform the world through the changes it will bring/and already brings on market trends. Because womenprovide both the demand and supply of economies their role in the generation of wealth is pivotal. It is clearly established that women play a critical role in the IT labour force.Their absence because of discrimantion , lack of adequate support, lack of training would be a threat to everyone.Technology development should also expect to change because the needs of women would be met specifically. Moreover, because women will be granted access to more possibilities in the digital world , they will enable their families to live better and this might extend to nations. In fact, it is because women are the center of families that their transformative potential would be so effective. The digitally empowered women would positively change the lives of their families by the productive work they will /are do/doing.

Conslusion

"If I am not for myself , who will be for me? If I am for myself only, what am I ? If not now- - when ?" This Talmudic Saying Mishnah says to my viewpoint my feelings of my experience of the internet and issues relating to it like women and youth in ICTs. My usage of internet is all about been part of humanity. My presence affects your presence just as your presence affects mine. We are now all connected !! It is our responsability citizens of today's cyberspace to be aware of this link and the role that each category of human can play in it. Women, youths,children and men are all concerned.

Take action! This post was submitted in response to WWW: Women Weave the Web .

Comment on this Post

Comments

Didier, I am amazed by the clarity and power of your statements. You have exquisitely but playfully expressed your thoughts vividly. I love the humor injected to balance the sternness of the message. Truly, you have the makings of an excellent and successful writer. Keep on writing and sharing your thoughts.

God bless your passion to help others (women in particular) through technology. Thank you for your belief in women and in yourself. Carry on!

Ma. Lydia G. CallanoIloilo, Philippines+63 33 3158137 or 5138830

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