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Interview: Meena Namadamu's Perspective on Technology & Empowerment from the Congo

“I want to talk about technology and how we’re using it to empower women. We’re working in Bakavu, a town in Eastern Congo with about 1 million people. The world knows our country as a rape capital, but we’re working to change that.” Thus began an incredibly inspiring conversation with Neema Namadamu. Its not everyday that I get to talk to someone in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hearing Neema’s perspective on her work and her hope for the future was a fascinating experience. I hope its helpful to others. Please also check out Neema’s website at http://namadamu.com/ to learn about Neema’s many different efforts. I also found Neema’s message on her blog especially inspiring: http://namadamu.com/blog

Photo of Jason Rissman
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“The very thing that gets me up each morning is knowing that the light in us is contagious.”
-Neema Namadamu


Access to Technology is Very Limited
Not only is Internet access limited in the Congo, its very expensive and usually completely inaccessible by women. A lot of people have 2G phones and use SMS, but those people are mostly men. Women just don’t have much access.

Women in Eastern Congo Are Interested in Tech
We built a center that offers free access to computer training and the Internet to women. We have seven trainers that teach women to use computers, write emails, use the Internet. Women walk 20 kilometers to get here. We provide transportation for women with disabilities and women who are pregnant. We’ve now helped almost 500 women. After three months of training, we help them share their vision for the future through WorldPulse.

No one can speak for me. I speak for myself.
Working with WorldPulse is so empowering for women. It helps them exchange ideas and emails with other women around the world. Its so important for women to have a voice. They might not be able to talk in public, but they can write. We teach the women that no one can speak for them. Women learn that this is their right, and this changes how they see themselves and their future. The women empower themselves through writing. We have girls that are now writing online every day, connecting with other women.

Technology is Providing Access to Outside Markets  
We’re also using the Internet to help women with disabilities sell handbags online. The Congolese Association for the Liberation and Development of the Disabled Woman (ALCODEMHA) provides vocational training and support to help women with disabilities through public advocacy, vocational training and technology access. Bags can be purchased online at Shakoshi.

Not Tech Alone. Community Outreach is Part of the Solution.
Through our program, we also have ambassadors that go to villages to talk to chiefs. They encourage the people in charge to let girls go to school and come to our center to learn about technology.

In rural areas and villages, there’s disease but you can’t talk about it. HIV is taboo. We need to get support from sisters around the world so we can reach more villages and talk about health issues.

Empowering Women is Empowering a Community
I have hope, that’s why we are working. I have hope in women. When you empower women, you empower a community.

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Photo of Rafael Carabano

Jason
thanks for sharing this interview. It is great to read about Neema and the work she is doing.
This week I posted an interview with a social worker who dealt with our actual challenge in Venezuela. One of the key insights from it is: create public spaces where women can voice their opinions and be heard.
WorldPulse definitely can provide that, taken into account they have access to internet. However, we still need to look for alternatives as we find out that technology basic infrastructure in these countries is still an issue.
If you want to read about what I publish, here I leave you the link:
http://www.openideo.com/challenge/womens-safety/research/how-can-we-empower-women-in-rural-and-urban-areas-part-1