On September 13 and 14, 2016, nearly 150 digital equality advocates from across Africa and the world gathered in Accra, Ghana for the inaugural Africa Summit on Women and Girls in Technology. For two days, participants came together to share their experiences, insights, and ideas for developing a strong digital future in Africa that is powered by — and empowering for — African women.
We explored how technology policy can further the rights and interests of women in Africa, and how these policies can work to close the growing gender digital divide. The 2016 Africa Summit on Women and Girls in Technology was a collaboration between the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), the World Wide Web Foundation, UN Women, the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Center of Excellence in ICT (AITI-KACE), and the African Development Bank.
The aim of the conference was to design solutions that will enable millions of African women and girls to benefit from access to technology—and use their skills to build a better Africa for all.
The focus areas were:
Access and Affordable broadband
As per the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and the industry regulator Communications Authority, the ICT penetration rate improved in 2015 and is partly attributed to the affordability of mobile phones in the market, cheaper internet bundles offered by mobile operators and finalization of phase one of laying the fiber optic cables across the country.
The Global Report on Women’s Rights Online by the World Wide Web Foundation shows that there are stark inequities in access as it has been found that while nearly all women and men own a phone, women are still nearly 50% less likely to access the Internet than men in poor urban communities.
Digital Education and Skills
Digital literacy skills:– Research has shown that most women do not use ICTs for lack of appropriate digital literacy skills; they simply do not know how to use the devices or the content as they cited lack of know-how.
In response, several partnerships are being undertaken to impart these skills and have so far indicated a corresponding increase in incomes for women after trainings on digital literacy.
African women are known to be very hardworking and entrepreneurial in all they do. Most SMEs are actually run by women; think of the mama mboga, the shop keeper, the market lady etc. However, few have been able to harness the opportunities provided by ICTs and leverage use of the internet in their businesses.
To counter this, we seek to empower women through platforms for women entrepreneurs to share their experiences and increase knowledge on the benefits of ICTs and the Internet. Additionally, by encouraging exploring the possibilities of digital jobs; how can women work productively from home.
Women’s Rights Online
The Global Report indicates that 97% of female users who are online are on social media but only 48% are expanding their social networks by making new friends and connections online.
Considering that the Internet is an extension of the real world, online rights are as paramount and important as the offline rights granted to all human beings. Rights online should therefore be protected offline by governments. The question that beckons is if women rights aren’t guaranteed offline why should they be guaranteed online?
The World Wide Web Report indicates that Women are half as likely as men to speak out online despite the fact that they recognize and value of the Internet as a space for commenting on important issues. Freedom given isn’t freedom at all, women have to express their rights online as well as offline.
Unlike other women in tech gatherings, a major agenda enumerated for this meeting included ICT Policy. Asking the question of how tech policy can further women and girls interests and how to ensure gender responsive policy is implemented.
We had lessons on how to review regulation and analyze policy through the gender lens, how to measure the gender responsiveness of proposed as well as existing laws especially in ICT and encouraging advocacy for gender specific data collection from responsible state agencies.
We all vowed to create a movement and REACT.
Rights (to advocate for protection of human rights both online and offline).
Education (to increase and facilitate access to information and impart necessary skills required to women and girls).
Access (to enhance access to content as well as devices by encouraging women to build for women and advocate for affordable devices).
Content (to encourage local content development for information that African women would need, require and seek; in accessible formats and language).
Targets (to set realistic targets to facilitate regular monitoring and evaluation).
It’s time for women to stop scraping the bottom. The time is right to place women in development putting women in technology, at the heart of technology.