There are several efforts being made toward improving gender equality. Today, basic Information and Communication Technology (ICT) knowledge is one of the most desired skills on the labor market. According to research carried out by European parliament, ICT is a growing sector that creates 120,000 new jobs every year. Women made up 16.7% of the nearly 8.2 million employed as ICT specialists in 2016. This implies that digital, mobile technologies and the internet have enormous potential for women’s empowerment, providing women with opportunities not to only generate income but also to find and share information, access educational and health services, interact, collaborate, network, and have their voices heard.
Due to the relevance of ICT in the labor market today, different organizations have come up to ensure that women are empowered to use ICTs, this is done through digital literacy trainings, provision of digital ICT tools like computers and internet-enabled smart phones among other ways. For example, Web Foundation findings indicated that in 2010, a Swedish engineering student called Malin Cronqvist initiated the Help to Help, project after encountering barriers that limit the development of women in Tanzania during her volunteer work in Tanzania. The project was meant to provide females (especially in universities) with Information and Technology practical skills required, to reduce poverty by increasing access to education (awareness of gender inequalities amongst the women) and employment opportunities. This knowledge enabled women get employment, some were successful self-employed and encouraged more interest in tech skills amongst young women. This strived to improve gender equality.
A survey from IT news Africa.com show that 19% of women use internet in Uganda, compared with men 27%. These figures indicate that men use internet more than women. This is due to several barriers such as lack of access to technology and digital literacy training, limited autonomy and inadequate infrastructure (often coupled with the high costs of connectivity). These barriers prevent many women from fully benefiting from the use of digital, mobile technologies and the Internet. For instance, 46% of women said they don’t use the internet because they don’t know-how to use it. Other factors/barriers include the cost of mobile data, the lack of a suitable device, digitization that comes with dangers and risks that include cybercrimes such as identity theft, online bullying which sometimes culminate into rape, kidnap or even murder. All these factors push women offline thus increase in gender digital divide.
There are several strategies that can be embraced by government and other stakeholders like Civil Society Organizations to facilitate the process of closing the gender digital gap. For instance, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) carries out different activities to support and empower women using ICT. WOUGNET advocates for gender responsive ICT policies, offers digital literacy trainings, provides digital tools like mobile phones and computers, and mobile applications. Through WOUGNET’s partnership with M-omulimisa; an existing SMS platform which is used on mobile phones by community monitors commonly known as Voluntary Social Accountability Committees (VSACS) and duty bearers(leaders) to improve service delivery in areas of agriculture, health, education and infrastructure in Northern and Eastern parts of Uganda. This has empowered the local people in the communities’ especially women to have voice in society in regards to effective service delivery and further influence policy by demanding for accountability through the platform.
With support from Women Peace and Humanitarian Fund (WPHF), WOUGNET is currently implementing the Civil Society in Uganda Digital Support Programme (CUSDS). The project is equipping its 25 women led member organizations with computers, airtime and internet bundles/ internet connectivity. WOUGNET has further conducted digital literacy trainings, generated relevant content to sustain women and girls’ interest in internet spaces and creating online networks. All these efforts have played a crucial role in empowering women to continue working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, thus, bridging the gender digital gap.
To empower more women, the government of Uganda needs to develop and implement strategies that promote the access and usage of ICTs by women. There is a need to implement interventions that remove roadblocks to access and usage of ICTs by women such as narrowing the digital divide between urban and people living the rural areas by availing ICTs to the underserved communities and promoting the digital literacy of women so that more marginalized groups such as women can use ICTs.
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) needs to work and engage with Civil Society Organizations such as the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) to better integrate gender into its digital policies. These policies will reduce cyber-crimes such as identity theft, online bullying, data breaches, sexual harassments, online gender base violence, among others. Through this collaboration, policymakers will help to transform their agencies’ approach to gender and deliver policies that are designed to meet the specific needs that women have online.
Babirye Roseline, Program Officer, Gender and ICT policy Advocacy