Domestication of Telecentres by Malawian Rural Women

Domestication of Telecentres by Malawian Rural Women

Sellina Khumbo Kapondera (Mzuzu University, Mzuzu, Malawi & Royal Holloway University of London, London, UK) and Wallace Chigona (Department of Information Systems, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/IJICTHD.2018010104

Abstract

The potential of telecentres to bridge the digital divide can only be realised when their services are appropriated by all groups in the community. Previous studies show that in Malawi only a few women use telecentres. This article used Domestication Theory to explain the processes through which women in rural Malawi encounter technologies, deal with them and integrate them into their lives. Data was obtained via interviews with women (both users and non-users) and a Telecentre Manager. The study shows that: i) commodification was influenced mainly by word of mouth; ii) the women who appropriated the Telecentre used it for instrumental and hedonic purposes; iii) the appropriation was influenced by convenience, compatibility with the needs of women and perceived usefulness of the Telecentre; and iv) non-use was due to lack of awareness, illiteracy, limited financial resources, cultural roles and perceptions about the telecentres. The findings could help policymakers in maximising use of telecentres among women.
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Introduction

Access and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have the potential to develop communities (Chisango, 2014). For instance, ICTs improve skills, enhance social life and offer economic opportunities (Chikumba, 2011). Despite the benefits of using ICTs, access to these ICTs is low in Malawi. In 2014, of the total 16 million people, only 5,590 people were broadband internet subscribers, while 6,487,304 were mobile phone subscribers (Nyirenda, 2014). As such, over the past two decades, just as in many developing countries, the government of Malawi, with aid from various international organisations, has been establishing telecentres (Chikumba, 2011). A Telecentre is a public facility offering access to ICT services for educational, social and economic purposes (Chisa & Hoskins, 2016). Telecentres offer access to ICT services such as the internet, phone, fax, computer and, sometimes, library services (Chisa & Hoskins, 2016).

The potential of telecentres to bridge the digital divide can only be realised when the services they provide are appropriated and used by all groups of people in the communities they serve. However, research studies in many developing countries show that usage of telecentres does not cross all categories of people. Specifically, only a few women, as compared to men, use the facilities (Chisango, 2014; Kumar & Best, 2007). In Malawi, previous studies on usage of telecentres show that only a few women use these facilities (for example, Kapondera & Hart, 2016). This paper focuses on domestication of telecentres by women in rural communities in Malawi. In this study, our concern is to understand the process through which telecentres are appropriated in women’s lives in rural Malawi. Specifically, we ask the following questions:

  • How do rural women in Malawi integrate telecentres in their lives?

  • What influences the use or non-use of telecentres by rural women in Malawi?

This study contributes towards generating information aimed at helping ICT policymakers regarding domestication of telecentres by women in rural communities in Malawi. Domestication theory was used to guide the research in understanding how women adopt and integrate telecentres into their lives. Malawi is particularly interesting because there are limited studies on the use of ICTs in Malawi and Malawi is one of the countries with low technology uptake; it is interesting, therefore, to see how communities in that environment deal with technology. Domestication refers to the processes through which people encounter technologies and deal with them by either rejecting them or accepting and integrating them into their everyday lives (Haddon, 2006). The use of Domestication Theory allowed us to explore the adoption as a process and not as a binary phenomenon.

Background

Malawi is classified as a low-income country (The World Bank, 2016). On the 2016 Human Development Index, the country is ranked as number 170 out of 185 countries (Human Development Report, 2016). The country has a population of 17.2 million and more than half of the population live on less than $1 a day (Malawi, 2012). The majority (83.9%) live in rural areas (Human Development Report, 2016) which have few roads and means of transport, low income levels, limited access to ICTs and electricity, and high dependence on fishing and farming (International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD, 2017).

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