Digital innovation: Why the platform is essential to addressing women challenges

Yvette Mukamwiza, Adrien Biziyaremye and Mathias Kanyandwi developed a ‘digital blind walking stick’ purposely to address some of the challenges faced by women living with disabilities.

Because these women face a number of challenges, such as unfriendly infrastructure, societal stigma, among others, Mukamwiza and the team — a group of students from The Integrated Polytechnic Regional College (IPRC) Ngoma — took it upon themselves to lessen their burden.

They developed the walking stick purposely for women with visual impairment. Their aim was to ease the movement of these women as they go on with their day-to-day endeavours.

The digital stick has sensors that help produce sound before one meets an obstacle, it also vibrates — this helps those who are visually impaired and also have a hearing impairment. 

(L-R) Yvette Mukamwiza, Adrien Biziyaremye and Mathias Kanyandwi pose with their prize after winning the competition. Courtesy photos

The stick has a charging system and can also use batteries for those who can’t access electricity. Its battery has the capacity to last for a week. 

It also has a light that helps other people recognise the person, especially in the dark, and it comes with a pair of headphones that helps contain the sound made by the stick when in public places, for example, in conferences or church. 

Mukamwiza says they plan on adding more features such as a GPS tracker that will help with directions and a clock as well.

Biziyaremye says the digital blind stick allows women with visual impairment to be independent.  

This project won an award from INNOVATE4Women Hackathon 2019, a national design competition which consists of developing digital ICT solutions addressing women challenges, improving their living conditions and responding to their needs.

Mukamwiza believes such initiatives are important when it comes to handling the endless challenges women face today.

“As a woman, I had to take part in coming up with this project. Besides waiting on the government, we need to also look for solutions for some of these challenges that we face,” she says.

For society or women themselves to seek digital solutions for their daily challenges, Mukamwiza is of the view that more women need to embrace the science field and be educated, noting that for one to make the best out of technology, they need to be skilled.

Why digital platforms are important 

Josephine Nyiranzeyimana, a Government Chief Information Officer at Rwanda Information Society Authority (RISA), says ICT solutions have proven to help address challenges facing society in general. 

Taking examples of online services like e-tax, mobile financial services, rapid SMS, and many more, it is clear that ICT makes service processes much easier, hence, contributing to the increase in financial inclusion, as well as for timely information and reports sharing, she says. 

Nyiranzeyimana says it is very relevant to narrow down the scope and have a focus on addressing challenges facing women through ICT solutions. 

“It is possible, beyond community challenges; there are issues specific to women due to many reasons, including culture norms, stereotypes, and social standards, among others, for instance, in our context the number of women who did not attend school and have limited knowledge about their health, financial literacy, and opportunities in the digital world,” she says. 

Using ICT solutions, the officer says, it is possible to educate women without them having to go to school, or leave their other responsibilities; there are apps for career growth, women safety, fitness, cooking, and more.

Nyiranzeyimana says platforms such as “Innovate4Women” platform can be leveraged to create awareness on the need of ICT solutions to address challenges facing women. 

It is also a place where the innovators interested in contributing to addressing the challenges facing women, can meet with other stakeholders to collaborate and develop together the needed solutions for this same cause, she adds.

She also notes that women have to take the lead in designing and developing solutions for the challenges they are facing. 

“They are better placed and understand fully the problems. Only that for this to happen, girls should join and stay in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. Girls should also strive to shift from learners to makers of technology.”

Adrien Biziyaremye, the team leader of the group that developed the digital blind walking stick, says that at times, solutions addressing women challenges are expensive yet they are not as effective.

This is why digital solutions are better, for example, this digital blind stick allows women with visual impairment to be independent. They are able to go shopping, take their children to school, among their other daily endeavours, he says.  

Biziyaremye, therefore, emphasises that digital solutions have the ability to empower women and take them to new horizons. 

“That’s because the imperatives of such platforms to empower women are strong and they not only enable women to build better lives, but they are also enabled to realise their goals. This, in turn, is vital for society as a whole in terms of growth,” he adds.

Clément Uwajeneza, the country director of Andela, a software training institute, says ICT solutions have proven to contribute to solving different types of problems, and in many cases, those specifically faced by women. A strong example in Rwanda is how the digitisation of land ownership has improved women’s right to land ownership.

He says ICT improves access to information and services through simplification and efficiency. 

“Anytime an ICT solution is used to improve women’s access to information or to improve affordability of specific services, that’s a good way of addressing challenges,” he says.

However, regardless of the benefits that come with such platforms, digitalisation hasn’t been fully utilised, especially in this area (addressing women challenges).

Uwajeneza explains this saying that ICT and other digital platforms are under-utilised today because of the low levels of digital literacy.

He, therefore, urges people, especially women, to embrace these platforms, explaining that participating in the digital economy is empowering in two ways: “One, is that it is the most accessible sector mostly demanding your brain as the main resource. Two; it’s borderless and opens up new opportunities. Everyone should seek to play a role, but more importantly, women should see and believe in the digital economy as a level playing field,” Uwajeneza adds.

What’s your take on the use of ICT platforms in addressing women challenges?

They are important for they create a safe space for women to be open and communicate their challenges. For example, with cases of gender based violence, it can be easier for a victim to express their concerns in a confidential manner. There is also timely response, which also serves as an advantage for victims can easily access the right people.

Yvette Ishimwe, Founder of Iriba Water Group

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ICT is an important tool that can be leveraged for better access to education and jobs, financial inclusion or basic healthcare information. In menstrual rights activism, ICT has been a powerful tool for mobilising a collective voice for change. The ability to connect with others has been vital in our efforts to educate, inform, and shift public opinion. ICT is here to stay and as the world becomes more globalised and more technologically advanced, it is important to keep creating new tools for individuals mobilising a collective voice for change — that reduces the cost of coordination and increases the means of demanding for women’s rights.

Isabella Akaliza, Founder of #FreeThePeriod Initiative

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It is important to know better and criticise the narratives of what problems are needed to be answered, so as to provide good solutions to the challenges faced by women. We also need to ensure that technological aspect of answering such problems doesn’t affect the making of decisions that respond to women matters. The use of ICT is great but critical, we need to know how many women can use technology tools and if not, how do they access the needed services. This is why I think we need to not refer to information shared electronically, but have supporting information reserved somewhere else, like in books or papers.

Jean Claude Muhire, Social entrepreneur

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ICT solutions have helped in fighting violence and have also helped women in understanding their rights more. Different platforms have helped so many women heal their wounds from broken relationships, abusive employers and other difficulties women face. 

Bertin Ganza Kanamugire, Founder of Afflatus Africa

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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