Internet of Good Things: Empowering Girls in Zambia
The mobile-based platform provides information free of data charges to help adolescents make more informed choices
As with many countries on the African continent, the push in Zambia for all children to receive a primary school education over the last decade has led to a major increase in school attendance. But, as children progress through the school system, the number of girls drops away, with lack of money for school fees, limited knowledge, teenage pregnancy and a shortage of secondary schools often to blame. And yet, the evidence is clear that educating girls is the best way to improve their future potential, enhance the prospects for the next generation, and prevent early marriage.
There is no magic bullet for keeping girls in school and out of child marriage. But providing information and making knowledge accessible is part of the solution, both to help adolescents make more informed choices about whether to stay in school, and to enable girls to avoid pitfalls like HIV and teenage pregnancy. In Zambia, UNICEF has been experimenting with Internet of Good Things (IoGT), which is a mobile-phone based platform that provides information free of data-charges to those with feature phones or smartphones on the two major phone networks. Internet of Good Things is a scalable and adaptable solution that is particularly well suited to reach adolescents, and in 2014, Zambia became the first country in the world to launch a free-to-access IoGT mobile site, with the initial ‘Facts for Life’ content module. Last year, more than 450,000 people in Zambia used the platform.
In 2018, an information module on IoGT Zambia called “Girls’ Zone” was launched to offer information on girls’ education and adolescent health, including menstrual hygiene management and HIV. The feedback is already positive. Through a series of mobile questionnaires, UNICEF surveyed users on the module, and 94 per cent of those who responded (420) in Zambia said that the Girls’ Zone information was very helpful (82%) or quite helpful (12%).
Almost two-thirds of girls (62%) reported sharing the information they learned through IoGT with someone else. Several shared details on how the platform had changed them:
“I had the courage to stop feeling shy to ask any elder about period and I learnt a lot of things that I d[id] not know. And Girls Zone is very helpful for people my age 12-16.”
“Yes, on the issue of not going to school when attending, When I had my first period I fe[l]t like I[t] was not safe for me to attend classes.”
“[…] I have helped many girls by way of educating the[m] about these things and educate boys also about th[ei]r attitude toward girls during th[ei]r periods.”
Girls helping girls and building a “Generation Unlimited”
Internet of Good Things is also supporting adolescents in Zambia by empowering them to be part of the change they want to see happen in the country and the world. Through the “Generation Unlimited – the future is yours” content module, young people are being provided with information on how to start a community project, build a team, run meetings, speak in public, and write to the media.
With this new content on Internet of Good Things Zambia, UNICEF helps young people, especially young women to have access to opportunities to develop skills for learning, employability and active citizenship. And it is working! 75% of users report that all or most of the project management information found in “The Future is yours” is new to them.
When provided with the right information and knowledge, young people report having more confidence in their ability to take action:
“I have been thinking of helping up a few girls from my local church enrol[l] into primary education. I know that my friends can come in handy to make this a reality. After reading this, I am convinced my friends and I can start up the project in helping young girls get a primary education.”
“I have started thinking about what to make that can change the world”
With IoGT, girls are now starting to take concrete steps to build community initiatives and projects, and also picking up valuable skills they will be able to reuse throughout life. These are some of the stories young people shared on the IoGT platform:
“Not all of us are fortunate, I used to laugh at girls who used cloths during their menstruation period instead of sanitary pads, I did not really underst[and] their situation. Since I started using IOGT I know better now and I started donating pads to those who are disadvantaged.”
“I build a team where we collect pads [for] those who [can’t] afford them and we give them to our girls in community and we have some classes to learn more about what we can do to improve our society ... Everyone come up with his/her skill to build our society ...because we are the ones that can make changes […]”
There is still room for growth
Even though the response to the ‘Girls’ Zone’ and ‘Generation Unlimited – Future is yours’ modules has been very positive, young people are not shy when asked how the platform can improve. One of the first pieces of feedback the site received suggested adding more content, including pictures and multimedia, for those who cannot read very well. Users are also requesting the opportunity to tell their own stories- something the IoGT team is working on.
Respondents also stressed that UNICEF and its partners should do more to promote the Internet of Good Things site, and the messages it embeds, including via social media, TV, schools and community campaigning (door to door and through youth clubs). We are working on making a bigger impact and reaching a larger audience in 2019.
If you’d like to access and read “Girls’ Zone” content on Internet of Good Things Zambia, this is the link to the mobile IoGT site: https://zm.goodinternet.org/sections/girls-zone/. For the ‘Generation Unlimited – Future is yours’ module, this is the link: https://zm.goodinternet.org/sections/gen-unlimited-future-yours/
If you’re based in Zambia and have an Airtel or MTN Sim card the site won’t charge you for your visit, so you can browse free of charge through this hyperlink, or the link at the top of the main opening page.