The programme uses research as a tool to build capacity and foster exchanges among those exploring how ICTs can enhance African women's development. GRACE's original 14 independent research sites in 12 countries - Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, Cameroon, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt - explored research topics ranging from examining mobile telephone use, to the ways in which women could use e-commerce, to barriers to ICT use and women's strategies to overcome these obstacles.
A key element informing GRACE's knowledge construction process is participation and capacity building: creating the space and skills for the 14 research teams to develop their own methodology for understanding what "empowerment" and "gender" may mean in multiple African contexts. The research questions and methodologies, the research trainings, as well as the ongoing mentoring and support programme accompanying the research, are grounded in the principles of critical emancipatory research, or "action research." Emphasis is placed on the use of qualitative research techniques.
GRACE draws on face-to-face interactions to connect and inform researchers interested in these topics. Capacity building workshops focusing on the interrelationship between ICT and women's empowerment were held in July 2005 and June 2006 (with a third workshop planned for July 2007). At the first workshop the GRACE researchers consolidated their methodological approaches, learned how to use a computer-aided qualitative data analysis software programme called NVivo, were introduced to other advanced ICT and knowledge networking skills, and learned how to use digital cameras and recorders and how to edit sound and images using their computers. The second workshop focused on enhancing research writing skills and provided an opportunity for focused discussion on the research conducted.
In addition, online communications are conducted via a specific research-space list and directly between the research coordination team members and the researchers. The findings emerging from the first research phase have been captured in a book, published by Zed Books, entitled African Women and ICTs: Investigating Technology, Gender and Empowerment.
In March 2008 the GRACE project entered a second phase, continuing to involve the network of the research teams in Africa, and introducing the project to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Thirty researchers from 7 countries met in Yemen in December 2008 to initiate their research processes and the Gender ICT Research in the Arab World network. According to GRACE, over time both networks will expand to include many other individuals and organisations throughout Africa and the Middle East. Their work is building a substantial body of research on how African and Arab women access and use ICTs, which will influence policies and interventions to help reduce the obstacles women currently encounter.
Technology, Women, Gender.
In the context of ICT and gender empowerment, GRACE intends to provide African researchers with opportunities to build confidence and skill in the use of qualitative and participatory research methods and techniques. It also hopes to develop the capacity to use ICT tools for research.
Research for the Future with funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).