African governments have been urged to initiate reforms to address the continent’s current digital gender divide.
The call was made by the Paradigm Initiative (PIN), a leading Pan-African organization advocating for digital rights and inclusion in the region, as it joined countries around the world in commemorating International Women’s Day under the theme DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. The widened access gap to digital technologies, dubbed the digital divide and, more emphatically, digital exclusion, is a common form of equality breach.
“Today, we bemoan the extent of the digital divide across Africa and call for urgent reforms. We are concerned about the online barriers that violently exclude women from meaningful Internet participation, and we call for policies and practices that allow women to connect and stay on board without digital discrimination.”
According to the Paradigm Initiative, which annually publishes Londa, a report highlighting the state of digital rights and inclusion in Africa, women in their various capacities, including women journalists, politicians, and celebrities, are subjected to various attacks manifesting as cyber harassment, non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and trolling, driving many off the Internet.
The report’s 2021 edition expands on the realities of women’s exclusion from online platforms as a result of online gender-based violence and limited access to digital technologies. Women cannot engage meaningfully online without digital security.
Ms. Thobekile Matimbe, the organization’s Senior Manager, Partnerships and Engagements, stated unequivocally that a dual approach is essential for women’s online safety. “On the one hand, we need legislative frameworks that create a safe space for women online while holding perpetrators accountable, and on the other, we need security sector practices that acknowledge the problem while holding perpetrators accountable,” she said.
In addition to the foregoing, government policies and budgeting should reflect a conscious effort to address digital inequalities, as this ensures women have better access to devices such as smartphones and affordable data to be online, as highlighted in Londa 2021.
PIN conducts online research on women’s rights, including access issues and online gender-based violence, to provide data in an otherwise under-reported area. It also provides litigation support and guidance to help navigate the legal system in cases where rights have been violated and reported on ripoti.africa, the organization’s digital reporting platform.
The Paradigm Initiative, which believes that access to digital technologies and the internet are fundamental enabling rights, is dedicated to bridging the digital divide and empowering women in Africa.
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 62% of men used the Internet in 2022, compared to 57% of women globally, while 19% of women in the least developed countries used the Internet in 2020, compared to 86% in developed countries in 2019.
ITU cited gaps in Internet access, digital skills, and participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields as examples of the global digital gender divide. This disparity is especially pronounced in rural areas, where women frequently lack access to education and economic opportunities.
The organization also urged African governments to follow Resolution 522 on the Protection of Women Against Digital Violence in Africa, which was adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights during its 72nd Ordinary Session in 2022. The resolution urges states to review and pass legislation to combat all forms of violence, including online gender-based violence, to protect women from online gender-based violence, and to conduct research on digital violence against women.
It also advocates for closing the digital gender gap by providing women with digital technology education, as well as including adequate budget allocations in national budgets to address digital inequalities.