Different rules for boys and girls
On September 23rd last month at the 92nd and Y theater in New York, there was already a crowd outside lining up to get in as early as 8AM.
It was the first day of the 73rd UN General Assembly side events, and if you thought there was a long human traffic line to get in, there was even more serous traffic outside everywhere.
What else would you expect, with more than 173 heads of state in a 5 square mile area of town for the UN Assembly.
What made the theater entry even more slower were the sniffing dogs and US Secret Service.
No, they were not there for me, but for the Prime Minister of New Zealand – Mrs. Jacinda Ardern. She was the first scheduled speaker.
As I got on the stage to speak my turn, I thought again about the topic I was asked to speak about – “Mobile Telephone Technology and Girls” in Africa.
At first, it sounded like it was a TV commercial trying to sell phones to Girls.
But the truth was far from it. My role that day was to share how technology had allowed me do some of the things I work on around the globe.
For me, that meant tools like computer, film cameras, editing software, and of course, mobile telephones.
I learned while preparing to speak on this topic that in most African countries, there were different rules generally for boys when it came to mobile phones and technology, than for girls, and this was mainly in the rural areas of the continent, including places like Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Malawi.
It was hard to believe that in most of the smaller communities in these countries, boys were celebrated and encouraged to have mobile phones, but girls were frowned at when they had mobile phones.
One of the saddest stories was from one part of Malawi, where if a boy had a mobile phone, they said he was trying to talk to his friends, but if a girl had a mobile phone, they said she was starting prostitution. Yes, you read that right.
How can that be, and how can that be justified? How can there be a different set of rules for boys, when it came to mobile phones, and a totally different one for girls too?
I shared my opinion that it was sexist to encourage boys to have and use technology, but cultural barriers were put up for girls, when it came to such things.
In the end, I gave what was always a powerful anecdote – to show myself as an example of how technology can help girls advance in their communities and become more productive in their societies, if they had a good understating and grasp of technology very early.
By the time most girls get the use of a mobile phone in most African countries in their mid to late teens, it’s usually for basic things such as calculators, or just to speak.
Meanwhile, boys of the same ages use them to browse, then shoot short video clips, carry out simple banking transactions, watch entertainment clips, play games, and of course – use all the social media platforms of real time communications.
Why wont the girls end up relegated in their communities, as they usually are?
I was actually a little angry, after I spoke, even though the audience applauded, because most of them live in the US or Europe and perhaps would never understand or even think it possible, what I just talked about.
They wouldn’t think it possible that a parent would ask the young girls not to have phones or call their friends, when the girl probably already has her lawyer, and can sue the parent for abuse. Yes, you read right !!
But for the thousands of girls spread across rural parts of Africa, there was nothing to celebrate, or applaud.
Because by the time you finish reading this, another girl would have has been denied the access to a mobile phone, or worse still, punished by her father for sneaking to using one, or even just asking to get one. Why, just so her father can protect their good family name.
Let me ask. Have you ever eaten a half cooked piece of meat. Well, it is horrible to chew, hard to digest, and the result is a sick or upset tummy, and you end up in bed.
That’s what’s happening to the continent of Africa, when half of her population [women and girls], are denied various types of access, so the continent is sick, with low productivity.
I ask again, why are there different rules for boys, and then girls, and perhaps also, for men and women? You don’t have to answer.