ICT for Development in Arab Region
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Introduction
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Introduction

WRCATI is a women empowerment initiative by ICTDAR that uses ICT as a tool to allow women greater understanding and knowledge of their rights, leading to more access to those rights and ultimately to a better quality of life. The initiative is specifically helpful to women in difficult circumstances such as those who, as a result of failed marriages, find themselves almost overnight without any means to support themselves or their children.

Women face a lot of challenges in developing and under-developed countries. A lot of those challenges are based on sheer ignorance of the facts, and reliance on misconceptions and misguided beliefs. Widespread illiteracy means even filling out basic forms to obtain child support can become a daunting task. The situation is further complicated by the fact that even social workers whose role is to provide such help often lack themselves knowledge of the laws or procedures. WRCATI benefits women by using ICT to empower their support mechanisms, and by intervening at certain points in the workflow to streamline some processes. This is achieved through the development of relevant legal information in a digital format and the dissemination of this information through CDs, websites, video and audio tapes, and telephone hotlines. The content, in Arabic, includes the full keyword-searchable legal text, as well as FAQ in a simplified language, dealing with civil, legal, and religious issues relating to family law, including child support payments, marriage and divorce, labor, adoption, and custody.

Social workers and volunteers at social and community centers are given both IT training as well as training on the use of the material itself, in order for them to act as conveyors of this information to women in need. But the benefit of the training they receive goes beyond the immediate objectives of the project. In fact, civil society is empowered through this capacity building which allows people to use technology to network among themselves and to better lobby for their causes.

In the first cycle, the project went beyond its stated objective of focusing on family laws to include issues relating to violence against women as well as labor laws. The specially-developed FAQ, in very simplified language, is the most extensive and well-researched on the topic. In addition, the process of involving lawyers, judges, and religious leaders resulted in unprecedented dialogue among them and often in educating them on the actual laws.

 
 
Relevance to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The WRCATI initiative aims at empowering women through the use of ICT by providing them with access to, knowledge of, and guidance on their legal rights and the rights of their children. WRCATI thus opens new horizons for them, and is therefore contributing towards the achievement of two of the Millennium Development Goals, namely eradicating extreme poverty and achieving gender equality and women empowerment.

 
 
Objectives

WRCATI therefore aims to empower women through increasing their access to knowledge. This is achieved through:

  • Preparing women’s rights related information kits, including answers to hundreds of frequently asked questions (FAQ) in simplified language, legal forms, requests, and pleas in digital and printable formats. This information is in digital format and available through CDs, websites, and in some cases audio tapes.
  • Delivering this information to social workers in local communities and to women support centers, including training on the content itself.
  • Training the personnel who would deliver this information on the basic operation of computer-based information systems.
  • Conduct capacity building activities, equip some centers with computers, and set up methodologies to ensure the intended impact and benefits will continue beyond the duration of the project.
 
Implementation Strategy

The objective of empowering women is achieved through building the capacities of social workers and providing them with easier access to information, since they constitute women’s main support mechanism in many areas, particularly underprivileged ones. The specific activities that constitute WRCATI are:

  • Production of the CDs: After extensive research and meetings of subject matter experts, a CD is produced in each country which included all information that women need to know about their legal rights concerning family and labor laws , violence against women & children as well as an extensive database of FAQ.
  • Compilation of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Answers to hundreds of frequently asked questions are created in simplified language and produced to help women, judges, lawyers, and social workers easily interpret and act on laws and procedures
  • Assessment and Selection of Community Centers: Women support centers are assessed and selected to participate in the project, in collaboration with partner NGOs and government agencies. In some cases, these centers are provided with computers as well.
  • Capacity Building Activities: Conducting of Train the Trainer sessions aimed at the civil society, including basic IT training as well as training on the legal content itself.
  • Promotion Activities: Promoting the project through the media and various events such as talks and lectures to concerned audiences.
 
Management Arrangements

ICTDAR retains overall management and coordination responsibility both on a regional as well as on a country level throughout the lifetime of the project. However, a steering committee with representative from all partners is formed for each country, to provide general guidance, oversight, and facilitation. In addition, ICTDAR ensures that best practices are shared across steering committees in the various countries of implementation.

 
Partners

In the first iteration of this initiative, which took place in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia, ICTDAR partnered with the European Union to fund the project.

For national implementation, ICTDAR worked with UNDP Country Offices and a selected lead NGO or government agency in each country, as well as with private companies (software providers, training companies, software developers, etc).

In addition, an advisory board was set up in each country to provide guidance to the local team and to champion the project nationally. Members of religious groups and government public institutions were among the advisory board members, since their endorsement of the outputs was crucial to the success of the project.

 

WRCATI has already been successfully implemented in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia, with the following highlights:

  • More than 3000 CDs have been published and distributed in the three countries.
  • Over 500 FAQ were produced and published.
  • More than 825 social centers were involved.
  • Over 1000 social workers and women have been given Training of Trainers on basic IT and on the use of the content.
  • The Tunisia website had received over 2700 visitors as of November 2005 (37000 pages viewed and 120 926 hits). These are impressive numbers for a new website. No statistics yet on the websites in the two other countries.
  • In Egypt, all laws and FAQ were compiled in one book of which 500 copies were printed and distributed.
 
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