Of manels, invisible women and the problem that the new ICT ministry is not solving

Today, the new Ministry of Information and Communications Technology held its “maiden stakeholder dialogue”, that was livetweeted with hashtag #ICTDialogueUg. Invited to this dialogue, according to the Minister, Hon. Frank Tumwebaze, were media practitioners and ICT stakeholders.

Among these stakeholders present were some men, more men and other men.

The existence of an all-male panel at such a meeting is worrying. At all meetings, but for this dialogue, one would hope that the Ministry of ICT would take lead in involving all parties in activities involving information exchange.

The mandate of this new ministry, created in line with the National Development Plan 2015-2020 is: “To provide strategic and technical leadership, overall coordination, support and advocacy on all matters of policy, laws, regulations and strategy for the ICT Sector for sustainable, effective and efficient development, as well as harnessing and utilization of ICT in all spheres of life to enable the country achieve its development goals.”

All of those words mean nothing without the involvement of ALL the people- especially youth and women, who continue to be invisible and silent in development.

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Invisibility and silence that continues to exist because we don’t care enough. We are too lazy and too content with the little male gatherings to see the problem. For even with this dialogue, the number of women who could have been great on the panel is innumerable. Media practitioners have women (New Vision and NTV both have women at the top, and Radio One is owned by a woman). Even more importantly, Uganda has several women who are at the top of their game in ICT. At the last World Economic Forum in May, three out of ten African women recognized for digital innovation were Ugandan. These women are actively involved in the ICT scene of this country, many have written on the impact of regulations on information sharing and have great thoughts on where we should go.

The Ministry top leadership also includes a woman, Aidah Nantaba, who is the State Minister. Apparently she was unavailable for this meeting.

It appears like they only just ticked boxes.

Step 1: Put a woman in leadership.

Step 2: Make policy provisions for women and youth. Make sure you keep calling them “stakeholders”.

Now here is the difficult step that everyone forgets: Involve them in the decision making processes.

ICT is especially important because if the information cannot get to a group, they are already disadvantaged. And when it comes to women, there are serious gender gaps. Reports show that nearly 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet in the developing world, and in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, that gap goes up to nearly 45 percent.

Between literacy (Uganda has 100% enrollment ratio at primary level for girls, but high dropouts at higher levels of education) and high cost of ICT, gender inclusion is essential to the achievement of the mandate of the ministry.

And while the Ministry was kind enough to make policy provisions, they forgot to invite women and youth to the table. This table is important because this is where who makes the decisions is seating, and from the looks of it, whoever is making the decisions is a Ugandan male above 30 years.

As for the stakeholders who were invited, there were more men in the room. One looking at this room would be hard pressed to believe that women make up 51% of the population in this country.


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