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Government ICT policy must address gender gaps

Tuesday March 7 2017

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The United Nations will mark this year's International Women's Day  on March 8, 2017. Women are marginalised in all spheres of life including, but not limited to, politics, business, education, culture and most recently, ICTs.

One way to improve the uptake of ICT by women is to provide research output that measures the ICT gender gap in order to identify challenges and provide targeted interventions.

It is within this context that the International Association of Women in Radio & Television, (IAWRT) launched the Women’s Rights Online 2016 Kenya Report at a workshop in Nairobi.

Dr Kate Getao, the ICT Secretary in the Office of the President, who also holds the distinction of being the first female Computer Science PhD holder in Kenya, opened the workshop last week.

She went through the 2016 Kenya report which was published after a comprehensive study done last year in Kenya and five other African countries. It highlighted the ICT gender gap along five thematic areas:

Internet access for Women: The study looked at the existence or lack of ICT gender equity targets within national ICT policy documents and measured the percentage of women with internet access and women empowerment through the web.

"Women empowerment" measured the percentage of women who have used the internet to look for general information, specific information, like work, or expressed themselves through posting comments online. Kenya scored a paltry 2 out of 10, implying that we do have a very large scope for improvement in this thematic area.

Affordability: This measure looked at the monthly price of 1GB of mobile internet data as a proportion of the average monthly incomes. In addition, the study looked for existence of policies that promoted free or low-cost internet access through public libraries, schools or community centres.

Kenya got a fair score of 5 out of 10, perhaps due to its sustained focus on increasing use of and extending ICT services in government.  However, women's incomes are often lower than men's, meanings they would find it harder to afford ICT services

Digital Skills and Education: This measure looked at the percentage of women in technology, engineering, research and development.  Additionally, it looked at the proportion of ICT-qualified female teachers in schools as well as the number of public schools with internet access.

Kenya scored another paltry 2 out of 10, with the report noting that local data was unavailable and so researchers had to rely on and extrapolate data from secondary sources, such as UNESCO.

Relevant Content and Services: Even if people have access and can afford to get online, in the absence of relevant content, they would still not bother getting online.

This measure looked at the percentage of women who found online content relevant in terms finance, health, education or entertainment. Kenya managed a high score of 8 out of 10, with the report attributing this to the high financial inclusion rates arising from the massive use of mobile money subscriptions.

Online Safety:  Some women avoid getting online due to fears ranging from cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking to online fraud. This measure looked at the extent to which law enforcement agencies and the courts take action in cases where ICT tools are used to commit acts of gender-based violence. Additionally, it looked at the existence or lack of national data protection laws.

Kenya scored a final paltry 3 out of 10, meaning that there was little or no attention given to assist women facing cybercriminals online. 

Is summary, the barriers to the adoption and use of ICTs are similar for men and women.  However, women are impacted much more negatively given their historical, socio-cultural disadvantages in society.

Governments must therefore give special attention to ensuring that gender-based gaps are identified and addressed within their national ICT policy guidelines, statistics and strategies.

Without such interventions, we are on our way to replicating within our online space those very same offline disadvantages that women face.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at the Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @jwalu