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44lb Epson Duo Matte Paper
Large Format HP printer
Balsa Wood and Book Binder’s Thread
Images of Book taken by Aaron Fooshee

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Abstract

Compared to men in Sub-Saharan Africa, 45% fewer women have access to the Internet (Intel Corporation 2012, 5). Dominant NGO Information and Communication Technology design strategies only partially address the access gap for Ugandan women, who often do not share the same wealth, mobility, and digital and textual literacy of their male counterparts. Through the design of a Market Mailing List for women, ICT4[n] explores an approach to designing ICTs that stems from the ambitions, priorities, and daily context of the women in Bugolobi Market in Kampala, Uganda.

For women throughout Africa, open-air markets are important network nodes, providing opportunities to own a business, build financial security, and develop social and economic support through savings associations. How can women leverage ICTs as a tool to build upon and extend their networks of distributed strength?

During eleven weeks of fieldwork in Kampala, Uganda, I explored women’s technology integration and usage in Bugolobi market. The design-oriented research included interventions, participatory activities, interviews, and participant observation. Through remote collaboration with a Ugandan Field Team, I prototyped the Bugolobi Market Mailing List, an SMS-based system designed for the mobile phones already owned by the market vendors.

From the comfort of their beds or the convenience of their matoke stalls, Ugandan women desire to research marketing techniques, expand their customer networks, use Skype, announce events and meetings, create audio recordings of church sermons, and watch episodes of Filipino soap operas. Bringing information and communication technologies to Ugandan women can build upon their ambitions and substantial social capital.

ICT4D often starts with both the development technique and outcome pre-determined; but it is a missed opportunity to limit ICTs to ICT4-any-kind-of-development. Designing for Ugandan women requires a different design approach, one that is responsive; open to switching trajectories; explores women’s daily experience; and stems from their perspective. Such an approach can extend women’s distributed strength, position them as content producers, and leverage their skills as communicators. In order for women to participate in the networked information economy, rather than requiring women to leave the unique spaces that support them, ICTs need to uniquely fit in and build upon the social, economic, and creative practices already in play in women’s lives.