by Grace Githaiga
March 8 marked the World Women’s Day, a day set aside to pay tribute to women’s rights. There were celebrations all over the World aimed at honoring women.
In Kenya, the Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) Kenya Chapter, joined forces with the US Embassy in Kenya, UNESCO, the Ministry of ICT, women leaders drawn from various county assemblies, women broadcasters, journalists and ICT practitioners, to launch the women’s rights online digital gender gap scorecard . The Digital Gender gap scorecard is a tool kit that aims at facilitating those working on women and technology issues to maintain pressure and keep governments on toes so that policies which will assist in the accomplishment of Sustained Development Goals (SDGs) on women and technology are implemented.
The scorecard is informed by a survey that was undertaken by the local chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television in conjunction with the Web Foundation, as part of a ten country study that sought to measure progress, and establish what drives action where women and ICTs are concerned.
In assessing the digital gender gap, five key indicators which can be used to appraise strides made by a country in closing the digital gap are highlighted. The indicators are as follows, and here, they provide the Kenyan picture:
Women surveyed in the slums of Nairobi indicated that data prices are “unrealistic” when compared to their incomes. As such, this hampers their getting online. Accordingly plans being undertaken by the government to offer free Wi-Fi in libraries and in innovative hubs are welcome. Moreover, participants attending the launch agreed that it would also be important to also focus on how women can increase their incomes using the Internet.
Access and empowerment
That 20% of women are connected to the Internet, in contrast to 57% of men. However, the survey did not indicate what these women are doing with the connection. Dr. Cate Getao the ICT secretary at the Ministry of ICT observed that women are not time wasters. It would have therefore been interesting to see what 20 % of men would be doing on the Internet. “For example are they betting considering the craze around sports betting in this country?” She nevertheless indicated that “the picture is looking better everyday” as far as access to ICTs are concerned. Dr Getao’s sentiments resonated with those of Nanjira Sambuli of the Web Foundation who noted that it would be important to find out who is connected, and what are they using the connection for.
Relevant content and online services
The finding was that 55% of women in Kenya engage in mobile financial services. Further, that the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy explicitly underscores the use of ICTs for information distribution. This finding raised the debate during the launch and there was a feeling that probably women are not finding anything useful to do on the internet. Therefore as women organizations and the government, there is need to ask what plan is in place to have more useful content that would attract more women online. “We need to enhance the use of enabling technology that gives women a sense of purpose” appealed Lydia Gachungi of Unesco.
In addition, Fiona Evans of Kenya’s US embassy called on participants to mentor and encourage young women so that they feel empowered and make use of ICTs a reality. Each woman was encouraged to choose five or ten people that they can mentor so that these young women can carry the torch. If there are more women participants on the Internet, then they can contribute in shaping technology.
Digital skills and education
When it comes to utilization of the internet, only 25% of women had looked for important information associated with their rights on the internet. This is a disturbing finding that indicates the very little digital dividends being reaped by Kenyan women. Nonetheless, it was noted that the Kenyan government has a national plan on ICTs in education, whose approach is to produce “e-ready” schools in counties even though there is lack of information on the number of schools currently connected to the Internet. In addition, there are other initiatives led by different organizations such as the digital training for women in Matete, Western Kenya, spearheaded by Nethope and its partners, and which aims to bring more women online.
Another concern was also raised on whether there is any plan on ICT expertise for the visually impaired and other persons with disabilities.
More than one in five Kenyan women surveyed said they had encountered online harassment. Moreover, it was noted that the national legal framework which provides for online security safeguards is silent on women and girls.
There were other concerns raised by participants attending the launch. For example, it was felt that the Universal Service Fund meant to support underserved populations is underutilized. It would for example be interesting to see so far how many women have benefitted in relation to men.
Eunice Ogendo, the Education and ICT secretary at Homabay County noted that at county level such as Homabay County, the ICT budget is less than 3% of the overall county budget, with 8 staff, seven of who are men and only one is a woman. Further, that all ICT suppliers are men.
Overall, there is need to enhance the use of enabling technology that gives women a sense of purpose. Further, ICTs should be affordable and accessible to women for SDGs achievement. In addition, government ICT policies must address gender gaps while disaggregating data in ways that can help the country see where action is needed.
The score card recommends a five point action plan namely the improvement of internet infrastructure, increase in access and affordability, prioritization of digital education in all schools, development of relevant content for citizen participation, and end of online gender based violence.