Inspiring change in ICT for women in Zambia through the Asikana Network By Laida Chongo
As a woman passionate about women taking up space in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), I believe in making calls for solid and strategic action that would allow for more women in the space. One such organizing that has been at the forefront in terms of accelerating growth in harnessing the digital space and internet rights for girls, is a bonafide Zambian Women Organization which has dedicated itself to mentoring young women in various ICT skills. The organization comes in form of a Network called Asikana Network, a women driven group that aims to empower mostly young women and equip them with ICT skills to help in their various endeavours.
Established in 2012, Asikana Network was founded by three Zambian women: Regina Mtonga, Chisenga Muyoya and Ella Mbewe. They all have a collective background in Computer Science, Business Computing, and Research in Gender studies. Since it was established, the network has trained over 2000, mostly girls and some boys who have the passion to excel, transfer knowledge to their communities and make the change they want to see. Digital safety, digital literacy, basic computing, programming, graphic design, video editing, and website creation have been among the most popular topics.
Asikana is a local language term that literally means young women. From what they have accomplished so far, it is easy to tell that they are indeed a point of light amidst the worrying women digital literacy levels in Zambia. I had the opportunity to ask one of the founders of Asikana Network, Regina Mtonga a few questions and this is what she had to say.
Do you think girls are interested in ICT?
Yes! Asking if girls are interested in ICT is similar to asking boys as well. Why shouldn’t they be? When children are allowed to think outside the box and in some cases, throw this entire box away, they are capable of being ‘interested’ in any sector really. We just need to create the right environment for developing these interests.
What are some of the success stories?
We have successfully covered 6 provinces and over 2000 students training in digital safety using Facebook, which is a partnership with that organization as well. Our graphic designer trainees have gone on to create high quality work and other trainees have created numerous websites. We have also been able to partner with Lubuto Libraries, MTN Zambia among others institutions.
What is your advice to any girl reading this article right now?
Try to surround yourself with people who think in a positive direction, and more importantly who are like-minded. There are more women and girls interested in computers than you think, just ask for help.
What do you think can be done to achieve gender balance in ICT?
I think a much earlier introduction for both girls and boys to ICT than is currently happening would be helpful. We tend to see and touch computers too late in our lives and fall behind. Demystification of computers and showing how accessible they are could mitigate this. There needs to be more effort in uncomplicating ICT. For example, we do not have enough lessons for children in primary schools teaching them what basic boards of communication are. Moreover, we have a tiny section of children who can even properly read, which make accessing ICT even more challenging.
Is the internet a safe space for girls? Why?
Of course not. The internet is not safe for boys either. However, what we must begin to do along with the new world order, is to teach girls how to not only use the Internet and access it, but also how to remain safe while using it. The Internet is heavily unregulated, meaning any and everything is found lurking there.
What do you think can be done for Zambia as a country for people to enjoy internet rights since Zambia subscribed to the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms?
There needs to be a deliberate policy from the government to ensure Internet connectivity is made affordable for all across the country. There also needs to be careful consideration of the proposed plan to tax platforms such as social media in the country and why this would not be in the best interest for the public as well as general internet law and policy. Knowing that there is an active organization dedicated to supporting women’s rights through digital literacy makes me believe that women themselves are taking the bull by its horns. We can only say bravo to the fact that they are literally making commendable strides and moving from mere rhetoric to action.
Testimony from trainee: Mafwo Likelenge
It’s been exactly 2years 3months and 8 days since I was welcomed into Asikana network, yet it feels like a lot more when I look at how much my career has advanced through the network. Personally, my experience has been nothing short of insightful, from building a strong network of women to improving my knowledge base and learning new skill, to having a crowd of virtually available techs from diverse backgrounds that genuinely assist with any challenge I may encounter. What I love about Asikana is that in as much as there is always something to take out, there is something to give. When I first joined Asikana I was a fresh graduate from university with little skills to sustain me in the corporate tech-world, so I started by taking part in training and attending events and these helped me to gain more knowledge and skills. I have now proceeded to become a volunteer trainer and this has significantly improved my public speaking skills and my confidence. Also, through the opportunities shared by members I got a chance apply and join the YouthLead program, a program that supports and elevates outstanding young leaders to amplify the impact of their work, inspire civic innovation, and promote a culture of sustained leadership. Aside from this, the Asikana group has helped in shaping my career, as the engagements