Gender Digital Divide Persists in Africa

By Juliet Nanfuka |

Last month, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) released its Affordability Report 2017 which indicated that while the world will this year mark a significant milestone of 50% global internet penetration, large numbers of women in developing countries remain offline because “they cannot afford to connect.”
The A4AI report’s findings echo earlier reports on the longstanding gender digital gap that is the result of prevailing social and economic barriers including illiteracy, gender roles and various forms of discrimination. In 2013, a report by the Broadband Commission estimated that 200 million more men than women accessed the internet. Similarly, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in 2016 the difference between the Internet user penetration rates for males and females was largest in Africa (23%) and smallest in the Americas (2%).

Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
The A4AI report cites slow policy development and implementation in many of the poorly performing countries as contributors to high access costs and low internet access, furthering the digital divide. Based on a study of 58 countries globally, the report also shows that only half of these countries have public access policies that are backed by financial support for implementation. Universal Service and Access Funds (USAF), aimed at supporting last mile connectivity, either do not exist or are dormant in over a third of countries. Meanwhile, in 41% of countries studied, key frameworks such as national broadband plans to guide policy reforms needed to achieve universal access are outdated or have never been developed.
In its study, A4AI ranked countries based on an Affordability Drivers Index (ADI) which is calculated based on ICT infrastructure deployment, existing policy frameworks to encourage infrastructure expansion, current broadband adoption rates, and existing policy frameworks to enable equitable access.
Latin American countries occupy the top three spots in the ADI ranking, with Columbia leading, followed by Mexico and Peru. The top five ranked African countries were Mauritius (8th), Morocco (11th) and Nigeria (13th). Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire and Rwanda followed in 15th, 18th and 21st positions, respectively.  The lowest ranked were Sierra Leone (56), Ethiopia (55), Burkina Faso (54), Sudan (53) and Cameroon (52).
Table of African Country Ranking

Africa Ranking Rank out of 58 countries Country ADI Score
1 8 Mauritius 61.7
2 11 Morocco 57.75
3 13 Nigeria 56.58
4 15 Botswana 55.37
5 18 Côte d’Ivoire 53.25
6 21 Rwanda 51.48
7 22 South Africa 51.2
8 26 Ghana 50.01
9 29 Benin 48.95
10 30 Kenya 48.82
11 31 Namibia 48.24
12 32 Uganda 47.93
13 34 Tunisia 47.23
14 36 Egypt 45.07
15 37 Zambia 44.95
16 38 Gambia 44.94
17 39 United Republic Of Tanzania 43.73
18 44 Mali 40.81
19 45 Mozambique 40.16
20 47 Senegal 39.07
21 50 Zimbabwe 34.97
22 51 Malawi 34.64
23 52 Cameroon 33.71
24 53 Sudan 32.16
25 54 Burkina Faso 29.68
26 55 Ethiopia 22.22
27 56 Sierra Leone 21.76

Of the 27 African countries studied, all but three (Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone) had broadband policies. Meanwhile, USAF were found to be inactive or not disbursing funds in Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. Active and funded USAFs were reported in Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gambia, and Malawi had no USAF at all.
Nonetheless, the A4AI report recognises efforts by some African governments in pushing for affordable access and wider penetration for lower income groups, including through deploying universal access funds towards last mile connectivity projects, flexible operator licensing regimes, infrastructure sharing and enforcement practices.
Even then, the monthly price of 1GB mobile broadband in many African countries averaged 13% of monthly income. Only Mauritius, Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan had data plans of less than 2% of average monthly income. Sierra Leone, Malawi and Uganda had the most expensive plans relative to income, at 51.89%, 45.53% and 21.71% respectively.
The Web Foundation’s Gender Gap Audit (2016), based on research conducted in 10 countries (including Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria and Egypt in Africa), also raised concerns about the gender digital divide. It stated that, “without a major escalation of policy effort and investment, most of the benefits of technological change in all 10 countries will be captured by men — making gender inequality worse, not better.”

Even when women own mobile phones, there is a significant gender gap in mobile phone usage, which prevents them from reaping the full benefits of mobile phone ownership.
Connected Women Report, 2015

Despite the promise of inclusion offered by ICT, several African women remain on the lower rungs of internet access and use. While some national strategies attempt to address increased gender equality in internet access, this cannot be achieved where progressive policies are not being implemented.

Report: Women's Rights and the Internet in Uganda

This submission is a joint stakeholder contribution to the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism for Uganda. This submission focuses on women’s rights and the internet in Uganda. It explores the extent of implementation of the recommendations made in the previous cycle of the UPR and also identifies emerging concerns in Uganda regarding women’s rights online.
See the full report here

Women And Internet Freedom In East Africa

On March 8, International Women’s Day was marked across the world under the theme “Make It Happen.” The OpenNet Africa initiative, which monitors and promotes internet freedom in Africa, participated in a series of online discussions focused on women in the digital sphere.
A shared theme across all discussions to mark the day was the call for greater protections of women’s rights both online and offline. Many of the disadvantages faced by women offline have been transferred online, leaving many excluded from the information society, while those with access are sometimes targets of online hostility, such as gender based reputation and privacy attacks. In Africa, a key offline disproportionality is the education level and in turn ICT literacy variance between men and women.

Pan-African efforts such as the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms call for the creation and promotion of online content that “reflects women’s voices and needs, that promotes and supports women’s rights – in order to address existing gender inequalities and encourage active participation and empowerment of women via online spaces.” The Declaration recognises the need for mechanisms that enable the full, active and equal participation of women and girls in decision-making about how the Internet is shaped and governed.

@OpenNetAfrica in #Tanzania, the April Parliamentary Session is expected to have a bill that ‘might’ do! @endalk2006 #WomenOnlineEA — Jamii Forums (@JamiiForums) March 9, 2015
On March 7, the Unwanted Witness and the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) held a twitterthon using the hashtag #WomenOnlineEA to highlight and create awareness on the important role women have played in the development of Uganda through ICT.
Using the hashtag #ICT4Women and reflections from a report titled Cyber Infrastructure: A Women’s Issue Too!, the discussions focused on the impact digital communications have had on women globally and in Uganda. According to the report, as ICT access and use increases in Uganda, a balanced ICT policy that includes women as key stakeholders should be pursued.
The sentiments of the twitterthon were echoed during a post-International Women’s Day twitter chat held amongst OpenNet Africa partners including Jamii Forums (Tanzania), East & Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) and experts from Ethiopia and Burundi on March 9. This chat used the hashtag #WomenOnlineEA and also touched on issues discussed during Safer Internet Day which explored Promoting Online Safety in Africa on February 10. 
Participants in this chat concluded that efforts to increase internet access for women should be complemented with the fundamental rights to privacy, access to information and data protection as some of the key requirements of internet freedom. Increased mobile phone access in particular was pointed out as a key driver for inclusivity and participation online for women.
According to the 2014 State of Internet Freedom in East Africa report, increased mobile penetration has contributed towards more internet users. Conversely, women on average are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men, according to a  recent GSMA report which also indicates that despite women seeing value in mobile phones as life enhancing tools, there are 200 million fewer women than men owning mobile phones globally.
According to the ITU, there are fewer women in developing countries online than there are men. In 2013, this figure stood at 16% fewer women than men accessing the internet in developing countries. Indeed, some twitter chat participants pointed out that internet access was not a key priority for women in developing countries. Rather, focus should be given to access to clean water, electricity and sanitation needs, among others.  This was, however, countered with the argument that access to the internet is no less a priority for women than access to other basic needs.

  @OpenNetAfrica @JamiiForums @nkurunzizajp We envision more women empowered to use the internet for #Social #Economic change #WomenOnlineEA

Throughout the discussions, participants shared reports and insights on internet freedom from their respective countries in what is an increasingly transforming area in the region. See A brief look into Internet Freedom and women in East Africa for a summary of the twitterthon.