What happens when you put women at the center of examining Kenya’s booming technology scene? Specifically, what should Kenyan women’s agenda for the ongoing tech revolution look like?
I believe that Kenyan women’s technology agenda should focus on freedom. But not freedom in the conventional sense; the women’s agenda for technology should focus on both freedom ‘from’ and freedom ‘to’.
Conventional understandings of freedom center on freedom from oppression: freedom from others harming us. An innovative approach to women’s participation in the tech space should focus on both women’s freedom ‘from’ current impediments but it should, more importantly, also focus on women’s freedom ‘to’ use technology and to transform the way tech is used in Kenya.
To explain, Kenyan women’s tech agenda should focus on three key elements of freedom that are critical in the current context in Kenya: Access, Security, and Empowerment
Traditional understandings of women’s access to technology rely on just counting the numbers of women using technology. Indeed numerous reports and studies have focused on how many Kenyan women own mobile phones and how many women are regularly online. The question of access has been reduced to bean counting.
A cutting edge agenda for Kenyan women and technology must also be concerned with ‘which’ women are coming online and conversely which ones are being left behind. It is not enough to merely count female bodies in the tech space.
Concern for the issue of women’s access to technology needs to ensure that technology does not remain the preserve of wealthy women. Indeed if we’re not careful, imbalanced access to technology can exacerbate existing Kenya’s class, ethnic and other differences between women.
When we think about access as an important component of women’s access to technology, we must pay attention to the wealth differences between women. For women to have true freedom ‘to’ be online we must fight for poor women’s access and knowledge of technology.
If we don’t ensure poor women’s access to technology we risk a situation where wealthy women take over speaking ‘for’ poor women with dire consequences for democracy.
Indeed the biggest promise of technology is in enhancing Kenya’s burgeoning democracy is arming the voting public with tools to keep their elected officials and governments accountable. Access to technology is key to this and women’s access particularly so. We cannot then afford to turn this promise on its head for poor women who end up lacking the tools and who are then unable to participate in critical democratic conversations.
Security and Safety
A second element of women’s agenda for technology is safety. Conventional understandings of safety and security in the tech space often focus on viruses, terrorism, and identity theft.
Kenya women’s agenda for technology needs to look beyond these conventional understandings to again embrace issues of both freedom ‘from’ and freedom ‘to’.
The most critical agenda item for Kenyan women when it comes to security in technology is actually creating safe spaces for women and girls. Indeed even as we struggle for all women’s access to the web we must continue the struggle to secure safe spaces for women and girls both online and offline.
A recent study of Internet safety for Kenyan women by KICTANET shows that going online can expose women and especially girls to greater risk. A cursory glance on facebook reveals the many ways that women, especially successful women who have broken outside the mold of convention are under continuous attack by Kenya’s cyber bullies. Perhaps the most striking examples of this are the ways that female media personalities including reporters like Caroline Mutoko are continually harassed on social media. If we are not careful, we may fight for women’s access to technology only to expose the same women to various forms of violence, especially psychological violence meted out by Kenya’s home grown cyber bullies.
The third and most important element of Kenyan women’s tech agenda needs to be empowerment. Again we must move beyond thinking of empowerment in the traditional sense. Kenyan women must embrace the ways that our use of technology is not just changing us but also how we as women are shaping technology itself.
Conventional understandings of how technology empowers women are mostly concerned with women’s economic empowerment: we worry most about how women can make money using technology. Organizations like SamaSource have found ways to create work for women using technology. While some argue that such work is merely glorified sweatshop labour, proponents maintain that the income that women generate is truly empowering.
Jobs in tech are not the holy grail for women.
I argue that Kenyan women should ask more of technology. Income is good but we can, and should, have more.
The way to achieve this ‘more’ is to ask what difference it fundamentally makes to have Kenyan women engaged with technology. Do we, as women, bring about a fundamentally different structure of relationships by using technology?
Kenyan society is inherently hierarchial. A cursory look at our politics at the national scale (ill-behaved waheshimiwa) and all the way down to our behavior behind the closed doors of our homes (the ill treatment metted out on our domestic workers). Women, Kenyan women especially, do very poorly in hierarchies. We tend to remain at the bottom.
Indeed, women, some argue, tend to think and live in ways that are anti-hierarchy. That Chamas are a women’s phenomenon only serves to strengthen this argument.
I believe that the web is one place where women hold tremendous potential to bring about grand transformation because the Web offers tremendous potential for a restructuring of power relations from hierarchy and into a web of interconnectedness.
Unlike Kenyan society, and very much as a mirror to women’s lives, the web is ‘flat’ in very fundamental ways. Interconnection is key. Hierarchies don’t work so well on the web and success, as especially highlighted in social media, is dependent on one’s interconnectedness.
Women enter this encounter with an upper hand. We have had lifetimes of training and socialization to build ‘flat’ and connected communities. Indeed numerous studies on women in the corporate sector now highlight the ways that women bring stronger collaboration skills to workplaces. And as globalization continues full steam ahead, women’s abilities to collaborate and build communities of sharing represent an increasingly advantageous resource. Kenyan women are already empowered in this sense.
Kenyan women’s continued engagement with technology from this position of strength is not only good for technology, its good for Kenyan society. The more that women thrive in a field where they hold competitive advantage, the more the values of a less hierarchical and more ‘flat’ society will become apparent in the broader society. Women’s lives and ways of living can make Kenya a better place.
As such, Kenyan women’s tech agenda must embrace empowerment not just from a perspective of the money that women make by engaging technology. The women’s agenda must seek to understand the ways that women can, and are already empowered to transform technology and to transform society as well.
Women Who Tech:
Take Back the Tech:
I’m watching a live broadcast of the memorial service from Newtown Connecticut in the aftermath of the devastating massacre at a school. The stories are devastating. Teachers who placed their bodies in front of the gunman to protect children. Children who, despite surviving the horror, might never be able to sit in a classroom for the rest of their lives. Lives shattered and ruined.
President Obama is giving a touching eulogy and I stand with him. I am an American and I mourn for, and with my adopted country.
I grieve for the children who will for years now wake up in terror afraid of death raining down. I grieve for the nightmares being had and those that will be had. For the trauma and fear that is undeserved and unearned. We HAVE GOT to do this better!!
AND in the midst of this grief I am reminded of the children of Pakistan who, like their peers in Newtown also sleep in nightmares. Who wake up in the middle of the night to clutch air, seeking mothers long dead. School, the playground, home, offer no safety.
For years now the United States Government has embarked on a war on Pakistanis. US drones, personally authorized by the same President Obama who has been shedding tears over dead American children have killed over 3000 people yet only 2% of these people killed in these drone attacks were ‘high value targets’. President Obama has authorized more drone attacks than President Bush ever did and he personally authorizes each attack. We, ‘progressives’ especially, need to hold him accountable for that.
Obama’s drone war has had devastating impact on Pakistanis. The war’s impact on the mental health of generations can only be imagined. Think of what its like to be a child in the region, drones overhead 24 hours a day. Never knowing whether you or your family are next. Everyone you know has been impacted. According to a recent report,
People have to live with the fear that a strike could come down on them at any moment of the day or night, leaving behind dead whose bodies are shattered to pieces, and survivors who must be desperately sped to a hospital.
“Based on interviews with witnesses, victims and experts, the report accuses the CIA of “double-striking” a target, moments after the initial hit, thereby killing first responders”
This is confirmed by what we’ve seen in this Wikileaks video about just how the U.S. attacks first responders in Iraq.
Back to the children. In New Mexico, American soldiers operating drones and raining death on the unsuspecting humanity half way around the planet are having experiences that seem to have nothing to do with what happened in Newtown. Bryant’s experiences below seem so removed from young Adam Lanza’s.
Bryant saw a flash on the screen: the explosion. Parts of the building collapsed. The child had disappeared. Bryant had a sick feeling in his stomach.
“Did we just kill a kid?” he asked the man sitting next to him.
“Yeah, I guess that was a kid,” the pilot replied.
“Was that a kid?” they wrote into a chat window on the monitor.
Then, someone they didn’t know answered, someone sitting in a military command center somewhere in the world who had observed their attack. “No. That was a dog,” the person wrote.
They reviewed the scene on video. A dog on two legs?
BUT: What would happen if we started to connect the deaths of these two children?
The right to bear arms is often upheld by enthusiasts and patriots as protecting citizens from an overbearing government. Yet, interestingly, the 2nd amendment actually puts U.S. statehood in danger by ensuring that the U.S. government does not hold a “monopoly on the legitimate use of force”. A right that my fellow political scientists, led by Max Weber, have agreed is central to the definition of a state.
So then what do we do with the U.S. state? It does not hold a domestic monopoly on the legitimate use of force so its citizens occasionally go haywire and shoot each other up. At the same time it steps outside of international law to rain illegitimate violence on victims halfway around the world, a majority of whom are innocent.
I contend that both forms of violence are connected. And in both cases the deaths of children have more in common than not.
So, if you were the therapist and the U.S. was lying on your couch, what advice would you give? How does a country addicted to violence, almost defined by violence, give up the guns and drones?
And for goodness sake how do we get Americans to see the ways in which the deaths of children in Newtown is very much connected and related to the child dying right now somewhere in Pakistan. Children killed in the name of Americans.
How would American thinking and action change if Americans took the radical stance that the lives of children in Pakistan are worth as much as the lives of children in the U.S.?
And we haven’t even began to discuss the implications of yet another mass shooting by a young White man on America’s racial politics. As some are beginning to ask, is there a crisis of White masculinity?
What if the main reason these shootings keep occurring is that white men aren’t handling equality very well? There aren’t, I believe, any easy answers. Even so, we can take this perspective with us, and we can work to think of ways to help young white males grow up in a society where the expectation of privilege is never indoctrinated. We can teach them early in life how to cope with rejection. We can realize that pointing fingers and blaming others might feel good in the short term, but in the long term, only working towards positive solutions will really help. And yes, we can absolutely continue to advocate for better mental healthcare. Finally, I think we need to be brave enough to have conversations like this one. We need to admit the possibility that by perpetuating the lie of white male superiority despite strong societal and scientific pressure to change, we may have created our own monster
And that monster is White privilege. In the case of mass shootings, one blogger argues that,
The freedom to kill, maim, commit wanton acts of violence, and to be anti-social (as well as pathological) without having your actions reflect on your own racial group, is one of the ultimate, if not in fact most potent, examples of White Privilege in post civil rights era America. Instead of a national conversation where we reflect on what has gone wrong with young white men in our society–a group which apparently possesses a high propensity for committing acts of mass violence–James Holmes will be framed as an outlier.
But thats a whole separate blog post. Because I think the crisis of masculinity is not just one being experienced by White men. I see it taking its toll on Kenyan society as well and we HAVE GOT to make those links!
AND we also have to talk about mental illness. Because we are all Adam Lanza’s mother and there are a lot of families living in fear.
The United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
We have got to do better!!
AND we need to talk about guns. Because on the same day that Adam successfully massacred 26 people, a mentally ill man in china stabbed 22 children and none of them died. The easy availability of guns in the US is killing Americans!
But again these are separate blog posts
I recently wrote a piece for the fabulous UP Nairobi magazine about women’s leadership where I argue that we need to move to a more sophisticated conversation about gender and leadership.
In the piece I identify two fundamental questions we must grapple with: How do we define ‘leadership’? And how does that definition lead to continued waste of one of the country’s most valuable resource: women’s capacity for transformative leadership?
I’m posting my full text below but will be taking it down once its posted on the UP Nairobi website. In the meanwhile be sure to check out the brand new UP Nairobi website.
To ask whether women are capable of leadership is to begin by asking the wrong question. Indeed the question of whether Kenyan women can lead was answered generations ago. YES WE CAN (and we have been)!
Indeed its time we Kenyans moved on to a more sophisticated conversation about gender and leadership. To do this we must address two fundamental questions: How do we define ‘leadership’? And why does Kenyan society insist on continued waste of one of the country’s most valuable resource: Kenyan women’s capacity for transformative leadership?
Leadership with a Capital P
For too long now leadership in Kenya has been understood as merely political kupayuka. Ask most Kenyans to identify a leader and they will point to a myriad of politicians and wannabe politicians. As a society we have failed to appreciate the ways in which leadership transcends the political sphere and includes valuable contributions in the social, education, industry, arts and culture among other sectors.
Our continued obsession with politics as the only venue where one can serve the community and transform society has led us to a race to the bottom. While we certainly have some qualified politicians, there are increasing numbers who, though they might actually be talented to serve in the private, civil society, civil service or other sectors, still shoehorn themselves into politics with disastrous results. So often our politicians live in realm of mediocrity to the country’s detriment.
On the other hand, an expanded perspective on leadership allows us to begin to make the necessary investments in sectors of our society that are indeed transformative. For example, our education system has for long failed to capture the real value that that the arts and culture generate in a society. Paraphrase an example recently offered by Vision 2030 Director General Mr. Mugo Kibati in a speech to Kenya’s emerging researchers, when most people think of America they can rattle off the names of various musical artists, actors, and sporting professionals. Beyond the President, very few people around the world can name as many U.S. members of Congress as they can artists.
While the contributions of some of these American artists might be dubious in terms of social progress, it is safe to say that they generate tremendous social and economic value for their country. Why is it then, that Kenyans have chosen to focus on our political leaders to the marginalization of the tremendous artists, academics, scientists, writers and other producers of knowledge and culture? What are we missing out by failing to recognize these innovative individuals as leaders who are transforming society?
Kenyan society pays a high price for our narrow perspective of leadership. We are failing to see the many ways that women are already contributing to the leadership of the country and doing so in earthshattering ways. For example, it is our narrow perspective on leadership that caused us to fail to recognize the tremendously transformative work of Prof. Wangari Maathai. Why did it take Kenyans so long to recognize and celebrate what the rest of the world already saw of our heroine’s work? What more could she have contributed to society had we embraced her early and deeply and given her the space to freely give of her all gifts to Kenya? We are failing to recognize the leadership of women like Ory Okolloh, one of the co-founders of the internationally recognized Ushahidi platform who now heads policy and government relations for Google in Africa. There are the Weaving Women, the collection of women artists, academics, writers and thinkers behind an exploration of the cultural image of ‘Wanjiku’ in representing the ‘average’ Kenyan citizen. This group of women is generating valuable new knowledge, indigenous knowledge, on the political and social systems of gender power in Kenya. Sadly, in our obsession with politicians, we are failing to see the ways these multidisciplinary women are innovative leaders. How many other Okollohs and Prof. Maathais remain untapped. Which other human resources, talented and dedicated Kenyan women of substance, is the country not benefiting from? Why do we continue with this wanton waste of potential?
In my own work with Akili Dada I am exposed daily to talented young women who, despite their family backgrounds of deep poverty, are passionate about social change. Akili Dada’s young women leaders are, in their teens, already driving projects with deeply transformative impact on their communities. They are not in front of microphones spouting ethnic hatespeech like some of our politicians. They are working diligently under everyone’s radar, imagining new a Kenya and doing the work that it takes to build and transform our societies from the ground. That is leadership. Yes, Kenyan women can lead. The fundamental question is, how can we as a country better tap into the tremendous resource that is Kenyan women’s capacity for transformative leadership?
I’m procrastinating from a pile of work so I decided to clean up my inbox and look what I found!
RSA does some really cool animations including my all time favorite video of Slavoj Zizek explaining whats wrong with buying more crap to save the world.
This piece by acclaimed journalist, author and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich explores the darker side of positive thinking.
In relating her arguments to what is going on with conversations about Aid to Africa I see ways in which ‘saving’ Africans is often driven by delusional positive thinking. And as non-profiteers we have feed into the delusion. So often we raise money by telling donors that their $5 will save the world and bring an end to what are, in reality, very complex social problems.
In our race to raise funds we’ve made it ok for anyone to parachute in and begin whatever delusional idea about how to fix what ails Africans.
Ehrenreich has a wonderful critique about the powerlessness of positive thinking which, as she says, “always just envisions you as a lone individual redesigning the world to fit your ideas.” This individualization and leads us to forget that “we do have power, collective power, which we could use to make changes and end unnecessary suffering in the world.” Again the point is not to stop acting in the world but to act in solidarity and in collaboration.
To take it a step further, for me part of that collective power means involving the beneficiaries of our ‘help’ and not just the collaboration amongst the donors which is as far as many philanthropic collaborations get today.
Here is the full length video:
Today I stumbled on a piece about the legacy of Audre Lorde who I admire greatly and whose work has given me strength over the years. I was reading her piece on The Masters Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House and saw it in a different light today.
Towards the end of her talk at a conference on feminism she asks the audience of presumably White feminists”
Whaaat!! Boom! just like that the elephant is there, right in the middle of the room and nobody could ignore it now that it had been named.
I wonder if she was nervous or scared to ask that powerful and personal question. I wonder if she had planned to name the elephant or if the truth just fell out of her mouth before she could stop it. Just as her daughter had reminded her that,
you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside
I wonder if that questioning of self identified feminist, who really could and should have been allies in the feminist movement, was pre-planned and strategically thought out or merely the truth punching her in the mouth from the inside and tumbling out.
And she didn’t stop there. She’s concerned about being elevated and isolated as the gatekeeper for Black feminist thought so she, from the podium, demands of conference organizers and participants:
Why weren’t other women of Color found to participate in this conference? Why were two phone calls to me considered a consultation? Am I the only possible source of names of Black feminists?
How many other people, once elevated to the position of ‘thought leader’ or whatever we choose to label the pedestal, ever have the courage to question the very basis of their elevation?
For me, that is the moment of courage. To question and challenge the very system that has you on top and to demand, from your position at the top, that others be allowed into the room. And I don’t think its that simple because then there is the question of selling out. If you retain your space of privilege, that spot at the top, and chose to speak from it aren’t you selling out into the system that created the hierarchy in the first place? When you choose to occupy a space, doesn’t your very decision to be there mark the space as having your stamp of approval?
Back to Lorde, was showing up at that conference and accepting the speaking position while other women of color were cleaning her fellow conference attendees’ homes an act of selling out? It all goes back to my ongoing concern about what we do with our power and privilege.
At this point I’m thinking she is not selling out. Because she was able to use that platform to speak into an audience that would never have stopped to listen to the same critique from their house cleaners and nannies. Lorde had an opportunity to speak and she used it to give voice to an uncomfortable truth to an audience that would listen to her voice of authority in a way that they wouldn’t listen to the other Black women in their daily lives.
But was there a cost to her? What price did she pay for being the kind of woman who could speak these painful truths to audiences? We get a glimpse when she writes of the isolation of standing alone as different:
Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled
What courage it must take to be so isolated!
I recently read an article explaining women’s absence in leadership with the argument that when women become leaders they get isolated and that is exactly what girls have been socialized to fear. So, when standing alone is scary how does one gain the courage to speak the lonely truth? Where and how can we both learn and teach the courage to speak truth while standing alone?
I’d love to sit with sister Audre and ask her how she did it. I wonder, if she could have forged a different path, would she have? If she could go back, would she choose an easier path? I wonder about the personal toll it took on her to need to be so brave.
I wonder the same about our sister Wangari Maathai who braved bullets and clubs and hair ripped from her scalp to stand toe to toe with the Moi dictatorship. What made her do it? What was she thinking at those many moments when she stood defiant? Were her hands shaking? Or did she go into a different place in her mind and shut it all out, focusing only on the truth that needed to be said. Or did that truth just come knocking her out from inside and tumble out despite her best efforts to conform and be liked?
There are so many women who we let live in isolation and emerge to celebrate after they’ve left us and the sting of their truth has numbed a bit. I’d love for our Akili Dada scholars to learn the courage to be those truth tellers. But I also worry for them if they become that brave. Because there will be a price to be paid.
Apparently the Brits have been at it again. Seriously, the colonial hangover lingers? Thankfully there’s tremendous pushback:
Statement on British ‘aid cut’ threats to African countries that violate LBGTI rights
We, the undersigned African social justice activists, working to advance societies that affirm peoples’ differences, choice and agency throughout Africa, express the following concerns about the use of aid conditionality as an incentive for increasing the protection of the rights of LGBTI people on the continent.
It was widely reported, earlier this month, that the British Government has threatened to cut aid to governments of “countries that persecute homosexuals” unless they stop punishing people in same-sex relationships. These threats follow similar decisions that have been taken by a number of other donor countries against countries such as Uganda and Malawi. While the intention may well be to protect the rights of LGBTI people on the continent, the decision to cut aid disregards the role of the LGBTI and broader social justice movement on the continent and creates the real risk of a serious backlash against LGBTI people.
A vibrant social justice movement within African civil society is working to ensure the visibility of – and enjoyment of rights by – LGBTI people. This movement is made up of people from all walks of life, both identifying and non-identifying as part of the LGBTI community. It has been working through a number of strategies to entrench LGBTI issues into broader civil society issues, to shift the same-sex sexuality discourse from the morality debate to a human rights debate, and to build relationships with governments for greater protection of LGBTI people. These objectives cannot be met when donor countries threaten to withhold aid.
The imposition of donor sanctions may be one way of seeking to improve the human rights situation in a country but does not, in and of itself, result in the improved protection of the rights of LGBTI people. Donor sanctions are by their nature coercive and reinforce the disproportionate power dynamics between donor countries and recipients. They are often based on assumptions about African sexualities and the needs of African LGBTI people. They disregard the agency of African civil society movements and political leadership. They also tend, as has been evidenced in Malawi, to exacerbate the environment of intolerance in which political leadership scapegoat LGBTI people for donor sanctions in an attempt to retain and reinforce national state sovereignty.
Further, the sanctions sustain the divide between the LGBTI and the broader civil society movement. In a context of general human rights violations, where women are almost are vulnerable, or where health and food security are not guaranteed for anyone, singling out LGBTI issues emphasizes the idea that LGBTI rights are special rights and hierarchically more important than other rights. It also supports the commonly held notion that homosexuality is ‘unAfrican’ and a western-sponsored ‘idea’ and that countries like the UK will only act when ‘their interests’ have been threatened.
An effective response to the violations of the rights of LBGTI people has to be more nuanced than the mere imposition of donor sanctions. The history of colonialism and sexuality cannot be overlooked when seeking solutions to this issue. The colonial legacy of the British Empire in the form of laws that criminalize same-sex sex continues to serve as the legal foundation for the persecution of LGBTI people throughout the Commonwealth. In seeking solutions to the multi-faceted violations facing LGBTI people across Africa, old approaches and ways of engaging our continent have to be stopped. New ways of engaging that have the protection of human rights at their core have to recognize the importance of consulting the affected.
Furthermore, aid cuts also affect LGBTI people. Aid received from donor countries is often used to fund education, health and broader development. LGBTI people are part of the social fabric, and thus part of the population that benefit from the funding. A cut in aid will have an impact on everyone, and more so on the populations that are already vulnerable and whose access to health and other services are already limited, such as LGBTI people.
To adequately address the human rights of LGBTI people in Africa, the undersigned social justice activists call on the British government to:
- Review its decision to cut aid to countries that do not protect LGBTI rights
- Expand its aid to community based and lead LGBTI programmes aimed at fostering dialogue and tolerance.
- Support national and regional human rights mechanisms to ensure the inclusiveness of LGBTI issues in their protective and promotional mandates
- Support the entrenchment of LGBTI issues into broader social justice issues through the financing of community lead and nationally owned projects.
Joel Gustave Nana, (French and English)
African Men for Sexual Health and Rights
UHAI- the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative
Tel: +254(020)2330050/ 8127535