Gender, agency and mobile phones: urban street traders in Uganda

Masika, Rachel Joy Charity (2012). Gender, agency and mobile phones: urban street traders in Uganda. PhD thesis The Open University.



Mobile phones have proliferated remarkably in developing countries. It is argued that mobile phones present enormous opportunities for achieving gender equality in the context of broader development aims. Yet, emerging literature presents a mixed picture of outcomes for gender relations, suggesting that a much more nuanced assessment is required. Thus the research asks: to what extent can mobile phones contribute to achieving gender equality through the expansion of women's agency? The research reviews and evaluates the relationships between gender, mobile phones and development, then highlights how the relationship between mobile phones and capabilities has been conceptualised. It argues that the ca pability approach offers a prism to explore agency but is insufficient in capturing multiple expressions of agency. Combined with other critical theories of social and technological processes, viewing the capability approach through a feminist lens enriches an understand ing of nuanced gender, agency and mobile phone relations. This argument is made by using an interpretive theoretical framework of spaces for agency and an instrumental case study of street traders in Kampala, Uganda. A quantitative approach analyses the features of mobile phone mediated agency of street traders to establish disparities between men and women. Qualitative methods demonstrate the opportunities and challenges for expanding women's agency. Narrative analysis illustrates the complex ways in which mobile phone practices both enable and constrain agency with cont radictory results for women. The research finds that a focus on capabilities suggests that mobile phones present opportunities that can be a first step towards greater equality. However, it is difficult for mobile phones access and use to change gendered ideologies, creating tensions between empowerment and disempowerment. Mobile phone practices are neither wholly beneficial nor wholly const rained. The tensions generated by mobile phones at multiple levels can be an important first step towards transforming unequal gender relations by challenging prevailing norms.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions