Closing the Gender Digital Divide in Africa

Basic ICT skills and digital entrepreneurship training is changing lives in western Kenya. Particularly the lives of women, like Mary Namukholi, a farmer who sells bananas and nut, and who supplements her income by offering tech services from typing to printing out documents for people in her community. Namukholi is over 60-years old, and has only ever had three years of formal schooling during her childhood. Her new-found skills are because of her participation in the digital literacy programme run by public-private partnership, Women and the Web Alliance, who operate in over a dozen school-based technology centres in the region alone. Created to improve the digital skills of women and girls in Kenya and Nigeria, the alliance partners look to expose more than 600,000 women in those countries to the Internet.

While Internet access is improving globally, penetration rates still sit at around 40 percent in developing countries, and as low as 15 percent in the least developed countries, according to the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU). These rates also continue to be lower for women given multiple barriers to access, including education levels and financial resources.

“The global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. The gap remains large in the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) — at 31%. In 2016, the regional gender gap is largest in Africa (23%) and smallest in the Americas (2%).” ITU, 2016 Facts & Figures

“Not knowing how” to use the Internet was the barrier most widely cited by poor, urban women included in the recent Online Digital Gender Gap Audit. Part of the World Wide Web Foundation, the 11-country survey found that in Kenya, for example, 1GB of prepaid data costs more than 6% of average monthly income in the country, with women they surveyed calling prices “unrealistic,” adding that the high cost preventing them from getting online.

Researchers also looked it other key areas affecting the gender digital divide, including Digital Skills and Education. Among the other African countries included in the survey, Egypt and Uganda scored the highest on Digital Skills and Education, with the report noting that the north African country is one a few where at least 50% of secondary schools are connected to the Internet. They found that the majority of countries surveyed “provide little to no Internet access in schools, teacher training in ICTs, or community digital literacy training, and/or collect no data to monitor progress in these areas.”

Kenya scored just 2 points, with the report noting that while the country has a national ICT in education plan, the emphasis is largely on secondary and tertiary schools, missing those who falls outside of those institutions, like Mary Namukholi. From learning how to use a smartphone, to mastering applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel, through the digital literacy programmes like the one offered by the Women and the Web Alliance, Namukholi and others receive basic technical training, often coupled with additional life and business skills training to help capitalize on their new digital skills.