Illiteracy and high cost widen gender gap in ICT access

Gender gap in ICT
Copyright: Marc Shoul / Panos

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  • A report says Ugandan women face twice the challenges men face in ICT access
  • Experts attribute the challenges to low literacy and ICT policies that affect women
  • A lawyer calls for women’s interest to be at the centre of discussions on ICT

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[KAMPALA] Many African women have less free time to experiment with new information and communication technology (ICT) and also experience twice as many challenges accessing the Internet as men do, a report on Uganda has shown.
The report by the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) says Ugandan women face challenges such as working infrastructure and high illiteracy rate compared to men.

“I have seen this especially in the rural areas. When we go to train women in using ICTs they send their daughters who are educated.”

Goretti Amuriat, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)

The report was launched in December 2014, but was discussed at an event to commemorate Women’s Day this month (8 March) in Kampala, Uganda.
According to the report,82 percent of men in Uganda are literate compared to only 64 percent of women.
Goretti Amuriat, WOUGNET programme manager for gender and information and communication technology (ICT),says the most pressing barriers affecting women’s access to ICTs are low literacy levels, affordability and ICT policy decisions, which affect women uniquely.
“I have seen this especially in the rural areas.When we go to train women in using ICTs they send their daughters who are educated,”Amuriat adds.
For women to access ICTs just like men, Amuriat argues, they need to get rid of technophobia as many of them do not use their phones beyond calling,receiving calls and text messages.
And those who have phones do not have the funds to load airtime, she adds.   

“As women, so many things claim our money, and very few women perceive the immediate material benefits associated with the Internet and technology,” Amuriat states.

A case study from Mozambique mentioned as a way of comparison at the event showed that poor, rural, illiterate women felt excluded from the Internet, computers and other technologies. They say these technologies were not designed for “people like them.”

As the Women’s Day was commemorated worldwide, a call was made for organisations with expertise in ICT issues to play an active role in national discussions regarding balanced policy on cybersecurity and Internet freedom.

“We need to explore how inclusive these laws are.Women have to be consulted,” said Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, CEO of Unwanted Witness, a non-profit organisation in Uganda that promotes access to information. “Are there incentives within these laws to promote women to use ICTs?”

Peter Magelah, a human rights lawyer based in Uganda, says women’s interests should be at the centre of this discussion, as they are also distinctively at risk of abuse online.

Researchers say with no responsible framework for cybersecurity, violence against women has the potential to disseminate through ICTs across long distances and to remote areas quickly and in high volumes.

Ashnah Kalemera, programme officer at the Uganda-based Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa, says there is a lack of disaggregated gender and ICT information.
Such a problem inhibits understanding gender disparities of access and control over ICT and designing appropriate ICT initiatives that fully advance gender equality and empowerment, Kalemera adds.

> Link to the report

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.