Smartphone technology has completely changed the face of the world. In fact, smartphones are so revolutionary that they have brought about changes in ways that many people might not even realize. A pretty big example of this is the manner in which they have revolutionized poverty stricken and rural areas.
In fact, the United Nations has noted how powerful smartphones can be in terms of changing these societies simply because of the fact that they make it so much easier for these societies to communicate. Communication is essential if you want to be able to move up in the world, so smartphones really level the playing field and make it easier for people to stay in touch with one another.
African women are some of the most disenfranchised individuals in the world. Their ethnicity, their gender, their race, all of the various aspects of their backgrounds work against them because of arbitrary societal standards. Mobile phones have empowered them a great deal, of course, but one thing that should be realized is that no one has done enough research into the particulars of the matter.
Smartphones do empower African women, one can see that just by opening their eyes, but how do they help African women? Also important to think about is why this is currently happening, as well as the specific time periods in which smartphone usage becomes critical because of the fact that the benefits will be most acutely experienced during these periods of time.
In light of this revelation, a recent study was conducted in Nigeria that was meant to study the how of the matter, with a specific focus placed on how WhatsApp helped Nigerian women living in the city of Kano. WhatsApp is one of the biggest instant messaging services in the world and has in a lot of ways replaced texting in our day to day lives.
One of the first things that could be understood was that WhatsApp made it easier for women to have their voices heard. In a world where mobility is a luxury that many women cannot afford, being able to contact local politicians from home with the use of an app is something that allowed women to be heard more than ever before.
WhatsApp also allowed women to form online communities. You are probably in a number of WhatsApp groups with your friends, but the groups that these women formed were often more serious. While groups often formed for chit chat and banter, a lot of the groups were meant to empower women to talk about what they were going through and allow them to support one another to an enormous extent. These groups became resources where women could get information about a wide variety of topics. This extended beyond politics as well, it helped women learn about things like menstrual health and fertility, things that they only felt comfortable discussing with other women but were not mobile enough to go and talk to said women in person.
A number of women also started to use WhatsApp as a way to earn money. They used the platform to advertise the various businesses that they were involved in. WhatsApp made it easier for them to both acquire and communicate with customers, thereby making it a lot easier for them to achieve some level of financial independence.
More than anything else, the WhatsApp groups that these women were in began to destroy arbitrary norms and expectations in society. Much like in the rest of the world, though often to a greater extent, women in Kano were expected to be mothers and homemakers. This technology gave them the ability to take control of their lives in a way that the conservative ideals of post-colonial Africa might not have allowed otherwise.
How WhatsApp Helped Kano’s Women
The first thing to understand about Kano is that the community mostly comprises of Muslim households. The name of the city is the same as the name of the state that it is in. Another important thing to realize is that it has a very high density of smartphone usage among the population. Nigeria has about sixty million smartphone users in total. Nearly eight million of them live in Kano. That means that one out of every seven smartphone users in Nigeria lives in Kano.
The first people that the study spoke to were leaders in community groups that were centered around women and the various issues that they end up facing. These community leaders helped the researchers talk to more people that agreed to participate in the study. The basis for selection was the level of participation in the aforementioned WhatsApp groups. Another metric for selection was the ownership of a mobile phone that could support WhatsApp. The women that were spoken to talked about a variety of different benefits that WhatsApp ended up having in their lives.
One of the biggest benefits that the women using WhatsApp experienced was political empowerment. A 34 year old housewife by the name of Murja’atu stated that she had always thought about how she could have her voice heard by speaking to officers that had been elected in her district. She only really ever saw them during elections, speaking to them was a lot more difficult. WhatsApp allowed her to enter groups where she could speak to intermediaries, who were the community leaders mentioned above, that would get her queries and complaints, as well as those of countless other women, to the elected officials.
Housewives were not the only people that WhatsApp empowered. A shop owner by the name of Safiya, someone that Nigerian society would already consider to be significantly powerful, felt that her experience was similar to that or Murja’atu. Her problems with her senator stemmed from the fact that he had made certain vows in order to get elected by was not available to answer questions about why he had not fulfilled those promises after the election was over. Safiya was able to use a WhatsApp group to generate a lot of buzz around the topic until the Senator ended up getting contacted and was forced to resolve at least some of the issues that were being faced.
Two reasons why this form of communication became so popular is because of the fact that it is cheap, WhatsApp is a free app after all so the only real costs are an internet connection which these women generally have anyway, as well as the simplicity of the user interface. Women were able to just download the app and start communicating with one another. One of the biggest ways in which women benefited from WhatsApp came from the fact that it allowed them to help their kids with their schoolwork in a much more holistic manner. If they came across a concept that they themselves did not understand, they could simply ask someone in a WhatsApp group and quickly get the answer that they were looking for.
Health and safety is another area that improved thanks to WhatsApp. A woman by the name of Asabe, someone that filled the role of community leader at the time of this research, stated that one of the members of the group that she managed had a health worker for a husband. Her husband gave her a lot of information about health and safety which she relayed to the WhatsApp group. A big example of how helpful this was can be seen by the fact that it prevented a lot of members on the WhatsApp group to avoid getting cholera during an outbreak that recently occurred. Members of the group on which this information was shared were able to learn preventative measures such as using salt water to wash clothes or only drinking boiled water. These simple measures actually prevented the cholera outbreak from becoming as bad as it could have been.
An added benefit of these WhatsApp groups is the fact that the women in them felt like they were all in it together. A sense of community can really elevate one’s mental state and make it easier for you to get involved with the right kind of people.
As has been mentioned above, WhatsApp also helped women with their businesses. For example, female entrepreneurs were able to access customers that lived very far away from them. They used WhatsApp to take and send pictures of the products that they were selling, and then speak to the customer about how payment could be made and the product could be delivered. WhatsApp also made it easier for women to look for jobs because they could join groups in which available jobs were posted.
Smartphones and WhatsApp have made an enormous positive impact in the lives of the women of Kano, and chances are that this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. The internet age has become a great era for people to climb up the social ladder quickly and achieve a level playing field.