Page 1

WOMEN’S USE OF CELL PHONES TO MEET THEIR COMMUNICATION NEEDS A Study of Rural Women from Northern Nigeria

GRACE PROJECT RESEARCH REPORT NIGERIA

Kazanka Comfort and John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

April 2009


TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION ...........................................................................................................................4 LITERATURE REVIEW ...................................................................................................................6 METHODOLOGY...........................................................................................................................8 Free calls sessions ....................................................................................................................8 Baseline information................................................................................................................8 Focus group discussions (FGDs) ...............................................................................................9 Semi-structured interviews .....................................................................................................9 Self-reflection ........................................................................................................................10 Questionnaires.......................................................................................................................10 RESEARCH FINDINGS .................................................................................................................11 Baseline information..............................................................................................................11 The 13 FGDs ...........................................................................................................................12 Zumunta .................................................................................................................................12 Zikpak .....................................................................................................................................12 Zakwa .....................................................................................................................................12 Kpunyai ..................................................................................................................................13 Garaje.....................................................................................................................................13 Chenchuk ...............................................................................................................................13 Fadan Kagoro .........................................................................................................................13 Bayanloco...............................................................................................................................14 Yantuwo .................................................................................................................................14 Ungwa Rimi ............................................................................................................................14

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

2


ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION ..............................................................................................15 Tariffs .....................................................................................................................................15 Impact on households ...........................................................................................................16 Impact on face-to-face communications...............................................................................16 Muslim women’s use of electronic links ...............................................................................16 Remittances ...........................................................................................................................16 Extra earnings ........................................................................................................................17 “Speech is in the face” ...........................................................................................................17 “Talking with someone you do not see is not a good conversation” ....................................18 Instant communication..........................................................................................................18 Psycho-social impacts ............................................................................................................18 Text messaging ......................................................................................................................19 DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS ...................................................................................20 CONCLUSIONS ...........................................................................................................................22 A mixed bag of blessings........................................................................................................22 REFERENCES ..............................................................................................................................24

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

3


INTRODUCTION This research is an attempt to understand how rural women in northern Nigeria use mobile phones to meet their communication needs. The global trend in mobile phone technology development presents a mixed blessing for women’s empowerment; its use contributing to both integration and fragmentation of existing family structures. This research aimed to identify the challenges and benefits rural women in northern Nigeria face when they adopt the use of mobile phones. This focus also helped us to gain insight into how the lack of access affected the way that the women met their communication needs. Gender disparity is very easily observable in the ownership of, access to and use of mobile phones. This research is crucial at this point, since it helps to identify how women in this part of Nigeria are involved in the much-publicized mobile phone ‘explosion’ in Nigeria. Women who live in rural areas are at a particular disadvantage in the digital world, facing multiple barriers relating to both gender and location. Their roles are found more at the consumer end of the information technology chain (Mulama, 2007). The challenges of managing a rural household create a heavy daily workload for women, leaving them with hardly any spare time to become familiar with new technologies. Out of Nigeria’s 140 million people, over 70% live in rural communities where there are neither land-line telephones nor electricity. However, thanks to the low cost and long range of the cellular base stations, many rural areas get some cell phone coverage. It is this fortuitous coverage that first brought some connectivity to a couple of rural villages in the Kafanchan area where Fantsuam Foundation is located. By the end of 2005 two mobile phone service providers, Zain and MTN, had set up base stations in Kafanchan. This led to an explosion in the number of users of mobile phones. In contrast, efforts started five years ago to reactivate land-lines are yet to bear fruit. When the land-lines were available, the cost of installation was such that they were largely used by government departments and in the homes of upper- and middle- class citizens, while public access was erratically available in selected locations. For some of the women who participated in this research, their only experience of a land-line phone is that they have seen the phones, but have never seen them work. The absence of viable land-lines in most parts of Nigeria has left a huge gap, which is now being filled by the mobile phone.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

4


Part of the reason for such phenomenal growth in mobile phone use is the strong oral culture in Nigeria and the population’s low literacy level, coupled with the absence of digitization of many Nigerian languages (Gardener, 1994; UNICEF, 2005). Fantsuam Foundation is working on localization of five of the minority languages of the Kafanchan area (http://zitt.sourceforge.net/zitt.php?su=eng&ibe=4). Making these languages available in a digital format will also make them effective for SMS use. The use of mobile phones to send text messages has been found to be “easy, cheap and popular, and people can have access to information which is anonymous and discrete – particularly in rural areas of South Africa where stigma (HIV/AIDS) is still an obstacle to disclosure and openness” (Shackleton, 2007). However, when dealing with populations where there is low literacy and where the first language has not been digitized yet, this affordable facility becomes inaccessible.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

5


LITERATURE REVIEW At the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Division for the Advancement of Women on the Status of Women, 47th session, 2003, the need to “remove ICT-related infrastructural barriers that disproportionately affect women and girls and promote the establishment of affordable and accessible ICT-related infrastructure for all women and girls” was specifically stated. However, the reality in a developing country such as Nigeria is rather different. Although country-specific information about Nigeria is few, available literature about the general African scenario presents information typical of the Nigerian situation. With the majority of the Nigerian population working in agriculture, access to the facilitating ICT technologies are rather limited. In Nigeria women represent the majority of the rural poor (up to 70%), and they play a major role in the survival strategies of rural households. Nigeria ranks 139 out of 157 countries for the Human Poverty Index; out of 108 developing countries, Nigeria ranked 80th. It also ranked 139 out of 157 countries for the Gender-related Development Index (UNDP, 2007). As subsistence farmers, Nigerian women are fully involved in agricultural production, harvesting, storage and marketing, yet their Purchasing Power Parity remains at US $652, whereas in males it is US $1592 (UNDP, 2007). The catalytic role of information and communication technologies (ICT) in facilitating development for the world’s poor and marginalized people is widely recognized (the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, 2005). For example, women in the hand-woven textile sector in southern Nigeria felt that mobile phones facilitated their businesses (Jagun et al., 2007). In Bangladesh, women were the main beneficiaries of a Rural Information Helpline, both as service providers and as users (Raihan, 2007). It is precisely in the rural areas where access to information is rather limited that ICTs can make important contributions to agricultural and rural development. An initiative that recognizes and promotes the use of ICTs as a means to break down barriers that restrict/prevent access of rural women to the benefits of ICTs is the GenARDIS (Gender and Agricultural/Rural Development in the Information Society). With GenARDIS-supported projects, ICTs are recognized as a means to facilitate access to that relevant information that will allow women to envision small advances in everyday life and more monumental strides over time.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

6


Nigeria has witnessed a massive growth in subscriber lines, from less than 25 000 analogue mobile lines in May 2000 to about 12.8m digital mobile lines by end of May 2005. Fixed lines have also grown from about 450 000 lines to over 1.2m lines during the same period (Subscriber Data, Nigerian Communications Commission, http://www.ncc.gov.ng/). However, there are many challenges in making ICT available to poor rural women, but these data are not desegregated to reflect the slow progress in rural areas, or gender access to these new facilities. This phenomenal growth has been in spite of the high cost of mobile phones; on average it costs the average user about US $600 per year (Nigeria’s per capita income is US $1142). In addition, in rural Nigeria ICT has acquired a social status that tends to emphasize existing gender inequalities. For example, for a long time the transistor radio has been a status symbol for the rural man, and he usually makes the purchase of batteries for his radio a priority above household necessities. The same attitude is seen in ownership and use of mobile phones by men. Women’s special responsibilities for children and the elderly mean that women typically cannot migrate to towns and cities as easily as men; this is where opportunities to learn about new technologies are more readily available. ICT is therefore rapidly becoming one more signifier of the gender gap between men and women, with women having restricted access to ICT resources and opportunities (Wakunuma, 2006; Mulama, 2007). Nancy Hafkin (United Nations, 2003) noted that women’s empowerment is central to the elimination of poverty and that ICTs can address povertyrelated issues such as lack of access to education and health services and lack of information on agricultural production. It is significant that 6 years later, and based on available empirical evidence, Jeffery Sachs of the Millennium Promise has come to a similar conclusion, that any serious attempt at achieving the Millennium Development Goals must make women an urgent global priority.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

7


METHODOLOGY Fantsuam Foundation (www.fantsuam.org) conducted this research in Kafanchan, Nigeria. Fantsuam has a thriving microfinance service for rural women farmers, and they were the partners for this project. The research team comprised microfinance field officers and ICT instructors from Fantsuam Foundation. Clients of Fantsuam Foundation’s microfinance programme were informed of the research, and those communities that were more easily accessible by road travel during the study period and who indicated interest were short-listed for participation. There were 13 participating communities: Zikpak, Ungwa Masara, Bayanloco, Garaje3, Fadan Kagoro, Kpunyai, Ungwa Rimi, Chenchuk, Zakwa, Yantuwo, Orire, Katsit, and Zumunta, with a total of 160 women participating. This project used the following research methods: free call sessions, baseline information collection, focus group discussions, semi-structured interviews, self reflection, and questionnaires. These qualitative research methods were selected to ensure adequate coverage, and recognition and documentation of the participants’ experiences. The multiplemethods approach improved the reliability of the findings and provided opportunities for triangulation.

Free calls sessions These were organized so that the women were given the opportunity to call their relations, friends and business counterparts in the big cities and within Kafanchan for free. At the time of the start of this research, mobile phones were still an elite and male-dominated status symbol. This simple exercise helped the participants to acquire the ability to operate these phones effectively and break the myth of male-only ownership which some of them held.

Baseline information Collecting baseline information of the partner communities helped to establish the situation on the ground at the start of the research. It also helped the research team gain a better understanding of the level of awareness in the various communities, with regard to the use of mobile phones and the non-functioning landlines. It also helped to give the team a better understanding of the level of awareness in the various communities, as regards the use of mobile phones. An important aspect of this exercise was the friendliness, familiarity and Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

8


trust built up in this exercise that helped facilitate easier rapport with the groups of women who took part in this research.

Focus group discussions (FGDs) The regular microfinance loan recovery meetings of Fantsuam Foundation provided a ready forum to discuss the research questions for this project, with written notes and digital recording done. Thirteen focus group discussions were conducted with the identified communities within the areas of operation of Fantsuam Foundation. The sitting position for each discussion was in a circle; this encouraged proper eye contact and being able to get the attention of everyone. Two FGDs were postponed in order to accommodate some domestic priorities of the participants. One serious problem confronted was in the area of keeping to time. Almost all the discussions were conducted late, because the women could not keep to the agreed time for the meetings. Enquiries into the causes of such late attendance revealed a variety of reasons, the most frequently mentioned were lack of access to a timepiece/clock, illiteracy and domestic priorities.

Semi-structured interviews These were kept as conversational as possible, and were based on the following questions: •

What are the women’s communication needs?

Have their communication needs changed over time? If so, why and how?

How are they meeting their communication needs?

What kinds of messages do they send?

What barriers do women face in communication?

How do they overcome these barriers?

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

9


Self-reflection Each research team member was encouraged to reflect on the learning process and its effect on the whole research process. Such feedback was useful in charting the course and enriched the documentation of this research.

Questionnaires These were designed in English and translated into the most commonly used local language for easier communication with the women participants.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

10


RESEARCH FINDINGS Baseline information This exercise established the situation on the ground as the research started (Table 1). Table 1: Percentage of women who own mobile phones.

Communities

Men

Women

Total

% of women

Kafanchan

21

8

29

27.6

Zikpak

11

0

11

0

Kpunyai

8

1

9

11

Chenchuk

9

15

24

62.5

Garaje

8

6

14

42.9

Fadan Kagoro

13

11

24

45.8

Ung/Masara

10

6

16

37.5

Ung/Rimi

30

20

50

66.7

Bayan - Loco

35

10

45

22.2

Zakwa

8

1

9

11

Total

123

72

195

36.9

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

11


The 13 FGDs Initially 10 groups were identified for the FGDs, but 3 additional communities sent emissaries, requesting to be included in the exercise. These were all groups with whom Fantsuam Foundation has ongoing activities, especially in micro-finance

Zumunta This group was not initially slated for the FGD, but specifically requested to participate in the GRACE project. This was a highly motivated team that had a fair proportion of educated members; the women were more relaxed and responded to the questions voluntarily without having to be called upon. Even though very few of them had used the cell phone before, their level of awareness was high. It was observed that the professional composition of the group may have contributed to their level of awareness. Some of them were secondary school teachers while others were involved in one form of trading or another as a backup to support their families. These engagements invariably expanded their scope of interactions within and outside their community.

The uniqueness of this group, only comparable to the Yan Tuwo women, is the manner in which they were able to correlate the use of handsets with their trading/business activities. They stated that if and when they owned their own mobile phones, it would enable them make more business contacts at less cost. They are aware of the facilities in handsets such as a clock, calculator and calendar, and said if they owned one it would even save them the cost of purchasing a watch or carrying a calculator or calendar along with them on their business trips.

Zikpak Here the venue was an open space outside the women leader’s house. This was another highly motivated group. Most of the women in this group were aware of the mobile and used it as well.

Zakwa In this group only two women had used mobile phones before, but the entire group were enthusiastic and participated actively. Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

12


Kpunyai This group was in a typical village set up, and the venue was the village single- classroom building. Only 3 of the participants had used mobile phones, and participation was more subdued, being dominated by the more vocal and educated group leader. There was diffidence among the members and they tended to echo whatever the leader said. Such an attitude is not unusual among illiterate women, who tend to defer to the more literate members.

Garaje The venue was the sitting room of the Chief, and it appeared to be conducive for the meeting. None of the women in this group had ever used a mobile phone, although they all knew someone else who had used or owned one. It was from such secondary experience that they suggested what they thought might be the impact of the phones on the socioeconomic lives of the people. They wished they could own one, even if it was shared among them.

Chenchuk The venue was the Chief’s sitting room, and it was a very active and informed group of women. A minor incident that occurred was that the mini-disk used for audio recording was full just before the end of the discussions.

Fadan Kagoro This was probably the largest turnout of women encountered in this study. Kagoro is home to some of the earliest established faith-based primary and secondary schools in the region, so the women had a fair amount of education. This was reflected in their high level of awareness and active participation in the discussions. They raised a unique problem regarding the relocation of the communication mast that was erected in their community by one of the service providers. The relocation was without consultation with them. They believed this was part of the reason for the sporadic access to mobile signals in their community.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

13


Bayanloco The level of participation of this group was low compared to others. Some of them had to leave the discussions before they ended in order to attend to other commitments. The proximity of this community to the semi-urban Kafanchan town may have contributed to this situation.

Yantuwo There was a need for a more subtle approach to encourage the women of this centre to freely express their views. All the women who attended this session were Muslim and were literate in the Koran and Arabic, but they felt challenged and were rather shy to engage with public speaking, especially with the use of the mini-disk for audio recording. The Hausa culture and their religious background usually requires a less public expression of a woman’s views. However, as soon as they understood the import of the exercise, they began to be more expressive and engaged more interactively in the discussions.

Ungwa Rimi This was another typical rural setting where use of the local dialect made conversations a lot easier, especially because it was a homogenous group linguistically.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

14


ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION Highlights of the findings of this study are outlined below.

Tariffs These were a sore point for most of the women, but not for those who were able to pass on the costs to customers or distant relations. Due to poor signal coverage in some areas, users can waste precious money trying to get connected. In addition, when the mobile phones were first introduced, recharge cards had a lifespan of only 15 days. If not used within this period, their use lapsed and could only be retrieved on payment of another sum of money on a new recharge card. However, by the end of this study, the 15-day limit had been lifted. “When I borrow money to pay for a phone call to my son, so that he can send me some money, and the phone call does not go through, and I am still charged for the call, that cannot be right, can it?”, was one comment. The pricing regime of some service providers does not take into account the fact that some calls do not get to their destinations. This means that “Hajo”, our project participant, has to pay the full cost of an unsuccessful call, even when she had to borrow money to make that call. This makes the cost of meeting her communication needs higher than she anticipated. This situation may have been caused by a software configuration that does not distinguish between successful and unsuccessful calls, and will require the service providers to review their billing systems. Poor quality of mobile phone services makes their use frustrating on some occasions. Sometimes the service providers may offer no service at all, or very poor reception for days, and no explanation or apologies are given to the users. During the periods of poor service (poor GSM signal reception leading to low voice quality), the units on the call cards are still debited, making it a double loss for the user. There is no strong in-country lobby to counter the exploitative practices. A recent court directive telling the providers to make a cash refund to customers was yet to be implemented 4 months after the ruling. The Consumer Affairs Movement of Nigeria (CAMON) said: “So, what is happening in Nigeria at present regarding GSM services is exploitation of vulnerable consumers by GSM services providers, MTN, Econet (Vodacom), Globacom and M-Tel.” If the benefits of this high level of patronage are passed on to the subscribers, it may make Hajo’s experience less frustrating.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

15


Impact on households For a poor household, the current tariffs are rather stiff. However the role of this expense in exacerbating the economic and power differentials within a household presents a mixed bag. Accusations of a spouse using meagre family income to pay for phone calls were made by both sexes, although more by the women since this research was working with women. But some women did mention that some of their friends also had similar spending priorities to some men when it came to this use of limited family finances.

Impact on face-to-face communications Mobile phones provide a cheaper means of staying in touch with distant relatives than travel. However, in closely knit communities, where a premium is placed on face-to-face communication, the mobile phone is being seen as a threat to such cohesion. One participant expressed it this way: “I can hear his voice alright, but I need to see his face to be sure he understands what I said. This mobile thing seems to increase his distance from home.” This expression of “distance” and sense of isolation is felt more keenly when voice quality is poor, as is often the case, or when calls cannot go through. However, the gradual loosening of the traditional close family ties, as members seek economic pastures far from home, makes the mobile phone a “better than nothing” option.

Muslim women’s use of electronic links For these women the mobile phone had a liberating impact because it facilitated economic activity while preserving their culturally preferred purdah status. For these communities, where land-lines are not available, access to a mobile phone was the only means of cutting out the third party, and thereby avoiding loss of income. For these women, the commission which has to be paid to the intermediary is dispensed with due to this technology. This is a new-found freedom, and an opportunity to be involved in pricing rather than the former dependence on an agent.

Remittances The potential of using the mobile phone remittance system to make larger purchases is already being explored by second-hand car dealers who try to avoid carrying large sums of money with them. The cashless society is definitely coming into rural Nigeria as an unplanned, unforeseen consequence of this technology. Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

16


Mobile phones are increasingly being used to send small amounts of money to friends and relations. Some of the participants use this means to send pocket and travel money to their children who attend schools far from home. They buy airtime and send the code that can be redeemed for cash at a roadside mobile phone kiosk.

Extra earnings For some participants who provide a phone service for a fee, this is a useful source of income for them. They also charge a commission for remittances that are sent through them. Assas is an example of a woman who has increased earnings by starting a phone service and deciding what type of phone to use for her call business. Assas’ entrepreneurial initiative can be traced to the free phone calls the women participants were offered at the beginning of this research. Giving the women a phone to use in this way meant giving them a phone connection. It is important to emphasize that it is not the mobile aspect of the phone that was being tested, but rather it was access to any phone. This was demonstrated when Assas heard that her competitor had signed up to a newly established land-line. She came to Fantsuam Foundation to negotiate a new loan so that she can also have a land-line in addition to her mobile line. She has lost a number of her customers to her competitor who is able to provide cheaper calls through a franchise agreement with the new land-line provider. Assas is the breadwinner for her family and she has five children and her parents to look after. Her call centre business is in addition to her day job as an ICT instructor teaching basic computer literacy. Safiya, on the other hand, as a user of phone services, has to undertake a long and difficult 15 km journey by motorcycle taxi from her village to a highway phone kiosk where she can make and receive calls. She needs to make these calls as part of the work she has taken on in order to supplement her income from the manual farm work she does. The cost and travel time and the possibility of poor voice signal reception at the roadside kiosk all add to the cost of Safiya meeting her communication needs.

“Speech is in the face� The SMS feature that makes mobile phones affordable was hardly used by participants largely due to low literacy capacities and a cultural preference for verbal communication.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

17


The communities have a proverb that says “Speech is in the face”, meaning that conversations are richer when conducted face-to-face.

“Talking with someone you do not see is not a good conversation” “Each time after talking to my son, who lives in the UK, on the mobile phone, I feel as if something is missing in our conversation”. The initial relief this participant feels at the first sound of the voice of a distant relative is soon cut short “because talking with someone you do not see is not a good conversation”.

Instant communication In the rural communities studied, there is high morbidity and mortality due to HIV/AIDS. Cell phones provide a reliable and quick means of informing distant relatives and eases some of the anxiety associated with funeral arrangements and related matters.

Psycho-social impacts The economic value of faster contacts for business transactions through the use of mobile phones and remittances were generally acknowledged. But the shrinkage of time and space brought about by this technology, as well as its replacement of face-to-face contacts within the extended family system, was a cause for worry for the group of women in Chenchuk. The concern was that the close bonds of the extended family that serve as a safety net and source of mutual assistance may be adversely affected by the constant use of mobile phones. While it is relatively cheaper to stay in touch by phone, a phone conversation, especially when it has to be done with an eye on the tariff, is emotionally unsatisfactory. A woman said that the initial relief she feels at the first sound of the voice of a distant relative, is soon cut short by the fact she is unable to engage in meaningful conversation for the amount of money she can afford for such calls. For people who have such strong oral culture, a good conversation necessarily takes longer by phone. The resulting feeling of isolation was disempowering for these women. A technology that has such high potential for economic empowerment, such as in the case of the Muslim women partners in this research, also has a potentially emotionally destabilizing effect. The isolating impact of such a technology can be significant in closely knit communities where mutual dependence is the means of communal survival. With women as

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

18


the bond that keeps many rural communities intact, the impact of this technology on their sense of self- and well-being must be taken into consideration.

Text messaging Although text messaging is easy and cheap and people can have access to information which is anonymous, it was hardly used by the women in this study. The reasons for this included the low literacy levels coupled with a strong oral tradition. The number of languages in use by these communities further compounds the issue of low literacy. While the most commonly used language for economic and everyday external transactions was Hausa, most of the women would use their own various languages such as Jju, Atyap, Gworok or Fantsuam, when having discussions with family members and friends. Mobile phones therefore presented opportunities for them to speak in their first languages, whereas text messaging required that they should be literate in Hausa or their own language. Therefore, mere ownership of mobile phones without the ability or opportunity to use the SMS options in their own languages still makes this technology largely inaccessible and expensive for the illiterate rural women of northern Nigeria.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

19


DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS The lack of viable land-lines in the research communities made the arrival of mobile phone services a desirable and welcome development, and the various women’s groups we met with pointed out its immediate advantages, especially regarding how it helped them meet their communication needs. However, as the research went on, issues and observations were made that reduced the initial high rating of the positive value of mobile phones. It gradually became clear that the mobile phone actually presented a mixed bag of blessings to our research participants. Affordability was a key concern for many of the women. Attempts by the women to get selfselected groups of 6 or 7 women to share one phone ran into hitches. However, there were communities like Kwoi, Kagoro and Zonkwa where each woman could, on her own, afford the cost of a mobile phone, but they had no GSM signal coverage in their communities. The major mobile providers had not extended their services to these communities at the time of the research. This again illustrates that Nigeria is a fast-growing mobile market where the demand at the moment far outstrips the supply. The women in places like Zikpak, Ungwa Rimi, Orire and Chenchuk had access and could afford the tariffs and for them the mobile phone has become an indispensible tool in meeting their daily communication needs for family and business purposes. We observed that the women’s groups that had ready access and can afford to use the mobile phones to meet their communication needs, were typically located in semi-urban communities where there were more income-generating opportunities. These women therefore had a higher level of disposable income among them. The issue of affordability has to be understood in the context of the women’s household budget. Although this study did not explore household budget allocation patterns, Banerjee and Duflo’s (2006) study of the consumption patterns of the poor in 16 countries revealed that a significant amount was spent on non-food items such as alcohol and festivals. Ceremonies are a regular feature in the lives of the communities in our study, and some of the communication needs identified were requests for remittance in order to host or participate in ceremonies. The interactive sessions during the FGDs in our research afforded the women participants opportunities to have access to information that could be beneficial to their livelihoods. Invariably such a need for clarification starts with ‘Is it true that…..’ Such requests for information were usually regarding issues which the women have heard fleetingly as their Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

20


husbands discussed or from other sources. An interesting one was the issue of climate change, when a woman wanted to know if it is true that the late arrival and early departure of the rains had anything to do with the loss of forests to illegal mining activities. This question illustrates the impact of a global phenomenon on the livelihood of this female farmer. It also indicates that while the mobile phones may have been meeting some of the women’s communication needs, it was not meeting their information needs. A sequel to this research can therefore address the issues of accessible use by improving the women’s literacy skills to enable them use the SMS facilities more effectively. There will also be a need to empower them to send and receive SMS, in their preferred languages, keeping the messages as simple as possible. The emotionally destabilizing effect of mobile phones on close-knit communities requires more investigation.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

21


CONCLUSIONS A mixed bag of blessings The research questions focused on the way rural women in northern Nigeria make use of the phone to meet their communication needs. The global trend in mobile phone technology development presents a mixed bag for women’s empowerment by its integrating and fragmenting effects on existing family structures.

The research has established that: -

Mobile phones provide coverage for those communities that do not have land-lines.

-

Ownership and use of mobile phones entail high costs, which makes accessibility more difficult.

-

The SMS feature that makes mobile phones affordable was not readily accessible to most of the participants largely due to low literacy capacities and a cultural preference for verbal communication.

-

It can cause conflict in families where a spouse spends money on their cell phone even when there are other urgent household needs.

-

Access to mobile phones can be economically empowering for women.

-

However, it can also weaken the bonds in traditionally closely knit communities when a phone call replaces face-to-face communications.

The qualitative nature of the research -- the in-depth interviews, the reflections on the transcribed responses, recollection of the women's emotional responses -- were important in opening our (the research team’s) eyes to the various issues, and seeing them in a new light. The daily struggles just to meet basic necessities of life are taken for granted - everybody just gets on with the struggle, because that is the way life has always been lived. Therefore the additional struggle, caused by the access and non-access to mobile phones, has blended into the daily routine of struggles. It took the GRACE qualitative research processes engaged to enable us to step back a little, and tease out this additional layer of struggle that has arrived in the form of a device called the mobile phone. Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

22


How and why should a device, which could make life easier, end up in some situations becoming almost an additional burden? This ICT (i.e. the mobile phone), which should make remittance from friends and families in urban centres easier, is not readily accessible, or is only available at a steep cost, and not all its effects are positive. This study supports the opinion of Joy Mulama (2007) from Nairobi, Kenya, when she observed that “the benefits of ICTs are largely restricted to towns and cities, as most rural areas lack the infrastructure, equipment and skills needed for communities to take full advantage of these technologies�. The phones raised expectations in terms of meeting needs, but the lack of affordable access sometimes makes the realization of those expectations a mirage. In the 2006 Global Gender Gap Report that studied 115 countries, Nigeria ranked 94 (Hausmann et al., 2006). Although the ranking was only based on four broad areas (economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment), its findings support the experiences of most of the women encountered in this study. For these rural women, their gender-defined roles and responsibilities constitute significant constraints on their access to the resources and opportunities available through cell phone use. This is not underestimating the impact of other cultural factors that may not be directly gender-related, such as preferential allocation of scarce household budgets to festivals rather than meeting communication needs. This exploration of how women in rural Nigeria use mobile phones to meet their communication needs has, among other things, revealed how global trends and technologies can have an immediate and significant impact at the local level. The study also found that women would give preference to their family roles and needs over and above their use of ICTs: when the family needs time or money, and these are resources they can provide, women will let go of cell phone use. The study showed that ICTs do not automatically serve the communication needs of women, especially the rural women. Mere ownership of mobile phones without the ability or opportunity for affordable use through SMS, still makes this technology largely inaccessible and overly expensive for the rural women of northern Nigeria. The mobile phone therefore presents a mixed bag of positive and negative values and impacts. It is clearly not a panacea for all communication needs, whereas it has become an avenue to upward social and economic mobility for some women.

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

23


REFERENCES Banerjee, A.V. and Duflo, E. (2006) The Economic Lives of the Poor. Cambridge: Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Consumer Link (Vol. 1, No.1, July 2004). A monthly Bulletin of Consumer Affairs, Movement of Nigeria (CAMON) Centre for Consumer Protection, Competition, Trade, Environment and Sustainable Development. Gardener, L.C. (1994, accessed 3rd October 2007) Nigerian Literature: Oral and Written Traditions http://www.usp.nus.edu.sg/post/nigeria/orality.html Hausmann, R. Tyson, L. D., and Zahidi, S. (2006) The Global Gender Gap Report. World Economic Forum. Ref. 112006 Jagun, A., Heeks, R., and Whalley, J. (2007, accessed 9th January 2008) ‘Mobile Telephony and Developing Country Micro-Enterprise’. Development Informatics Working Papers. IDPM, University of Manchester http://www.sed.manchester.ac.uk/idpm/research/publications/wp/di/index.htm#wp Mulama, J. (2007, accessed 29 December, 2008) ‘A rural-urban digital divide challenges women’. Inter Press Service - 2007-02-15. http://www.ipsnews.net/). Raihan, A. (2007, accessed 27December 2007) Livelihood Case Studies, Development Research Network, www.pallitathya.org/en/case_studies/index.html Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. (2005) SDC ICT4D Strategy. 3003 Berne: SDC. www.deza.admin.ch/ressources/resource_en_161888.pdf Shackleton, S-J. (2007). Women’snet. ‘Rapid Assessment of Cell Phones for Development’ Commissioned by UNICEF. UNICEF, (2005, accessed 12 July 2007) At a http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/nigeria_statistics.html

glance,

Nigeria

statistics

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (2007). Human Development Report 2007/2008. ISBN 978-0-230-54704-9. United Nations Economic and Social Council, Division for the Advancement of Women. Commission on the Status of Women, 47th session, 2003, World Summit of the Information Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

24


Society Geneva. Participation and access of women to the media and information communications technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women. http://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itus/md/03/wsispc3/c/S03-WSISPC3-C-0022!!PDF-E.pdf Wakunuma, K. J. (2006, accessed 23 January 2008) ‘The Internet and Mobile Telephony: Implications for Women’s Development and Empowerment in Zambia, Gender, ICTs and Development’. http://www.womenictenterprise.org/manworkshop.htm

Grace Research Report: Nigeria Kazanka Comfort & John Dada, Fantsuam Foundation

25

GRACE Nigeria Research Report  
GRACE Nigeria Research Report  

Research Report of the GRACE Nigeria project team

Advertisement