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Gains in women’s rights made online are not always certain or stable

January 22, 2015  »  ICT PolicyNo Comment

The 2013 edition of GISWatch (published in December 2013) explores women’s rights and gender through the lens of ICTs. It includes a series of expert reports on pivotal issues facing women online. Themes include improving access to telecommunications, increasing online security, and encouraging the social and political participation of women. Country reports give depth to examples of how the internet is empowering women in Africa.



GISWatch 2013 shows that gains in women’s rights made online are not always certain or stable. While access to the internet for women has increased their participation in the social, economic and governance spheres, there is there is another side to these opportunities: online harassment, cyberstalking, and violence against women online.

This GISWatch is a call to action, to the increased participation of women in all forms of technological governance and development, and to a reaffirmation and strengthening of their rights online.”

A 2012 study by Research ICT Africa (still applicable today) affirms women generally have less access to ICTs and use them less effectively. This trend only increases as the technologies and services become more sophisticated and expensive. An underlying gender gap in income and education contributes to the exclusion of women in ICT. Altering ICT policies will not close this gap. Instead, policy interventions in other areas will allow women and girls to better enjoy the benefits of ICTs. This includes programs that incentivize the education of girls. Partnerships could be created to provide vocational and ICT skills training for women entrepreneurs to address the educational gap and increase their earning potential.

GISWatch country report summaries:


  • Multipurpose community telecentres (MPCTs) provide internet access in rural areas. Surveys were given at five of these centers. Many girls still think that computers and technology are a man’s issue. Some girls do not see what benefit they will gain from using technology. Many girls are not even encouraged to use technology because of cultural constraints which create a situation where many boys end up oriented towards science subjects while girls end up oriented towards the arts.
  • One will find more women today learning how to use computers and connecting to the internet, and more women are involved in computer studies. There are associations here in Cameroon which have that goal, such as PROTEGE QV, and even associations specialized in the promotion of women computer scientists, such as PROFIN.
  • Women, it was found, prefer sophisticated phones to show off to peers. However, many of them do not make use of one third of the phones’ applications. The applications they make most use of include chatting applications like WhatsApp, Viber, Yahoo Messenger and Skype.
  • Due to a lack of mobility and access to income, rural women are more likely to be deprived of access to ICTs than rural men.
  • In rural Cameroon, women do not use the internet to access critical information useful to support those that have been discriminated against. They have also not used the internet for information that could help them make decisions about themselves, their lives, their bodies, or to exercise autonomy or self-determination.
  • Action steps: increase awareness of information services, provide free training campaigns for women’s groups, extend financial assistance to ICT training for rural women, build more telecentres

Democratic Republic of Congo

  • With the increase in the number of internet users and service abuses and owing to the easy access provided by mobile telephones, we are witnessing the appearance of violence against women making use of these technologies.
  • Telephones and applications that allow anonymity are used to frighten women. They are threatened to discourage them from talking about “distressing” subjects.
  • The Criminal Code has become obsolete as it does not incorporate the new forms of violence against women.
  • Violence against female politicians using information and communications technologies (ICTs) may merely be the reflection of the cultural conservatism which believes that women are not meant to be decision makers.
  • Action steps: legally protect women against technology-based violence, raise awareness of the benefits of including women in decision making, encourage companies offering internet-based services to openly fight these violent acts


  • ICTs were and continue to be an important tool for political resistance for Egyptian women. Egyptian women have used Web 2.0 channels for online disobedience, sabotage and resistance.
  • Most activists use at least one platform, or a combination of mobile communication, email and social networks, including Twitter. ICTs played a major role in exchange, with information being shared quickly, points of view being discussed, and actions organized throughout the Egyptian revolution and its aftermath. For women, the internet, especially the social networks and Twitter, were a convenient way to express their opinions, call for national and international alerts to sexual attacks and harassment, call for rallies and boycotts, voice their opposing points of view, and uncover and warn about attacks and dangers.
  • Online activism is just one aspect of activism. The traditional “street-based” activism is still needed to sustain the momentum of a revolution.
  • Action steps: continue to raise issues online, do not rely solely on ICTs for political campaigning and support-base building, utilize ICTs in education to provide tools for independent female thinking


  • The national ICT policy of Ethiopia clearly stipulates in its strategies for implementing the policy that it “supports the development of ICT systems and programs that enhance the participation of women and the disabled.”
  • The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) has allowed “price discovery” for farmers where previously producers had little knowledge of international market prices and could rely only on middlemen who pocketed the largest share of the profits by selling on heavily marked-up goods. Female traders do not need to go through the process of negotiating, selling and receiving money, as the exchange does all the work for them, using ICTs.
  • The Association of Women in Business (AWiB) is a good example of a platform for mid-level career women and business owners that has enabled women from diverse backgrounds and with diverse dreams to come together using its dynamic website and to help each other explore their career paths.
  • Action steps: develop ICT training programs for women in order to address gender inequalities, have government begin implementing favorable ICT strategies, have ECX provide special support to women

Ivory Coast

  • Social media, under the banner of parliament member Yasmina Ouégnin, has allowed women to debate issues online and be heard.
  • Action steps: better use the internet to observe women’s rights, utilize social media for political consultation with the population, train civil organizations working on the protection of women’s rights to use the internet in their work


  • According to a 2012 study conducted by the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), cyber crime against women is becoming a widespread and destructive problem involving stalking, sexual harassment, digital manipulation of photographic images, fraudulent postings and advertisements, persistent abusive mobile messages, sex trafficking, humiliating comments that reinforce gender-constructed stereotypes, professional sabotage, identity theft, and intimate photos and videos used for blackmailing women in violent relationships, among others.
  • Cyber security/crime legal and regulatory frameworks lack consideration of the social and gender impact of cyber crime.
  • Unless women are willing to forgo the internet’s economic, social, and political opportunities, they cannot walk away from the online environment without paying a high price.
  • Action steps: lobby for legislative revisions that protect women’s rights, discuss how ISPs can be liable for criminal discussions, improve cyber security framework, teach women’s organizations and the media how to address the issue of online violence


  • Studies of how Nigerian women use information and communications technologies (ICTs) have shown that in spite of the challenges of relevant skills, cost and access and role models, more women are utilizing ICTs to facilitate “their empowerment and in the fight against gender-based violence.”
  • Nigerian women and the general public have demonstrated what ICTs can achieve to promote the rights of girls and ensure that child marriages are abolished.
  • Action steps: continue to work with civil society groups to raise awareness of women’s rights, continue to use social media to galvanize public opinion

Republic of Congo

  • The internet has supported women’s movements on crucial topics such as the right to health care, education and female leadership, and the fight against violence, among others.
  • The desire to gain knowledge and to be connected has led women to seek information and develop new programs.
  • Women are able to use an internet platform created by the Association for Progressive Communications and AZUR Développement to report and map domestic violence.
  • Internet access for Congolese activists who work with civil society organizations is further complicated by a lack of equipment, financing and technical skills.
  • More women and organizations are now using blogs to make their voices heard.
  • Organizations have been able to join regional and international networks, as well as benefit from the reinforcement of skills, grants and knowledge.
  • Problems linked to women’s socioeconomic status, family responsibilities, and the lack of content responding to their needs can account for some women’s disinterest in the internet.
  • Women’s technology skills remain weak, however. According to surveys conducted with 15 organisations, among groups of 20 to 50 members, only two or three female leaders on average per group are trained in and regularly use the internet.
  • Action steps: train women on use of the internet, encourage women to create online content, advocate for better national ICT infrastructure (and electricity), encourage online networking among different organizations, integrate ICT teaching into the national education system, adopt legal policies protecting women online


  • National ICT strategies highlight gender as a cross-cutting pillar in all sectors of development though tech disciplines are still dominated by men.
  • A big policy gap was identified in the role of ICTs in promoting women’s right, fostering women’s economic empowerment, and involving women actively in the transformation of daily life using ICT opportunities.
  • Following the celebration in Rwanda of the international Girls in ICT Day, initiated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), three outcomes among others were recorded: the creation of Girls in ICT Rwanda, the creation of Camp TechKobwa, and the establishment of SMART Girl as a main pillar for the SMART Rwanda program.
  • The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has a department in charge of women’s entrepreneurship through ICT development, business development services, market orientation and the scaling up of businesses.
  • Young girls and boys are being trained (through OLPC) to be accustomed to gathering information online on various topics at an early age and encouraged to work in the science and technology field.
  • Statistics show that citizens living in rural areas have limited ownership of ICT devices, such as computers, smartphones and TVs. Most of these are women.
  • Action steps: encourage the private sector to target ICT in rural areas, have the private sector mentor women, have the government raise awareness of women’s careers in tech, collect data on women’s ICT usage

South Africa

  • FEMNET argues that there are no major women’s rights organizations championing access to information.
  • Due to their more precarious economic situation, women in Africa and in South Africa, and by extension rural women, are still the most marginalized when it comes to access to mobile communications.
  • South African women spend on average more than 8% of their monthly income on their mobile phones, spending more of their disposable income than men on such expenses. Women tend to use the free features of their mobile phones essentially to receive calls or to send missed calls, or “please call me” SMSes, even though more women than men own mobile phones.
  • While limits to access curtail the freedom of expression of everyone, they impede more particularly the ability of women to access information that would be difficult to discuss for some due to persistent taboos, such as accessing information on sexual and reproductive rights.
  • The potential of the internet to act as an alternative public sphere where power can be contested and rights advocated on a global scale is under threat for women’s rights activists.
  • Action steps: The Right2Know campaign should push for a universal right to communication – ubiquitous, dialogic, and anonymous


  • Information and communications technologies (ICTs), especially the internet and mobile telephones, are being used to provide services especially in health, as well as to boost entrepreneurial skills for Tanzanian women.
  • Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), which embarked on establishing knowledge centres across Tanzania aimed at giving grassroots women and men access to ICTs.
  • Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT), is using mobile money, commonly referred to as M‑Pesa, to help provide rural women with access to treatment for vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF).
  • A national Healthy Pregnancy and Safe Motherhood multimedia campaign allows expectant mothers to receive free text messages and appointment reminders in Swahili.
  • Action steps: promote the adoption of technologies that can empower women, encourage the private sector to develop applications to reach women, raise awareness among women for the potential of technology to make their voices heard


  • WOUGNET believes that there is a need to create awareness amongst the public through the use of social media, other online platforms and mailing lists.
  • The Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association has run media campaigns and has posted updates on their Parliament of Uganda Facebook account to ensure that people understand that the bill needs to be passed.
  • Action steps: use online platforms to advocate for amended legislation in favor of women’s rights, harmonize messages so the women’s network speaks with one voice

GISWatch is a joint initiative by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (Hivos).

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