It is estimated that 25% fewer women than men use the Web in developing countries, with this gap widening to 45% in sub-Saharan Africa. Women of Uganda Network, WOUGNET, contributed to recent research commissioned by the World Wide Web Foundation which shows the extent of female exclusion online. The research was conducted with the support from the Swedish International Development Agency, Sida. The World Web Foundation has launched the Women’s Rights Online initiative with the aim of getting policy change in a number of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In this guest blog for the CDAC Network WOUGNET’s Coordinator, Dr. Dorothy Okello, says communication services for women is vital.
When women get online, they can learn about their rights and how to report violence. Not only that, women are also exposed to more opportunities to compete in businesses, jobs and learning to improve their livelihoods. This connectivity is vital in women’s social and economic empowerment. And it is why we have been campaigning for our government to take the issue of Online Gender Equality seriously. But it is not only about getting information online. In April the Pew Research Centre published a report that showed 77% of Ugandan men own a mobile phone, while only 54% of Ugandan women do, and a similar story was found in 6 other African countries surveyed.[i] We should not be surprised. Communication tools such as mobile phones and the internet represent power, and their availability is likely to reflect power relationships. But this has to change. We need societies where women enjoy equal Internet access and rights. Our country is surrounded by opportunities for information and communications technologies (ICTs) to address challenges of sustainable development at all levels. Women need to be at the heart of this process. Their needs are often the greatest and the most commonly neglected. Furthermore, the most critical changes in policy direction needed are a guarantee of freedom of expression and association and laws that ensure a safe space for women’s discussions.
The economically active population in Uganda constitutes 47.4 percent males and 52.6 percent females whereas, unemployment among women in urban areas is twice compared to that of men. This low participation of women in formal labour market affects their level of affording internet and thus affecting access; thereby widening the gender gap in access and usage of ICTs.
Without an approach to ICTs that concentrates on gender equality maximum benefits for society as a whole will not realised. It seems to me people often speak about communication systems without addressing this point. Even when aid agencies speak there is a sense that the benefits of improving access would be felt broadly and widely as if the internet and mobile networks are a blanket covering all. We know that this is not the case. Such innovations are likely in fact to simply echo existing societal wrongs and perceptions. It is important that all those interested in helping the poorest and most marginalised to their best to make sure that these are included in the policy debate and can make their needs heard.