Research carried out by the University of Zimbabwe identified entrenched gender inequalities in the country’s higher learning institution. The research found that despite an outwardly equal access to resources and student forums at the university, there was a ‘socialised’ inequality amongst students that had so far continued unchallenged. Student practices were observed that still honored traditional gender biases; some examples include the following findings:

  • Male students often safeguarded privileged positions in student societies e.g. no women had occupied any of the leading posts on the Student Representative Council in the University of Zimbabwe for over 15 years.
  • Female students struggled to gain access to facilities such as the cafeterias, sports facilities and the library on an equal footing with male students.
  • The percentage of male to female students using the university’s ICT labs was 87% male to 13% female (despite an almost equal enrolment of 51% women in comparison to 49% men).
  • Unlike men, young women enrolled at the university did not feel that they could visit computer labs late at night due to cultural expectations and related stigma, restricting their access to ICT even more.
  • Female students at the University of Zimbabwe saw ICT access as a new and rare ‘privilege’ for women, that was mostly the preserve of the male students on campus.

Computer Aid and the University of Zimbabwe pioneered the country’s first women-only university ICT lab to be used solely by female students and counteract the gender inequity seen in facilities and ICT use so far. The response from female students after one year of use has been overwhelmingly positive which is why we will be increasing the capacity of the lab from 50 to 150 computers.

Users report an increase in confidence when approaching ICT for the first time. When trying to acquaint themselves with new online tools, they no longer feel embarrassed or like they have to catch-up with male students who traditionally have greater access at a younger age. Female students can now use ICT for research and can equip themselves with 21st-century skills that will put them on an equal footing with male peers when pursuing careers.

On a deeper level, encouraging female ICT use at this critical point in education has sparked a change and challenges the view that ICT is the preserve of male students in Zimbabwe’s higher education system.

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