The quote above resonated with me after I worked on a project in rural Bukavu, DRC. The Democratic Republic of Congo went through a five-year civil war fueled by a political as well as an economic side. Fighting was fuelled by the country’s vast mineral wealth with militias, military and other sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder natural resources. The country is however, on a path of restoration. One of the ways this is happening is through women empowerment.
Women for Women International commissioned a study to develop an understanding of mobile technology literacy of women in rural DRC and potential impact of mobile technology on the women. The project hypothesis was that the women were keen to use mobile phones but do not have the capability to purchase and own mobile handsets. A further hypothesis assumed that due to the lower literacy and numeracy levels of these women, they might not consider mobile platform a priority. The study was designed to confirm the above hypothesis and provide more details into these assumptions.
I spent two weeks in rural Bukavu working with about 250 women. This time was spent carrying out in-depth interviews, ethnographic studies and focus group discussions.
some of the participants
These one on one interviews with some of the women helped to give a better understanding of the human psychology of the participants. These were women who have been affected by war and had their lives and world disrupted and turned upside down. These interviews gave us insights into their individual opinions and experiences during this peaceful period after war, their activities as they try rebuilding their lives as well as their aspirations for themselves and their families for the future.
We observed the women in their weekly group meetings where they learnt things like soap making and also sat in on a form of table banking activity they had.
As part of the study we introduced smartphones to the women and left them to interact with them. After two days we went back to see what they had learnt. It was great watching them call family, take photos of each other and listen to the radio on the devices.
teaching a few basics before leaving the smartphones with the participants
Focus group discussions
I facilitated focus group discussions around mobile phones, money, mobile money and savings. After the discussions I trained them on mobile money and how it works. I also answered questions around the covered topics though this was well after the discussions so as not to bias their answers.
during one of the FGDs
The primary tools used in this study were discussion guides (interview and focus group discussion guides).
We also used pen and paper to sketch out scenarios and games aimed at interaction with the participants.
Dry beans were also part of the tools we used for an activity aimed at getting to know how women use their money. Instead of directly asking the women exactly how much they earn and how they spend their money I used beans to query that whole process. This reduced shyness or embarrassment among the women and they also found the activity fun.
women using beans to show how they spend their money
As this was more of an exploratory research study I sent in a report with recommendations for possible solutions that could be built and deployed to the women based on their needs, capabilities and environment. The solutions were centered on numeracy, literacy and savings.
Hopefully with further funding for the client we might be able to go a step further and implement the solution for the women and community at large.