Technology is now a central part of our lives with access to vital services like health, e-commerce and income-generating opportunities online.
This became clearer when the Covid-19 pandemic forced more people online to mitigate its effects and connect during lockdowns.
But the situation flagged the technology and internet access gap, putting those without digital gadgets such as mobile phones or access to digital tools like social media at risk of further marginalisation.
The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) “Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022” revealed unequal mobile ownership and access, with more men than women likely to access mobile phones and use mobile data, mobile money and other mobile services. The gap is wider in women from rural areas or with low literacy, low income or disability.
The report shows 88 per cent of Kenyan women own mobile phones, compared to 94 per cent of men, and only 36 per cent use mobile internet against 54 per cent of men. More working women own smartphones (37 per cent) while some of the non-working ones were unaware of mobile internet.
There are many reasons for that. The World Wide Web Foundation’s “Women’s Rights Online Digital Gender Gap Audit Scorecards” cites extreme gender and poverty inequalities as among the factors driving the digital gender gap.
These translate to a lack of affordability of digital devices and an internet connection, digital skills and safety and security online, including exposure to cyberbullying, cyberstalking, doxxing, hate speech and gendered disinformation.
The theme of today’s International Women’s Day, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, is an opportunity for all stakeholders to highlight the need to unpack and address these factors.
All these factors exclude women and girls from the digital economy, which has opened up new avenues for entrepreneurship and e-commerce yet the World Economic Forum shows 75 per cent of global jobs by 2050 will be in science, technology, engineering and math (Stem)-related. They also limit women and girls from forming networks, movements and connections and accessing information.
We must eliminate these barriers, and foster an environment where women and girls can access and use digital tools and the internet. Creating and implementing gender-responsive policies, initiatives and programmes will increase awareness among women and girls. They will not only leverage the digital economy and advancement but the younger ones will have role models to look up to and emulate.
We must also address online violence and harassment. Companies that run digital platforms, including social media, should create safe online spaces for women and girls and provide accessible and transparent reporting and complaints procedures. There is a need for increasing awareness of online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence and its impact on women and girls. Most importantly, law enforcement agencies and courts must take action when ICT tools are used for gender-based violence.
Let’s work together to bring women and girls into technology to leverage the creative solutions and potential for innovations they get in and to give them a platform on which they can thrive without fear of violence or violation of their rights.
This article was written by Ms Evelyn Samba, Kenya country director at DSW, and was first published by the Daily Nation on March 8, 2023.