Women’s empowerment in Uganda goes beyond ICT use and access – Study reveals

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A study carried out by web foundation shows that even with the increasing numbers in female mobile phone users, there is still more effort needed to achieve empowerment of women through technology. The study was based on a survey of 1,000 poor men and women in each of ten developing countries including Uganda. It found that women are still 50% less likely to access the internet than men even though nearly all of them own mobile phones. It also reported that only 37% of women were able to use the internet. Even then, they are 30-50% less likely to use the internet to increase their income or participate in public life (WRO 2015). These findings bring to light the reality of the great gender divide in the global Information Economy. They provoke the mind to ponder on what opportunities exist for women in this fast paced and male dominated sector.

An Information economy is one with an increasing emphasis on information activities and industry. Currently, the global community depends greatly on this sector to ease international relations, particularly those pertaining to trade related issues, global and national security issues and free flow of information. The growth and development of the information economy is seen as a necessary facet of the global community that keeps its population informed. This is especially due to the fact that, the global community is an environment that encourages innovation, creativity, efficiency, competition and precision.

Major factors that may influence the growth of this sector include; – depletion of natural resources, increase in human resources, increased emphasis on democracy, human rights and similar neo ideologies. So what opportunities are there for women in the new Edge of this Information Economy? Perhaps the greatest ones among many include: – access to credit, access to services, broader job search prospects and creating new, flexible “work at home” projects. The level of growth however shows the effect information economy has on women to the point of ownership and their ability to be part of these fast emergent changes.

Unlike the rest of the world population, women are more affected by the new changes that come about with an improved information economy. This is so because as research has shown, the greatest percentage of the world’s population in the informal sector is women. Research also shows that the least advantaged in access to information on trade and other relevant global issues are women in least developed countries. The factors surrounding these findings mainly revolve around poverty, illiteracy, bad cultural practices and the list is endless. This is mainly due to poor public administrative structures that do not create room to support women in ICT related activities. This is particularly so for women in rural areas.

Uganda is not immune to some of these challenges. In fact, it is a classic example of the reality of these problems. Out of the nine selected case study countries for  Web Foundation research, Uganda is the worst performer with the gender gap in urban internet usage at -190%. There are 21% female internet users to 61% Male users with the total number of internet users at 38% (WRO 2015). As a result, women in Uganda face a great challenge when they have to compete at a global or even regional level in trade markets and for ICT related jobs. Women in rural areas are at an even greater disadvantage, where poor ICT infrastructure limits their participation in economic, social and political activities. This raises the question: – of how can rural Ugandan woman cease the opportunities presented by the new edge of the Information Economy?

Like minded organisations that advocate for women’s rights like WOUGNET support the participation of rural women through trainings in using ICTs. These equip them with skills to pursue new livelihoods and adapt to new technologies to match their needs. Most women rights organisations, run programs that help women;- gain access to credit, learn practical economic skills, strengthen social services and increase awareness of women’s rights. Organisations that carry out developmental work need to sensitize women and men on the importance of ICTs. Communities need to be encouraged to involve women in activities that will prepare them to be competitors in the ever evolving information economy. The challenge in this kind of work is at the point of mobilisation and sensitisation. Most community development practitioners fail to have the desired impact on communities because of the deeply rooted cultural practices that do not favour women. Many rural communities in Uganda have trouble accepting the changing role of women in the world.

Sensitization in community development can be very difficult if power dynamics are not well appreciated and understood. Ugandan communities are patriarchal in design. Even though this is slowly changing, communities still hold on to cultural beliefs concerning the role of women. The blockage in the progress of women in the information sector may not necessarily be men, but the insistence on continued cultural practices that side-line women. This should be the point at which more efforts to mobilise and sensitize should be placed.

At this point, public and private institutions who are involved in developmental work for the progress of women should be able to redesign their projects to accommodate good cultural practices and gradually do away with the bad ones. It is at this point that community development practitioners should consider more particular means of sensitization and mobilization. For instance, door to door sensitization campaigns, that may not be cost effective but may have a greater impact if the message is to be put across in its exactness.

Efforts towards achieving and sustaining the empowerment of women in the information economy should be collective. Public and private institutions need to work together to design workable programs that gradually erode bad cultural practices and encourage and develop good ones. In order to achieve the desired results of implementing SDG 9 by 2030, there must be progress in all areas of community life. Stakeholders need to work together in all sectors to help women realise the opportunities that exist for them in the information economy.

This will ensure that ICT initiatives are systematically integrated with wider efforts meant to offer women more options in the labour market, at home, school and in other spheres of public life. It’s important that policy makers across different sectors such as health, education, agriculture and small businesses, are trained to understand and exploit the potential of ICTs to tackle poverty and gender inequality in the new edge of the Information Economy.

Compiled by

H. Susan Atim – Program Assistant, Information Sharing and Networking.