7 February 2013

Nigeria: Fresh Report Reveals Gender Disparity in the Use of ICTs

A recent report released by Intel Corporation has revealed wide margin disparity between male and female in the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), with women on the lower side.

The report, which focused on selected African countries, identified two major factors affecting the use of internet by females to include Individual and Ecosystem factors.

The Individual factor, according to the findings of the study, has to do with individual capabilities and household rules, which in most African setting, prevents the female from active participation on the internet. On the other, Ecosystem factor has to do with network infrastructure and gender sensitive policy.

However, the report presented a pathway towards closing the internet gender gap and unleashing the benefits of women and girls online. The report's findings were based on interviews and surveys of 2,200 women and girls living in the urban and rural areas of some selected African countries, which include Nigeria, Egypt and Uganda.

Survey findings were substantiated and supplemented by extensive research of existing literature, analysis of global databases, and interviews with more than 40 experts in the fields of gender, the Internet, and ICT for development.

Further findings of the report showed that one out of five women in Africa believed the internet is not "appropriate" for them, citing gender-based barriers.

The women believed engaging in online activities would not be useful for them, and if they did, their families would disapprove of it.

Women's lack of skill or interest in technology as well as affordability of access, were also identified as inhibiting factors. Affordability of access remains a challenge for all, but particularly for women and girls, as most of the surveyed households in Africa revealed that as many as 50 to 70 per cent of respondents cited cost as the main reason they were not connected to the internet.

The survey also revealed that illiteracy level poses a greater problem to online access for women than for men. Across all developing countries, about 75 percent of women are literate, compared to 86 percent of men, the report said.

The report, however, explained that doubling the number of women online within three years was achievable, if government and concerned stakeholders come together to chat a new course for gender inequality in the use of ICTs.

"To help them, stakeholders must put the Internet within their grasp by making it more accessible, affordable, convenient, secure, and engaging for them. The effort will require stakeholders to collaborate and leverage one another's strengths," the report said.

It recommended the expansion of access to affordable platforms through innovative low-cost designs, expansion options for free content access to generate interest and lower the initial hurdle for non-users, support for the establishment and growth of Internet advocacy organisations that prioritise gender-focused initiatives, among others.

Worried about the findings of the report, President of Women in Technology in Nigeria (WITIN), Mrs. Martha Alade, told THISDAY that if the gap between men and women internet usage must be bridged, there should be adequate sensitisation on its benefits.

Alade, who was guest speaker at the recent WICTAD conference, said the internet could offer potentially transformative benefits, stressing that there were myriads of benefits for the female folks from the internet, which include access to improve education, job opportunities, access to health and other services.

Alade re-affirmed WITIN's commitment to increase women's access on ICT usage, through her Grassroots Women Empowerment in Information Technology (GWEIT) project that was launched in December in 2011, and aimed to reach out to 10,000 rural women within a short space of time. The initiative, according to her, "Brings online businesses together and connect women to a wider market opportunities."

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