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Online gender equality a growing priority for Africa

September 23, 2013  »  Broadband & ICT PolicyNo Comment

Globally, there are an estimated 200 million fewer women online than men and the gap will nearly double within the next few years if no action is taken. A recent report from the UN Broadband Commission, titled, “Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women & Girls in the Information Society,” examines the gap between male and female internet users. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, there are only half the number of women connected to the internet as men. Promoting women’s access to ICTs is an important part of development agenda as ICTs provide myriad opportunities for advancing women’s empowerment and inclusion.

Africa is mentioned consistently through the 66-page report. Gender and internet are not commonly cited in African broadband policy and data on women’s access to ICT tools is limited. For one, in sub-Saharan Africa, high prices for internet access disproportionately affect women since they have less income than in other parts of the world. Still, it’s important to raise awareness of the need for equal access to information for all parts of society.

Findings on gender and the internet as they pertain to Africa:

  • In 2008, internet penetration among Egyptian women was 10%, but 15% of males used the internet (a gap of 33%)
  • The Intel Women and the Web report found a 43% in internet gender gap in SSA
  • In Morocco, 10% of female internet users were e-commerce users as opposed to 18% of male internet users
  • 75% of Egyptian men use a smartphone but only 25% of Egyptian women do. 35% of Moroccan women use a smartphone (65% of Moroccan men)
  • At least 11 African nations mention gender in a National Broadband Plan
  • Zimbabwe mentions equity in access to ICTs across the entire economy
  • Egypt plan on equipping girls’ schools with PCs
  • Chad has outlined measures to achieve a framework for ICT gender equality within two years
  • The Gambia has targeted more women to own and manage ICT businesses
  • Malawi is one of four nations with plans to encourage the participation of women in the creation of ICT policies

There are programs working hard to further gender equality in most regions of Africa, but even more are needed:

  • Over 30,000 girls and young women around the world have been encouraged to choose a career in ICTs through the 1,320 International Girls in ICT Day events organized in nearly 90 countries
  • UNESCO has supported technology programs for women in Kenya, Niger, and Burkina Faso, among other countries
  • UN Women has used Harassmap in Egypt to map incidences of sexual assault, has developed an award-winning app game on ending violence against women in South Africa, and has given mobile phones and apps in Rwanda peace huts to report and monitor police response to incidences of violence
  • UNDP, The World Bank Group, GSMA, Cisco, Ericsson, and Intel have also spent significant effort on improving female access to ICTs

General policy recommendations include suggestions to:

  • integrate gender and national broadband policies.
  • improve sex-disaggregated ICT statistics and measurement.
  • boost the affordability and usability of ICTs.
  • improve relevant and local content online.
  • initiate an action plan to achieve gender equality in access to broadband by 2020.