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Women get a hand across the digital divide

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When Intel commissioned a research study on the online gender divide across the world, the results were significant. Globally, there are 25% less women online than men, and this figure jumps to 43% in Africa.
Country manager at Intel, Videsha Proothveerajh, comments: “In the digital revolution, when being online is in many ways synonymous with the way we operate in our professional and personal lives, it’s not sustainable to have such a large number of women left behind.”
With that in mind, Intel developed Intel She Will Connect, working with likeminded partners such as World Pulse, Vodacom, Siyafunda, USASA, UN Women and UNESCO.
“Intel She Will Connect is a platform empowering women to become digitally literate, develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed and be part of a supportive community,” says Proothveerajh.
In addition, an app called ‘My Digital Journey’ allows women to go online, interact and learn about a variety of topics from online security and safety, to brand and image.
Working in community centres across Africa, 150 thousand women have been trained so far with at least one million exposed to the project. “However, the impact extends far beyond these women, with many of them becoming trainers themselves, starting up successful businesses or even simply passing on the message to other women like them. It’s truly moved from being an Intel programme to a community programme as we work towards women being able to take their rightful place in society.”
At a recent roundtable discussion ahead of Women’s Day, Intel called on several of these women to share their stories. Their stories are both inspiring and moving and are testament to the success and pay it forward approach of the project.
Puleng Moyaha and Sarah Mahlaba were both volunteers at their respective Siyafunda community centres when they were introduced to the Intel She Will Connect programme, while Clementine Radebe began her Intel She Will Connect journey as a student. The three young women describe how they gained so much from the training that they decided to pay it forward and become trainers themselves.
Moyaha has since opened her own training centre to follow her passion for teaching women to become sustainable. Sarah, while still working as Clementine’s manager has also opened a day care centre, increased her intake from three to 17 children and training her sister to do the admin for the centre. Clementine used the entrepreneurial skills she learned to start an event planning and catering company, which she hopes to expand.
Mahlaba comments” “I don’t believe we can or should compete with men. We are unique and as women we can do better than competing against them. I believe we should have a ‘relay relationship’ whereby you pass on your knowledge to your daughter and she passes it on to her daughter – I think that way we will go far.”

Bringing moms into the loop
At this year’s EduWeek – the continent’s largest education event – Intel focused on bringing moms into the digital literacy loop.
One of those moms is Esther Motloung – a widow, mom of three and She Will Connect student. She says: “Often people don’t recognise the problems women face to start a business. We might have low self-esteem because we’re told our place is in the kitchen, or we may be sexually harassed when we try to share our ideas with men.”
Motloung says being a student in the She Will Connect programme has given her the knowledge and technological skills she needs to put her business idea of opening a mortuary into practice.
“My hope is to empower women and see them recognised, and my goal is to create more jobs in my community,” she says.

Technology doesn’t discriminate
EduWeek also gave trainers like Puleng the opportunity to train visually-impaired women.
One of the trainees, Nompi Tshabalala, describes how She Will Connect helped her learn to enjoy working on computers. “It puts us at the same level as able-bodied people,” she says. Nompi won a competition at Edu Week for her innovative business idea and was awarded a laptop with braille keyboard to further her technological competence.
Bridget Vilakazi, who has a passion for the work she does at a community centre for people with disabilities, agrees. “I was doing administrative work in the centre but I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about computers. Now that I’ve had training from She Will Connect, we have opened a computer centre at the community centre and we are learning how to teach the disabled how to use them.”

Nobody left behind
While She Will Connect focuses on the online gender divide, Proothveerajh adds that there are no real parameters to the programme -men can also participate.
“Our aim is to increase digital literacy and entrepreneurial training to empower more people and women in particular to become self-sustaining,” she says. “When I listen to our trainers it’s amazing to think that a few years ago they didn’t know anything about technology and now they’re so confident to share their stories and opinions. That’s the power of education and digital literacy.”