Even when the Internet was new – and expensive and slow – it gave us essential access to the rest of the world. In 1994, when I lived in Senegal, the only Internet access available to me was a hold and forward account through a science research group, meaning I would dial into their servers in order to upload and download my messages. It was very expensive (I believe I paid more than $500 during my year in Senegal), but compared with faxes and telephone was so much more cost-effective and efficient. And it became crucial during the devaluation riots when many phone lines were cut. Our families were relieved to get news through the Internet that we were safe.
By the end of 1999, dial-up connections in Africa were more and more available, but still rare, slow, and expensive. I remember in 2000, the look on the face of West African Nutrition Officers in a cybercafe in Bamako when I accessed (sllllloooooooowwwwwwlllllyyyy) the WHO Nutrition web page, with copies of important documents in multiple languages. The Nutrition Officer from Niger shouted "There it is! I have been asking for someone to mail me that document for over a year!" She was able to leave that day with a 160 page print-out and a copy on a floppy disk. She also got her first email account that day and we added her to the West African Nutrition Network mailing list.
Just two years ago, I was interviewing some folks from Academy for Educational Development (AED) on the Afghanistan Education Portal project, and they told me an almost identical story -- a senior official In the Ministry of Education was overcome with emotion when he saw there was a copy of a key document he had been seeking for a year, now available to him on the internet, in several languages.
Some things never change.
To learn more about women in ICT see: WISENET: the Women in ICTs Shared Excellence Network