Quest for Economic Empowerment of Rural Women Entrepreneurs in Tanzania: ICTs Leapfrog the Digital Divide

Quest for Economic Empowerment of Rural Women Entrepreneurs in Tanzania: ICTs Leapfrog the Digital Divide

Ladislaus M. Semali (Pennsylvania State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-117-1.ch010

Abstract

This case describes field research investigations that were conducted in Tanzania from June 2008 to June 2009 to examine access to, and use of cell phones by women residing in rural villages and in a nearby urban center. Rural villages were considered critical in this study as key players in the wellbeing of traditional rural families.
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Background, Rationale And Methods: Cell Phones, The New Age Technologies

The principal rationale for this study was to compare the characteristics of two groups of women entrepreneurs—heavy and low users of CMC tools of phone calling, text messaging and beeping, particularly to understand how they make decisions and take risk over their purchasing habits. The data was necessary to enable researchers to determine the suitability of establishing a business enterprise in a rural village near Moshi in Northern Tanzania, targeting women as a way of addressing the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the internationally agreed-upon goals to reduce poverty, disease, hunger, gender inequality, and environmental degradation by the year 2015 (United Nations, 2005), and policies affecting their wellbeing.

The use of CMC technology stands out as a unique and emerging convenient mode of communication for community development. For example, at a recent presentation (March 2008) titled “Will Science Save or Destroy Africa?”, the National Science Foundation’s Director for International Collaboration, Wayne Patterson, identified Cell phones as a technology that is rapidly transforming the African continent. He concluded that these CMC technologies are revolutionizing the ways in which people communicate and CMC seems to change the way people do small business, particularly among historically marginalized groups like women entrepreneurs. Unlike computer access to the World Wide Web, cell phones are the single technology that is accessible to women, and can facilitate the small-scale entrepreneurial initiatives of rural, as well as urban women. However, little is known about existing opportunities to enhance the wide use of mobile phones for development and collaboration or for economic empowerment of rural women entrepreneurs. What then can be done to strengthen and facilitate the use of mobile phones as a tool for advocacy in responding to the United Nations MDGs in East Africa? How is ICT and mobile communication impacting these populations? What contribution do these tools make toward human wellbeing and rural development?

The theoretical assumption behind this study was that the ability of women in Africa to sustain the livelihoods of their households will occur largely through small, agriculture-related enterprises in which the optimal use of CMC technology may result in increased income for women. When household income is generated and managed by women, it is likely to be used for children's school fees, uniforms, books and school supplies as well as for medical care, better quality food for the family and improvements to the home environment. These quality of life improvements result in fewer missed days of school and more years of schooling for children (Commission, 2005). The result of having a sustainable livelihood is to discourage early marriage and the resultant pregnancies that frequently result in poor maternal outcomes for young girls. As confirmed by many researchers, the education of girls is the best strategy for reducing infant and child mortality, a critical issue in developing countries (Bloch & Beoku-Betts, 1998). Tanzania is no exception.

The use of mobile phone technology stands out as a unique and emerging convenient mode of communication for community development across Africa. However, little is known about existing opportunities to enhance the wide use of these devices for development and collaboration. In parts of rural East Africa, for example, technology such as the beep of her cell phone has made it possible for grandmother in a remote village to receive money from her son working hundreds of miles away. A teenager can buy groceries with a few punches of keys. Like many countries in East Africa, Tanzania boasts of a small but thriving mobile phone industry operated by Vodacom, Zain (Celtel), and Mobitel networks. More recently, other networks have joined the ranks. For example, Tigo which is based in Dar es Salaam and Zantel which is based on the island of Zanzibar.

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