Innovative organization Zamrize is breaking new ground by developing technology for, and in consultation with, Asikana Network, a group of Zambian women, that's designed to empower them, promoting and protecting their own human rights whilst teaching them new skills.By Joy Buolamwini (Founder, Zamrize)
As women's global participation in building the future through technology and entrepreneurship continues to grow, there's a parallel set of issues that need to be addressed if we want to sustain progress and economic opportunity.
Beyond learning programming languages and technical skills, I believe we must also promote an active understanding of women's rights. As a recent graduate of Georgia Tech in Computer Science ('12), I had a working knowledge of my own rights, but it wasn't until I arrived in Zambia for a seven month Fulbright Fellows project that I was made aware of the many issues facing women in Africa and globally — and that's when I decided to help build an app.
At Zamrize, a new organization founded to empower Zambian youth to become creators of technology, we are currently setting up our first Integrative Computational Experience (ICE) Lab in Lusaka, Zambia. Focusing first on locally-driven impact projects, our goal is to engage participants by teaching them tech skills while motivating the learning process with outcomes that will provide value to the local community. Members of the community are invited to take part in brainstorming sessions and help test different projects, playing an active role in the creation process.
One example of this process is the development of WRAPP (Women’s Rights App) — the first technology and cultural impact project brought about through collaboration between Zamrize and Asikana Network, a youth-led organization with a mission to empower women and girls through the use of technology.
Created as part of the Women's Rights Initiative led by Asikana Network, WRAPP serves to inform Zambians of women's rights, corresponding legislation and the steps to take if their rights have been violated. Asikana envisioned the Women's Rights Application during March 2013 (Women's Month) and it immediately became a top priority.
Before my arrival in Zambia, Asikana Network had already begun work on ideas for several apps with participation from a dedicated group of women ranging in age from 18 - 27. Through Zamrize, we were able to accelerate the development of these apps and to help women gain further confidence in their technical ability while also encouraging them to start their own projects, in areas ranging from food to fashion with the intention of using their new skills to generate income.
How Many of us Know Our rights or What To Do When They Are Violated?
Assembled for a brainstorming session on women’s rights, Chisenga Muyoya, Co-Founder of Asikana Network, asked this question openly to the group. I looked around and saw I wasn't alone in my ignorance of the issues surrounding women’s rights including voting, health, safety, non-violence, political, social, judicial and economic issues. Not being aware of those rights is a fundamental part of the problem.
The name WRAPP, for example, came up during a community meeting where men and women with varied backgrounds contributed ideas and shared enthusiasm for the creation of a new app that would address the rights of women as a fundamental part of empowering them in technology and entrepreneurship. It was clear that in order for women to excel in all areas of their lives, they need to be both informed and assured of their rights.
In preparation for the event, Zamrize provided mobile application development training to Asikana Members a week before the Women's Rights Brainstorm and Hackathon event co-hosted by BongoHive on March 23 - 24, 2013. During the month of April, Asikana Members researched, structured and designed WRAPP using the initial framework developed at the Hackathon. On May 4, 2013, the World Bank and Africa Development Bank supported the preview debut of the WRAPP application. Feedback from the community was gathered to improve the user experience. Asikana Network plans to engage the community further in brainstorming sessions to produce subsequent versions of the application and to develop other services that can address different areas more directly, including issues of gender-based violence.
A Step in the Right Direction
While Zambia has seen progress in the way of human rights, women in particular struggle with many inequalities that stem from customary practices. One app alone cannot combat centuries of entrenched cultural practices, but it can create awareness and access to resources and information to assist those whose rights have been violated. Greater systematic changes are clearly needed to protect the rights of women. Systematic changes start with empowerment. That's exactly what WRAPP 1.0 aims to do: empower Zambians — both women and men — and this is only the beginning of a collaborative effort representing what we can do for ourselves when we work together to promote change through community impact. The next project? Zamrize is currently running its first Indiegogo campaign to support the creation of an Integrative Computational (ICE) Lab in Lusaka, Zambia. We've only just begun. Watch this space.
Women 2.0 readers: Are you looking to develop software that educates and empowers other women? Do you think technology can make a difference when it comes to promoting women's rights?
About the guest blogger: Joy Buolamwini's mission is to show compassion through computation and encourage underrepresented groups in computer science to become full participants in the creation of the future. A graduate of Georgia Tech (Computer Science, '12) Joy is currently a Fulbright Fellow in Zambia and will be attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 2013/2014. Follow her @zamrize. Photo credit: Courtesy of Zamrize