Bridging the Gender Digital Divide is Critical for Achieving Digital Rights in Africa

By Victor Kapiyo |

Digital technologies have created new spaces for interaction and enabled new ways to connect, share experiences, work and build communities. These technologies continue to be influential and have the potential of enhancing growth and expanding opportunities for the realisation of women’s rights in Africa. Indeed, access to the internet and digital devices has become central to the empowerment of women and girls, and in enabling them to realise and enjoy their digital rights. 

Women and girls in Africa form a key constituency and a distinct category in their experiences in using the internet compared to men and boys. Plan International points out that while technology and the internet can be a great enabler for women and girls, lack of opportunities and skills, and fear of discrimination, could prevent many from using and creating digital tools and online content. 

Indeed, the growing digital gender divide in access to the internet in Africa limits the potential of the internet and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to contribute to achieving gender equality, women’s rights and digital rights for women and girls. Notably, there is a substantial divide between men and women in internet access and use globally, as a majority of the 2.9 billion people who remain unconnected are women and girls. 

According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in 2013, only 37% of all women were online, compared to 41% of all men. In 2017, the global internet penetration rate for men stood at 50.9% compared to 44.9% for women. This increased in 2019, with ​the proportion of women using the internet globally standing at 48%, compared to 58% of men. In 2022, 62% of men were using the internet compared to 57% of women, meaning that the global internet use gender gap stands at 8%. However, this divide is more glaring in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), many of which are in Africa, where only 19% of women used the internet in 2020, compared to 86% in the developed world. 

Furthermore, the digital gender divide in Africa has continued to widen as most of the new internet users since 2013 were men. According to the GSMA, women in developing countries are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men and are less likely than men to utilise mobile data, social media applications or SMS services. Sub-Saharan Africa still has the most expensive data prices in the world, according to the 2021 Worldwide Mobile Data Pricing Report, with the average price for 1GB of mobile data coming in at USD 6.44. An analysis by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) shows that 1GB of mobile broadband data became less affordable in 2021 than in 2020, following the impact of Covid-19, with the cost increasing by 12% in the LDCs.

Access remains critical to achieving digital inclusion. In countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe evidence of the digital divide exists as shown in the table below. The high cost of access is driven by taxes such as those introduced in Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia which are paid prior to accessing the internet and social media platforms. In some countries like Uganda, in addition to the high taxes, some social media platforms like Facebook are still blocked and are only accessible through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Further, save for Zimbabwe and Lesotho, the remaining countries fall below the average internet penetration rates in Africa and globally. With respect to mobile penetration, with the exception of Mozambique and Uganda, the other four countries reviewed in this blog – Lesotho, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are ranked above the African and global average, according to the Datareportal

Notably, all six countries fall below African and global social media use rates.  Despite being ranked highest among these countries, Lesotho still stood at 18.7% below the African average. However, it is important to note that there is limited availability of reliable gender-disaggregated data in Sub-Saharan Africa, where inequality is at its greatest.

The 2018 After Access study on “Understanding the Gender Gap in the Global South” revealed that poorer countries from Africa such as Rwanda, Tanzania and Mozambique, showed high gender disparity in ICT access and use, with women being on the lower end. Further, sex, income, education and location were significant determinants of whether people used the internet, with women having a lesser chance and lagging behind men. The study also found that women who were more educated, with higher incomes, and living in urban areas were likely to have greater access to the internet than those in rural areas generally. 

The cost of devices was the primary barrier for the unconnected, while the price of data services was the main barrier for those who were connected. In rural areas, access to electricity was a greater challenge than mobile coverage. The study also revealed that the knowledge of the internet was lower among women in rural areas, with only 35% indicating knowledge of the internet. Indeed, sex remains a key determinant of the probability of an individual owning a mobile phone. These findings are not unique and could mirror the situation in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, several instruments such as the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), African Platform for Action, the Dakar Declaration of 1994, the Beijing Platform for Action of 1995, the Sustainable Development Goals call for the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of women’s rights and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights call for the promotion and protection of women’s digital rights. These instruments, which enjoy wide acceptance in the continent, highlight the need for stronger protection of women’s rights and could present an opportunity for the use of ICT to empower women, including through the promotion of universal internet access. 

Additionally, governments according to an A4AI report are missing out on USD 1 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP) as a result of women’s exclusion. The report notes that governments are not adopting the policies needed to bridge the digital gender gap, with 40% of 29 countries studied in 2020 lacking meaningful policies or programmes to expand women’s access to the internet. 

Empowering women and girls through the provision of meaningful access to the internet and digital technologies could undoubtedly provide them with opportunities to start businesses, and to access education, health, social and financial services. It could also be a powerful tool to enable women and girls to participate in governance, to associate, assemble and express themselves on digital rights issues that are dear to them and to develop relevant content for their empowerment. In addition, there is a need to increase women’s representation in leadership and decision-making roles within the ICT sector.  

Therefore, in order to bridge the gender digital divide, African governments need to urgently implement legislative, policy, administrative and practical measures to address the existing structural inequalities in income, education, and employment opportunities, and stem the political, economic, legal, cultural, technological and social barriers that lead to the exclusion of women and girls from accessing and using the internet and ICT. These measures should include developing affirmative action that ensures that more women and girls have access to affordable internet and digital devices, meaningful connectivity and sound digital literacy and skills. Finally, closing the digital gender gap will require that countries collect and share gender and age disaggregated data on access and use of ICT in order to help track and evaluate progress and shape policies geared towards promoting the enjoyment of digital rights by women and girls on the continent.

Policy Brief: Taxing Ugandan Citizens Out Of The Digital Society

By Edrine Wanyama |

Uganda’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector contributes 9% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and could contribute to the country’s socio-economic transformation through innovation and food security, access to markets such as for agricultural produce, and improved service delivery. However, a new Policy Brief by CIPESA shows that universal, affordable access remains largely unattained due to the high and multiple taxes on digital products and services.

According to the GSMA’s Mobile Connectivity Index, which measures key enablers of mobile internet adoption such as infrastructure, affordability, content and services, Uganda lags behind its neighbours Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. 

According to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), by September 2021, the country had 29.1 million telephone subscriptions that translate into a national penetration of seven connections for every 10 Ugandans. However, the proportion of Ugandans who actually own or use mobile phones is less than 70% due to multiple SIM card ownership. Internet subscriptions stood at 22 million, or a penetration of 52%, yet the percentage of the population that actually uses the internet is much lower, as many users have multiple subscriptions.

Internet and mobile telephone penetration are still low in Uganda in comparison to  Kenya with 122% internet penetration and 133% mobile penetration, Rwanda with 64.4% internet penetration and 84.2% mobile penetration, and Tanzania with 50% internet penetration and 91% mobile penetration. The average phone subscriber in Uganda spends just UGX 10,500 (about USD 2.8) per month on voice, data and SMS services. This average revenue per user (ARPU) in Uganda is significantly lower than in other African countries.

Uganda levies  a direct 12% levy on the net price of internet data, after which a Value Added Tax (VAT) of 18% applies. There is also a 12% excise duty on prepaid airtime, postpaid airtime, and value added services, as well as a 10% import duty on devices. This multiple taxation translates into high cost of services, devices, hardware and software, with suppliers and service providers passing on the financial burden onto consumers, thereby aggravating the affordability challenge. 

With one of highest mobile data rates in the region, with 1 GB of data costing up to 16.2% of an average Ugandan’s monthly income, digital exclusion has been perpetuated with the groups most excluded from the digital economy being the elderly, rural communities, persons with disabilities , the youth, refugees  and migrants. Indeed,  research has found that Ugandan men are 43% more likely to be online than women. 

Meanwhile, according to the Brief, innovation and e-commerce continue to suffer regression with initiatives such as the National ICT Initiatives Support Programme (NIISP) and Digital Uganda Vision achieving minimal impact. This is because poor internet access hinders knowledge creation and stifles innovation in a world where fintechs, mobile payments and a growing array of e-services and e-trade are getting mainstreamed. Similarly, freedom of expression and access to information continue to be undermined despite consistent calls upon the government by the private sector to government to refrain from blocking access to the internet and some social media sites such as Facebook, a practice that undermines citizens’ access to information and freedom of expression, and which also cripples business operations.

The high and multiple digital taxation in Uganda has greatly undermined the ICT sector’s potential as a driver of socio-economic transformation and perpetuates exclusion. It also means that e-governance, e-services and e-commerce cannot achieve full scale, citizens’ access to information and public participation is undermined, and the innovation ecosystem remains frail.

The Brief  calls upon  the government, civil society and the technology sector to take the following measures for progressive reform in the sector. 


  • Repeal all retrogressive legislation such as the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act of 2021 which provides for a 12% levy on the net price of internet data.
  • Lower the Value Added Tax on ICT services from the current 18% to not more than 12%, and reduce by 50% the import duty on ICT devices as well as the excise duty on airtime and value added services.
  • Undertake measures, such as tax incentives, to lower the cost of assistive technologies like screen readers, text-to-speech software, manual Perkins Brailler, hand-held magnifiers, hand frames/slates and communication boards for persons with disabilities.
  • Refrain from implementing measures that disrupt access to the internet and social media, and if any such measures are taken, they should be absolutely necessary, proportionate and for a very limited period of time.
  • Deliberately undertake measures to expand access and usage of ICT by disadvantaged groups, such as through leveraging the universal service fund (RCDF) to fund connectivity and services, as well as digital literacy programmes for rural dwellers, poor women, and persons with disabilities.

Civil Society

  • Advocate for affordable and inclusive access including through awareness campaigns and building the capacity of grassroots communities to push back against digital exclusion.
  • Engage in public policy consultations and challenge laws such as the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act of 2021 and others that impose an undue tax burden on digital services and devices.
  • Collaborate with government and technology actors in efforts to promote digital literacy and infrastructure sharing among others.
  • Research and document barriers to digital inclusion to form the basis for advocacy and engagement including through human rights review mechanisms 

Technology Sector

  • Comply with universal service obligations through infrastructure sharing and provision of accessible services/subsidies for marginalised communities.
  • Collaborate with civil society in efforts to promote digital literacy and innovation.
  • Engage in public policy consultations and challenge laws such as the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act of 2021 and others that impose an undue tax burden on digital services and devices.

Read the full Brief here

Media Training on Disability and Digital Rights in Africa

Call for Applications |

In the lead up to the International Disability Day, on December 3, 2021, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is inviting journalists from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda to apply for a two-day media training on Disability and Digital Rights in Africa. The virtual training will take place over two full days on December, 1-2, 2021.


Although the East African region has experienced considerable growth in the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), persons with disabilities in the region still face difficulties in accessing and using  these technologies and thus continue to miss out on the benefits that they bring. According to national census data, the percentage of persons with disabilities in Tanzania is 8% of the total population, 3.5% in Kenya, and 14% in Uganda.

A study on ICT Accessibility Barriers for Persons with Disabilities, found that while Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda have enacted various laws and policies to advance the rights of persons with disabilities, including those on access to and use of ICT, these have largely remained on paper with key provisions not being implemented. As a result, a large section of persons with disabilities continue to face digital exclusion.

The situation is exacerbated by the high cost of assistive technologies, low literacy levels among persons with disabilities, and lack of investments in supportive infrastructure by public and private entities.

Many of the obstacles and challenges faced by persons with disabilities in accessing information, education and employment can be mitigated through equitable access to ICT. To achieve this, several stakeholders, including the media, policy makers, regulators and ICT service providers must take decisive steps in terms of the development, production, cost and availability of certain requirements and equipment and creating an enabling environment for the promotion and respect of ICT accessibility rights for persons with disabilities. For media in particular, there is need for investigate and highlight digital exclusion challenges faced by persons with disabilities; provide a platform and voice for persons with disability; through their reporting, hold duty bearers accountable for any violations of digital rights of persons with disability; and offer their news and other programmes in accessible  formats, especially the broadcast and online platforms.

Purpose of the Workshop

The workshop will equip the participants with the requisite knowledge and skills  to effectively report about  the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities and contribute towards promoting digital accessibility through fair, accurate, and enterprise coverage  on persons with disabilities.

Topics to be covered will include:

  • Laws and Policies on Disability and ICT
  • Key ICT and Disability Rights Issues in East Africa
  • Disability and Technology – Facts and Myths
  • The Media and Digital Rights for Persons with Disability
  • Checklist for Media Coverage of ICT and Disability

CIPESA will cover participants’ internet connectivity costs.

If interested, please fill this application Form by  November 20, 2021

Successful applicants will be notified on November 26, 2021

Call for Proposals: Defending Digital Rights through Policy Advocacy

Call for Proposals |

Since its launch in 2019, the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) has worked to grow the number of individuals and organisations that work to advance digital rights in Africa through rapid response and flexible grants. Furthermore, the fund has provided technical and institutional support to further enhance grantee’s efforts and ensure sustainability.

Inspired by the exceptional work of grantees to date, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has partnered with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) to support select current or previous ADRF grantees to deploy a six-month policy advocacy campaign that furthers the conversation on internet freedom.

Building on existing efforts, recipients will be encouraged to use the Democratic Principles for an Open Internet and/or the Open Internet for Advocacy Playbook as a framework for the advocacy campaigns focused on advancing internet freedom. Recipients will also be encouraged to engage with diverse stakeholder groups in the advocacy projects, including local private sector organizations, and government ministries focused on the digital economy when relevant. 

Grant amounts will range between USD 5,000 and USD 8,000 based on the need and scope of the proposed intervention. 

Applicants MUST be a previous or current ADRF grantee organization.

The deadline for submissions is March 5, 2021. 

The application form can be accessed here.


The grant period will last approximately six months. (Approximate start date: April 2021)


  • Implement a policy advocacy initiative that promotes and protects digital rights at a local, national, or regional level. Advocacy plans must articulate how the project contributes to conversations on advancing internet freedom and outline the potential impact of the project activities. Applicants are strongly encouraged to incorporate the use of the Democratic Principles for an Open Internet and/or the Open Internet for Democracy Advocacy Playbook in proposed advocacy initiatives. Preference will also be given to project plans that demonstrate: A) the desire to implement a policy advocacy campaign that furthers the conversation on the intersection between internet freedom and an inclusive digital economy; and B) the ability and/or interest to engage with diverse stakeholder groups such as local chambers of commerce, business associations, economic think tanks, and/or entrepreneurs.
    • Examples of what projects might entail include:
      • Organizing an advocacy campaign to raise awareness aimed at equipping policymakers with information about the pitfalls of policies inspired by digital authoritarianism. 
      • Conducting multi-stakeholder workshops or roundtable discussions and developing a policy paper that provides key recommendations on how a proposed government action or policy could be improved to advance the development of an online space that promotes digital rights and an inclusive digital economy. 
  • Provide frequent updates to CIPESA on progress made during the advocacy initiative, and seek guidance from CIPESA as needed. 
  • Prepare a short report on the project activities and outcomes from the advocacy initiative, to be shared with CIPE and CIPESA. The report should also include a list of key stakeholders that were involved in any advocacy-related activities, such as multi-stakeholder dialogues. 
  • Participate in a regional dialogue focused on how to advance digital rights across Africa. (Location and dates TBD). 

Selection Criteria 

  • Demonstrated track record from the organization’s work as a current or previous ADRF grantee organization. 
  • Strength, feasibility, and anticipated impact of the proposed project.
  • Ability to travel and present at a regional dialogue which furthers the conversation on internet freedom (location TBD; costs covered for one representative from each selected organization; In-person participation in the event is contingent on health considerations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Selected candidates are expected to participate online if the events are moved online due to COVID-19).