Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

John K. Bennett

Second Advisor

S. Revi Sterling

Third Advisor

Francy Milner

Fourth Advisor

Jennifer Bair

Fifth Advisor

Jonathan Donner

Abstract

This dissertation describes the design, implementation and evaluation of a gender-inclusive information system linking rural women in Agni Hiya, Morocco and water project managers from the Association Dar Si-Hmad. This research was motivated by an interest in exploring the linkages between information and communication technologies (ICT), climate change, natural resource management and women’s participation in community development in the drought-ridden Aït Baamrane region of southwest Morocco. The research investigates the potential for mobile phones to help address communication constraints that rural Berber women face, including culture, religion, and lack of digital literacy. These issues are relevant to the study and design of a gender-inclusive information system (the “Fog Phone”) intended to help manage a fogwater distribution system that will deliver water from the Anti-Atlas Mountains to Berber villages.

The research investigates two similar groups of low-literate, marginalized rural Berber women from the same geographic community who have mobile phones. Technology-focused ethnographic research methods were used to first investigate the social, cultural and technical factors involved in mobile phone use by women employed in an Argan oil Cooperative. Findings from the Argan oil Cooperative study were then applied and expanded in a study of Berber women involved in the operation of the fogwater system. By virtue of their responsibilities as principal water gatherers and water users in the community, Berber women are key stakeholders in the fogwater system. Their continued involvement in water management was extended to the participatory design and development of the prototype Fog Phone.

Cultural conditions restricting communication between unrelated men and women led to an information system design that supported cultural, social, economic and technical constraints. The Fog Phone enabled women to report on the water system using a series of symbols that communicate water system status without violating cultural norms. In addition to an exploration of the relationship between gender and technology, this research explores related themes of climate change and environmental vulnerability as they pertain to women’s lives and livelihoods, as well as the ability of rural Berber women to manage the environmental assets on which their livelihoods depend.

The contributions of this research include a prototype information system for the fogwater project; a better understanding of the mobile phone utility gap and its impact on the use of ICT by marginalized women in polyglot and oral-language dependent communities; and advances in the emerging practice of ICTs, Climate Change and Development (ICCD) by providing a case study of the linkages between mobile phones, water resources that are affected by climate change and women in rural communities involved in an environmentally sustainable development project in the Middle East and North Africa – a region that is largely missing from ICCD and overall ICT for Development research.

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