When I conducted my research on Nigeria’s digital public sphere and fostering a culture of democracy in the country in 2014, women were active and vocal respondents.
As they form part of everyday pro-sumers (producers and consumers) of media content, it’s important to consolidate women’s role in contributing to and shaping what constitutes the digital public sphere in emerging economies such as Nigeria. Online, women are significant players in terms of activism, community building and creative and cultural industries.
Nigeria has a rich history of women activists, from Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti to Margret Ekpo, and the famous Aba Women’s Riot of 1929; they are no strangers to standing up for their rights. Today, digital media is a formidable tool for social activism, and this is evident in campaigns such as #BringBackOurGirls and #ChildNotBride.
During the #OccupyNigeria protest against fuel subsidy removal in the country, women actively joined the march, both offline and online. These campaigns took off online and went into mainstream media, giving their news worthiness.
Not every protest has managed to reach the desired outcome. However what matters is that more women (and citizens generally) are exploring the potential digital media has as a communicative platform to freely express themselves.
This would have been impossible without a certain degree of awareness of one’s rights – social and political. A plus point for democracy because the more people are aware of their constitutional rights, the more knowledge they look for. And the more knowledge a citizen gains, the more active they become, which cycles back to a more democratic society.
The many-to-many broadcast model of digital media fosters the building of community among interest groups. If woman A is interested in afro-natural hair, as is woman B, it’s only a matter of time before a community starts to combine around that interest.
This is because B would tag C and D, and D will share with X, Y and Z followers. Through blogs, social media networks and instant-messaging services which have ‘group’ functions (such as Blackberry Messenger and WhatsApp), women are growing communities of shared interests. Some are founding full-time businesses from these ventures, for example, Superworking Mum and LoveWeddingsNg.
The ability to build and foster a sense of community online holds great potential for any society’s development, no matter how trivial or important the ‘interest’ is perceived to be.
As already mentioned, Nigerian women are establishing creative businesses or supporting their existing establishments through having access to digital media. When I interviewed Taiwo Orimadegun, a now successful photographer at SpicyInc Studios for my book chapter*, she said:
“Before I started [photography], I started taking pictures of people off Facebook. I would re-edit and put them back. Then people would say to me, ‘you can do this for money’ […] I lost my job, so I would go to friends’ birthday parties, take pictures and then upload their photos on Facebook for free…I now do photography”.
A more recent trend I’ve noticed is the growth of independent Nigerian women publishers. No longer waiting on the big publishing names to acknowledge their talent, they are launching eBooks and selling them – even via SMS. These are just a few of the innovative ways women are leveraging on digital media to bolster Nigeria’s cultural and creative industries, which is good news for an emerging economy.
Bringing it back home, it’s easy to get carried away in the euphoria of digital media for development that we forget the plight of the unconnected. Opportunities for freedom of expression online, joining a community, or contributing to Nigeria’s cultural and creative industries, are still exclusive to the elites in urban dwellings and the digitally literate. The digital divide goes beyond simple access to ICT technologies.
The education behind how to leverage on these technologies for social and economic advancement is equally as important. This is why I supported the TechHer initiative which took place in Lagos in August. It’s a community of women helping one another get familiar with understanding technology.
When more projects and initiatives such as a TechHer and Platforms for Women start to filter into the rural areas in various African societies, the propensity for societal growth and development will be limitless. We need more African women online, and we need them now.
*Source: Vickery, J. and Oladepo, T. (2014). ‘The Arts and Digital Media – The Question of the Public Sphere in Africa’ in Schneider, W. and Gad, D. ed. Good Governance for Cultural Policy: An African-European Research about Arts and Development. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, pp. 211-225.
About the author
Dr Tomi Oladepo
Dr Tomi Oladepo is a digital media researcher, and an experienced blogger and writer. She holds a PhD in Cultural Policy Studies from the University of Warwick. Her doctoral research looks at ways of developing democracy through digital media, specifically developing a culture of democratic thinking, behaviour and communication. She has experience in radio broadcasting, film and documentary production. She has also lectured on the Masters in Global Media and Communication at the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies. Tomi also founded stylishacademic.com, a lifestyle blog for academics.