Empowering women with Digital Skills and Education

Knowledge is created when one has access to information including access to laws that provide for the right to access information. Without access to crucial information, citizens, especially marginalized groups, will not secure equality in this ever changing digital age. The latter is true in any society in the world; knowledge is power. In Uganda, a large number of women do not have access to a standard education and are therefore unable to access information online. 

The Women’s Rights Online Report (WRO), 2015 brings to light the close relationship between digital skills and education. The report indicates that one of the barriers to women going online is their lack of knowledge about the technology itself. “Not knowing how” to use the Internet is a consequence of women being left out of post-primary education. Since they do not have access to education, they do not pursue a particular interest in going online. Without education, women feel like the Internet is a place that they cannot understand. There is therefore an emphasis on the “sense of choice” that women need, which can enable them to be confident in their activities online. The question then is; how can institutions like the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and other relevant government institutions help Ugandans and especially marginalized groups and Ugandans situated in rural areas, move forward with ICTs and the internet? 

Recommendations made by UNESCO were further echoed in the WRO report card, 2016. Some of the most notable recommendations included; the need to increase the proportion of ICT qualified teachers in schools, implement Internet access in secondary schools, and have a bigger percentage of women in technology, engineering, research and development at higher institutions of learning. One of the key recommendations in the Women’s Rights Online report was to “Teach digital skills from primary school onwards”. Findings in the report further point to the massive influence that education has on women’s use of technology. There was indication that 92% of female Internet users had at least a secondary education. Furthermore, it was highlighted that by including digital skills (ICT literacy basics) in primary and secondary school curricula, there will be more digital opportunities enabled since there is currently near 100% primary school enrolment rates. 

One of the specific objectives in the Rural Communications Development Fund Policy (RCDF), 2011- 2015 specifies the need to promote utilization and application of ICTs by all categories of underserved people (women, men, youth, people with disabilities (PWDs), elderly) and also address the access disparity that exists between male and female including PWDs. WOUGNET works closely with citizens in specific project districts and through project activities that involve ICT skills trainings. Thus, in relation to the mentioned objective WOUGNET has been able to raise awareness about ICTs, how to access online and offline information and to train women and men on basic digital skills. These trainings are a great part of WOUGNET program and project activities and have been carried out for years. One of the most outstanding outcomes of this initiative occurred in a two day training workshop on ICT and capacity building carried out in 2012 in the districts of Amuru and Gulu. This training attracted around 100 participants and started out with the objective to build the capacity of local communication and Community Based Organization to enable them collect, package and disseminate information on corruption and poor public social service delivery from their localities to wider communities.

ICT skills are quickly becoming, a persistent need and WOUGNET along with her partners are focused on implementing ICT for development projects, not just in select project districts but also more recently throughout the country. This is evident in the organisation’s membership and active participation in networks such as the ICT4Democracy in East Africa. 

In 2017, WOUGNET is still working on sending staff across the country to skill rural communities on use of ICTs for development and to educate them more on their human rights. As a non-governmental organization, WOUGNET has limits as to what it can accomplish. It is at such points where the government and citizens need to step in. More players and funding are required to grow the ICT sector and to make the information economy more inclusive through various skills and awareness raising activities. The country needs to work together to fight the existing digital inequalities that are automatically set in a patriarchal society. 

Yasmine Elmir
McGill University


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