Making life better for Zambian women through Mobile Cellular Phones
The slogan of Celtel one of the Mobile Cellular Phone Service Providers in Zambia is 'Making Life Better'. According to Celtel, the provision of the service to all corners of the country is a way of contributing to the betterment of Zambians. However, Celtel is not the only provider of Mobile cellular phone services in this country; there are two others, Zamtel and MTN. Collectively they hold the view that their services are not only the answer to Zambia's communication needs but also to its Social and Economic ills. Taking the credit for the presence of these Service Providers however is the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), a party that has been in power since 1991 and introduced the liberalization policies that ushered in many changes to the various social and economic sectors of the country. Civil Society Organizations in the country however have constantly argued that the liberalization policies have contributed a great deal to the rise of poverty levels in the country, at the wide end of the poverty threshold are women and children.
The GRACE Zambia Research Project probed the systems and institutions whose collective responsibility is the provision of the Mobile Cellular Phone Service. It also investigated the institutions that monitor Gender issues and the well being of women in relation to these ICTs. The Project took an appreciative inquiry approach on making life better through cell phones.
Until around 1996, telephones in Zambia where confined to major towns and cities, the available system was the landline telephone, and it depended on the laying of cable networks across the country, a terribly expensive and time consuming task that limited progress. The only Telecommunications Company in the country was the state owned Postal and telecommunications company PTC. By ---DATE OF LIBERALISATION OF THE MARKET------ the MMD Government that took over from UNIP went on a major liberalization exercise; it commenced to privatize state owned companies including the PTC in a bid to enhance effectivenesses of service delivery. The State converted the PTC into a parastatal Company now known as Zamtel, a modern company providing Internet, telephone and Mobile Cellular phone communication services in the country for profit.
Before Zamtel was formed however, two other Mobile Cellular Phone companies had already begun providing Cell services. These where Celtel and then MTN.
Mobile telephone services are widespread, touching all corners of the country. Many people own mobile handsets even in poor communities. The use of the service has been made convenient with a booth at most street corners providing both call services and airtime recharge cards for handsets. The transformation of the mobile phone from symbol of prestige to symbol of basic communication is all too clear in this poor country.
With respect to the new Mobile Telephone services, what then does the slogan 'Making life better' mean to women in Zambia? Does it mean that women have more freedom to communicate, do they have more control on the content of their conversations on the tool, and have they got communication access to a greater number of people? Do they have more freedom to express themselves? These and many other questions are still being probed by Zambia's Women's empowerment organizations and the institutions of authority but a brief look at a few stories and factors can bring us a little closer to the answers.
This GRACE Zambia research while examined the work of the policy makers, the service providers, the NGOs and a few users-The major players in this subject. The fact that there is no gender specific data on the subject of mobile cellular phones in the country coupled by the fact that the service providers do not take any interest in observing differentials in use between men and women made the research daunting.
The Research revealed that there are variations in the uses of the service between rural areas and urban areas; it revealed that male spouses relate to women who use the service differently from the time that they had no access. The research revealed that there are some specific uses that dominate the overall use of the phone and these are use of the phone for business activities, use of the phone for information gathering, communication with the family and for emergencies.
This research project is the first of its kind on the relationships between the systems that provide the service and the well being of women in Zambia. It is important to note that most other researches on Cell phones in Zambia have been mainly motivated by corporate entities that provide the service for marketing purposes. The findings of this project are important for the major ICT players in Zambia and abroad which are responsible for policy implementation on ICTs and Women's empowerment in work towards achieving the MDGS and bridging the digital divide. The research material can also prove relevant to private companies in the field.
Findings enforce the fact that there is a great demand for the service in the rural areas and demand has for a longtime been stifled by lack of infrastructure in the recent past. Both high tariffs at present and high cost of equipment such as handsets have also been a constant barrier to provision of the service in the rural areas.
It is cardinal to note that the opposition to provision of the service in the rural areas has been on pretext that demand is low and investment in such areas would amount to low turn outs of both development in the rural areas and profits for investors be it Government or the private sector.
An overview of the Status of women in Zambia
The Legal system
has ratified various
international and regional instruments on gender. Among these is the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Declaration on Gender and the Elimination of Violence against Women and Children. Other instruments related to women that the Country has ratified include the UN Charter on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
In the quest to insure gender equity, the government adopted the National Gender policy in 2000; the policy defines guidelines of mainstreaming gender issues in all national development initiatives. Taking into account provisions of the international and regional instruments on gender, the government formed the Strategic Plan of Action (SPA) for the implementation of the Gender policy.
While it is admirable that the Government has taken to ratify the well-versed instruments on the advancement of women, such acts are close to meaningless if the Government is not committed to the implementation of the Gender development initiatives in the Nation especially through the deliberate creation of clauses on the subject in the National Constitution.
According to a Research by the NGOCC on the status of women and provisions in the legal framework,
the country tolerates a dual legal system that consists of cultural laws on one hand and statutory laws on the other. Of note is the fact that customary law tends to portray tendencies of legalised discrimination against women. This illustrates the entrenchment of imbalance of equality of genders in this society.
Because the country is going through an unprecedented reform period with the process of creating a new constitution well underway, stakeholders and the civil society continue to hope for a women friendly constitution.
Women in positions of Power
There are no legal impediments that restrain women from aspiring and being voted into political office, despite this, women have remained almost invisible in positions of power. However, since the 2006 Local Government, Parliamentary and Presidential Elections, there has been a great increase of women voted into the respective offices except for the Presidency where no woman stood for election.
There are about --- No. Of female representatives in Parliament as opposed to ---No. males. Under the Zambian Constitution, there must be 150 elected Members of Parliament and 8 Nominated Members of parliament.
The Electoral system has for a long time been a hindrance to women's participation, this has been due to the absence of affirmative action in favor of women's participation as opposed to the traditional 'Equal' approach
There is an increasing realization that while women account for half the voting population, only about 15% participate as candidates and officials in decision-making processes.
Zambian citizens are required to have Green National Registration cards for both identification and use in periods such as elections, a study by the Gender in Development division revealed that a great number of women as opposed to men do not have the cards due to the long distances to registration points especially in rural areas. As a result, most women are deprived a services and even opportunities to vote
Traditions, customs and cultures
A contentious issue, tradition and culture in relation to advancement of women continue to steer debate. Zambia other than being an African country with a deep sense of indigenous culture flaunting 72 local languages and an array of traditional ceremonies was declared a Christian nation in -------by the then President Frederick Chiluba (though declared a Christian nation, the country remains a circular state as there are no provisions in the constitution deliberately enforcing this fact).
The ethnic groups in most cases find points of similarity but the country as a whole is part of the world and there are deep modern influences spurned by the inescapable 'global village'. Overall despite a few elements, Zambian culture is patriarchal; men dominate the customs and traditions. Division of labor by stereotype between men and women is the order of the day.
The Christian influences which enforce the superiority of men as head of the households over women cast a shadow on the emancipation of women while the customs insure that initiation ceremonies and premarital counseling enforce the view that the wife must be submissive to the husband, while men must pay the bride price to signify ownership of the woman.
The woman culturally does not own much and the stereotype role of looking after the home has seen her as the primary care taker of children. With the scourge of HIV/AIDS and the gradual increase of orphans, the extended family system has seen an increased burden on women in this regard. The cycle is hard to break, as women raise their children with values they where taught, relegated to being conveyor belts of a culture that binds them, they continue to feed the system, sustaining it through the generations.
Women and living
According to the CSO (2000), over 80% of the rural population were poor compared to about 60% in urban areas. The population of people living in urban areas had declined from 38 percent in 1990 to 36% in 2000; this reduction can be attributed to the soaring numbers of the unemployed due to the privatization processes from 1991 onwards.
The underlying facts indicate that persons in female-headed households are more likely to be extremely poor as opposed to their counterparts in male-headed households.
Soaring levels of poverty among women are a perpetual challenge; women and children are more likely to be poor and incapable to access resources unless Government implements deliberate and drastic measures.
A logical explanation for women being at the higher end of the poverty index can be their inability to be seen as part of decision making on resource allocation at basic household level leading to their lack of control over resources and relegating them to threat of exposure to poverty or its potential at all levels.
Until the gender policy and attempts to mainstream gender issues, the inability to have foresight of implications of inclusion of the gender perspective in the past policy initiatives has caused major damage that will take a while to repair or even envisage.
Women and access to ICTS in Zambia
On the 28th of March 2007, the government of the republic of Zambia through a long-standing consultative process with civil society, the business sector and other governments introduced and launched the Zambia national Information and Communication Technology Policy (ICT Policy). The first of its kind, the policy was a result of the realization that ICT where receiving worldwide attention as a means for development in such forums as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Campaign and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
With inclusion of ICT in the fifth National Development plan 2006 to 2010, the policy is designed on 13 'pillars'
- Human resource development
- Tourism, environment and natural resources
- E- Commerce
- E- Governance
- Youth and women
- Legal and regulatory Framework
- Security in information society
- Access, media, content and culture
- ICT Services
The policy is intended to be government led, and the government intends to involve the private sector. The launch was characterized by pomp and splendor with private sector stands showcasing new and advanced technologies and gadgets, free T-shirts where dished out and ministers and the Vice President made statements on the need for the policy. The Minister for communications and Transport conceded on the lack of competence in the regulatory framework which traditionally separated management of broadcasting, telecommunications, online media and information technology with the ministry of Information and Broadcasting being solely responsible for broadcasting services such as Television and Radio, the Communications Authority of Zambia being responsible for regulation of all Telecommunications and online media while the ministry of communications and transport remains to regulate information technology. In his speech, the Minister insisted on the Convergence of ICT and defined it as the culmination of services that would make up the ICT sector.
It has become evident that Zambia is lagging behind in keeping with progressive technological trends because of this technicality. A practical example is simply the fact that it is illegal to operate a service such as skype because one can simply not acquire a license to provide the service because no such license exists under Zambian law. This being the case, Zambians can still access and use the service because it is free on the World Wide Web and because of this, the Government has urged the Communications authority to quickly stop its usage by any means possible until a means of regulation is achieved. Meanwhile, With a Mobile cellular phone, one can access the Internet, listen to the radio make calls and send pictures. With such complexities of comprehension, balancing and management of ICTs in the Country, one wonders at the position of women in the fray.
On close scrutiny, the section of the ICT Policy specifically mentioned on bullet 8 above and located in part 2 chapters 6.11 seems to intend to target women. What becomes evident however is how women's issues become molded with that of children and lose their individuality.
Gender specialists in Zambia have argued against this form of generalization for a long time, "it is either women, children or women children and the disabled" in the same clauses in our country's official documents" argues Susan Chilala from the Zambia council for Social Development. One almost gets the temptation to think that the section on women was added for the sake of it. All the same, the mere fact that women have been included in the policy is a step in the right direction, a lot still remains to be done to carve practical milestones for women through the policy.
The introduction to the policy clearly states that one factor that represents the gap between poor countries and rich ones is the inequitable access to resources among the citizenry and the lack of technology to exploit vast Natural resources available in those countries, it further goes to state that the fundamental difference between the developed and the developing countries is that the former are also rich in information and as a well developed citizenry which is able to adapt quickly to changing social and economic environments, hence utilizing opportunities to overcome developmental challenges such as poverty.
If this can be used as a rule at Zambian community level, then we can assume that the soaring poverty levels among Zambians in relation to those that are not poor or are becoming less poor is due to differentials in access to technology and information. We can also further assume then that there must be an even further lack of information and technology among women in comparison to men as women indicate a higher prevalence of poverty. In Global ICT language, the term digital divide is used to describe the technological gap between people that have fully exploited ICT and those that have not, this divide is almost always associated with the developmental gap in terms of social and economic performance. For purposes of illustration, we can say that women and men in Zambia may be at threat of standing at opposite ends of a widening digital divide.
While it is tempting to jump at such conclusions, it is also important to be reminded of the various social factors that come to play to enhance the 'resource divide' and have been touched on above.
Mobile Cellular Phones, an ICT for all
During the GRACE Zambia Research, the researcher would ask respondents what they knew about ICTs, the almost obvious response would be- "what are ICTs?" This, in a country where community radios have mushroomed, and billboards advertising Mobile cellular phone companies stretch as far as the eye can see in the cities, and Mobile Cellular phone companies paint their colors on every shop from city to rural village across the country. People are using the tools regardless of whether they know what they are. The bottom line is use. What do they use these tools for? How do they acquire them and possibly we dare to ask why they use them.
Some General Mobile Cellular Phone uses in Zambia
All users of Mobile Cellular Phone services in Zambia are consumers, spending their money on the airtime in exchange for a chance to have a dose of communication on their handheld gadgets; they feed the corporate monster that provides the service. Most people approached in the research could not make up their minds on whether they gained from the money they spent on a daily basis to use their phones, the mutual complaint is that the cost of airtime is high but while they complain, they almost subconsciously 'move' in rows towards the nearest airtime counter.
The mare fact that sales of the scratch cards is higher than ever signifies the insatiable appetite of Zambians to use Mobile Cellular phones. It is either good marketing strategy, or simply real need. The GRACE Zambia Research investigated a few users from a small cross section and found the following where the general reasons behind the 'moving' towards the counters; emergencies, maintaining social networks like family and friends, earning money (mostly an assumption which under scrutiny boiled down to complaint that it leads to loosing money), information.
In the cloud of conversation and 'moving' to the counters, there are practical examples of organized use of the Mobile cellular phone by women worth learning from. Before we get to those, mention must be made that most retailers at those counters are women. The mobile cellular Phone Service providers have ushered in a whole new class of informal sector business. The business has become a livelihood and a rescue for countless unemployed women and youths (the hardest hit by poverty and unemployment).
An example worth noting on practical uses of Mobile Phone technologies by women in Zambia is the Chipata Women's Mobile Communication Project. A Partnership between One World Africa (OWA), Celtel and the District Women's Association (DWDA) in Chipata (A rural town in the Eastern Province of Zambia). The Projects goal is to improve the lives and livelihood opportunities of members of the DWDA through access to information. The DWDA is a farming corporative run by women, in the initiative, the women run the only payphone booth in the area. The booth has become a means of access for the community to the outside world reducing costs such as travel by road. While connecting the community to the outside world, the ownership of the equipment has granted the women more influence in the community and as a farming corporative, they have more capacity to choose markets for their produce, with the click of a button, they can gain information on market prices of their produce from various markets before traveling. In return, Celtel uses them as freelance retailers, using them as an extension of its tentacles in the remote area, squeezing every possible communication penny possible. Asked why Celtel chose to partner with a women's association, Mato Shimabale the Strategic Marketing Manager for Celtel maintained that women in Zambia form more organized groupings than men, "they do it at many social levels, be it Church, NGO etc. They simply have the ability to be accountable in unity," he said.
Other organized beneficiaries of the 'deal' based on the same model include the Maureen Mwanawasa Initiative (MMCI) an NGO headed by the first lady Maureen Mwanawasa.
The easy assumption would be that women are prone to gossip and thus would use the mobile phone more than men do, the reality is proving the contrary in the home, as men find that their wives are airtime banks, because they have less conversations on the phones than they do.
The Mobile Cellular phone Service provision process in Zambia works according to a meticulous system; locked in an embrace, the Government, corporate service providers, and civil society simultaneously influence the quality of access the end user or consumer will assume. The end user's main concern is cost of service, the civil society's advocacy is around greater access for all, the corporate provider complains of limiting laws, harsh taxes, cost of investment while government insists on improving the standards of living but contends that it can only do so if taxes are paid accordingly. The Celtel Strategic marketing manager argues that with soaring poverty and women hanging on the losing end, it is important to Asses policy direction. "Communication is tangible, it is something we can see, and it changes peoples lives. If Government would lower our costs of investing in the rural areas, reduce taxes on service providers, we would provide the service to the people at greater affordable prices, this can contribute to improving standards of living".
Whatever the formula for beating poverty, the 'influence' embrace might be stifling the free breath of communication of the end user. The question of fairness is a fundamental question in the approach of issues related to access to resources and attainment of full inalienable rights, however for the purposes of this research, the focus of fairness is the sum of the latter with respect to women.
Women's access to communication is subject to suspicion and scrutiny in the home according to the hints of a number of local songs. Reflecting, the underlying tensions between partners on women's newly acquired ability to freely communicate, the songs usually hint at moral reasons for access and use of the cell phone by women and men.
Women in Zambia face three major challenges in their access to ICTS according to the Non Governmental Organization Coordinating council (NGOCC).
- Women are Illiterate.
According to the CSO 2000, girls are likely to drop out of school in comparison with boys, this simply because of the preference given to boys by poorer families in partitioning of education resources, or early pregnancy leading to early marriages. Against this background, the deep cultural scar that insists comically that women have no business with all other things other than the kitchen might be the reason why most women still do not have such things as email addresses in Zambia. Fortunately, the cell phone needs little education to operate and according to Bob Wang from ZTE an ICT solutions company investing in Zambia "good tools need little or no education for their operation"
- Women are impoverished
In Zambia the poverty stricken have little or no access to education and resources. A relatively cheap handset in April 2007 on average would cost about K150, 000.00 ($US 37.5), meanwhile, according to the United Nations, the majority of Zambians 80% live on below a dollar a day.
- Women are Domestic
The cultural setup insures that women are domestic dwellers, spending most of their time in the home away from other forms of ICTs that are not mobile (internet, payphones) unless such amenities are in the home.
Had the NGOCC female representative not issued such a statement and instead a man, they would have been found vicious. One would equally argue that the truth usually is. The generalization however must not overshadow the vast majority of emerging women who have benefited from affirmative action and more enlightened family settings. It must not overshadow women who are the fruits of Civil Society advocacy and are making a marked difference on the image of the Zambian woman in Zambia.
With the service providers holding the reigns, the public remains at their mercy. Consistently subjected to high tariffs, second-rate service and unreliable support from the consumer protection institutions. With all the political weight shifting and money swapping, women remain low as a priority, relegated to having their particular issues merged with those of other groups (Youths, Children, The disabled) with specific needs themselves. The buzzword in the media is women's equality and empowerment and equality for all. The interpretation seems not to trickle down to access to communications as much as it should, if it does, it is in 'experiments' and not through direct policy intervention. Specific attention must be given to the traditionally marginalized female sex.
The ICT policy is a step in the right direction, working towards achieving the MDGS by 2010 will need a concerted effort and if access to information is a major ingredient for development, women need to be at the greatest receiving end, some deliberate efforts must be put in place to insure this.
In tune with the influential players in the process of provision, individual recommendations are as follows:
Government intends to utilize the SUNRISE method to implement the ICT policy. As has been the case in the past, the lack of stakeholders to own initiatives has stopped many a policy dead in its tracks. Implementation is cardinal and the Government needs to
- Mainstream the policy in all systems of government
- Encourage private sector investment in the industry
- Tighten transparency and reduce corruption in the disbursement of resources towards the sector
- Deliberately relate the Gender policy to the ICT policy
- Reduce duplication and confusion at regulatory level by integrating the departments within the Ministry of Information, the Communications Authority and the Ministry of communications and transport that are directly tasked to regulate ICT in keeping with the convergence of ICTs at global level.
- Reduce restrictions on the freedom of information and encourage such ICT platforms such as skype that promote cost effective and easy communication.
- Encourage education among girl children
- Promote high standard user friendly ICT equipment
- Lowering of tariffs on imports of ICT equipment
- Subsidizing rural development through sharing of costs of investment with private sector investors i.e. sharing of costs of erection of transmission towers etc
- There is a real need to develop sustainable energy sources i.e solar energy that can help sustain Mobile cellular phone use in rural areas where infrastructure for electricity has not yet been built.
The Civil Society is vast in Zambia, with well over 150,000 NGOs in the country, there is almost a non-existence of coordination, and this has caused the Zambian fragmentation of civil society. A fragmented entity has less influence over policy development and implementation processes. The Civil society in the quest for the empowerment of women through ICT should;
- Employ a sectored approach to development and target women's development through ICT. They should delegate organizations that are experienced in the field of ICT and well being of women to lead the dialogue with policy-making institutions.
- They must introduce programs which like the Chipata experience translate ICT tools into resource generating and life improving implements
- They should be vocal and consistently checking the transparency in resource allocation towards the sector.
- With the emergence of ICT, freedoms of information are accelerated. The civil Society must continue to promote and protect this free and open culture.
- Institute research projects to gain greater understanding of the impact of ICT on women and other marginalized groups.
Corporate Service Providers and retailers of accessories:
Despite the National gender policy and the insistence on mainstreaming gender, the service providers still do not record the gender differentials of their subscribers. This is retrogressive in the tracking of improvements in women's access to mobile phones. The corporate world should assist Government in the implementation of the ICT policy.
- They should lax on the mentality of market forces determining the quality of service for the consumer but rather view their contribution as a moral obligation for National development.
- They should internalize the Gender policy and make it easier for women to utilize their services.
- They should reduce on the price of ICT tools and fund community development programs to improve access to the service.
There is a need for Zambians to learn their fundamental rights. The lack of education in this regard has consistently handed citizens a raw deal in development. Development of a culture of volunteerism and behavioral change is the only way to break the social mentality that binds women and decelerates personal human development. Users should;
- Be aware of their consumer rights to complain if they feel that the costs of access to ICTs is too high or the services do not adequately satisfy their needs
- Users must encourage the use of ICT at domestic level by women and girls.
- Use the ICTs more for self-development as opposed to non-productive leisure.
The mobile Cellular phone technology is a basic method of communication Zambians can utilize, however there are many barriers for the poor; these include mainly cost and lack of basic skill. Like any tool, the Cell Phone can be abused. Benefits from the tool can only be derived if users utilize it for positive self-development and community improvement. " The cell phone is like a high way, users have self motivation and they go in their own respective directions. The highway does not dictate where the user goes or how the user can use it" says Bob Wang from ZTE. Similarly women can use the tool for either self-improvement or retrogression, what remains clear is the need for a concerted effort to enhance women's access. Only then will life be made better.