WOMEN in Uganda use the internet far less than men according to a new survey from the World Wide Web Foundation which found that 27 percent of men in the country are online, compared with just 19 percent of women.
Uganda had by far the largest gender gap in internet access among four countries included in the survey of women’s online experiences. In Ghana, which also featured in the study, men were just 6 percent more likely to be online than women, compared with 43 percent in Uganda. Total internet use in Uganda remains low at 23 percent of the population, while Ghana has reached 30 percent.
The exclusion of women from the digital society is a huge threat to progress on gender equality and denies women opportunities to improve their lives, the report warns:
‘The internet is one of the most empowering technologies the world has ever seen, but unless women are equally able to benefit from it, the gender divide risks driving further inequality.’
A number of barriers keep people offline in Uganda, including the cost of mobile data, the lack of a suitable device, and a lack of skills needed to use the internet. 46 percent of women said they don’t use the internet because they don’t know how, compared with 40 percent of men.
The report calls for governments to commit to tackling the digital gender divide and invest in policies that support women to use digital technologies.
Commenting on the findings, Chenai Chair, Web Foundation Research Manager for Gender and Digital Rights said: ‘The digital gender divide isn’t a women’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem. The exclusion of women online threatens all of our prosperity, opportunity and wellbeing. If Uganda is to build a vibrant digital economy where everyone can contribute, it should invest in making sure women can use the internet effectively as a top priority. The good news is the communications regulator has recognised digital inequality as a problem and is engaging with civil society to tackle it.’
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) continues to work and engage with Civil Society Organisations such as the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) and the Web Foundation’s Women’s Rights Online network to better integrate gender into its digital policies. Through this collaboration, government policymakers are helping to transform their agencies’ approach to gender and deliver policies that are designed to meet the specific needs that women have online.
Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, acting Executive Director at the Uganda Communications Commission said: ‘Towards its goal of ‘a Transformed Ugandan Society from a Peasant to a Modern and Prosperous Country’, the Government of Uganda is committed to ensuring that no one is left behind. The late Kofi Annan did say, “the empowerment of women is the most effective tool for development.” Over the years, we have witnessed how different communications services have empowered women’s social, economic, and general well-being with resultant benefit to the family and community as a whole. Access to the internet has thus been identified as a key opportunity in the quest to address the impediments to women’s attainment of healthy and fulfilling lives, and in enabling them to participate fully and operate at the different levels of society.’
When women are online, they are less likely than men to post comments about political, social and economic issues and less likely to sell or advertise products online. Policymakers must go beyond closing the gap in internet access and help to ensure women and girls are able to fully participate online, including by creating content and sharing their ideas and experiences.
Full participation in the digital world is important not only for individual rights and empowerment but also as a driver of economic growth and prosperity. By closing the digital divide, according to the report, governments can help bolster economic growth:
‘Inclusive economies are stronger economies, and inclusive digital development will be critical as countries look to bounce back from the Covid-19 crisis.’
This report calls for governments and companies to invest in digital skills for women and girls, actively support women leaders in technology and to adopt targets to connect everyone to high-quality internet, with a specific focus on connecting women.
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