By Eric Onyiego
While there has been tremendous achievement in empowering women and girls across the globe, new innovative approaches are still needed to lift women out of extreme poverty. Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals advocates for promoting gender equality and women empowerment which is very critical to economic growth and sustainable development of nations. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda/goal-5.html
It’s not breaking news that women are grossly underpaid than men across the globe. The situation has improved over the years and women now make up to 41 percent of paid workers outside of agriculture, compared to 35 percent in 1990. Governments, the private sector, donor agencies continue to look for innovative new approaches to uplift lives of women and girls. One of the potential areas to look at is investing in technology to empower women and girls. Well, from the sound that one would be quick to point out a challenge in sustainability of such an approach. Current research conducted indicates that limited internet access and digital literacy is undermining the quest to achieve gender equality, preventing women from realizing their full potential. http://harvardkennedyschoolreview.com/the-digital-gender-gap-unleashing-the-value-of-the-internet-for-women-2/
Technology, or more specific the internet has transformed billions of people across planet earth since inception. Through internet a lot advancements have been realized in education, health, information, and communication just to mention a few thematic areas. There is ease of information and idea sharing across continents leading to global economic growth. Through internet businesses have been bred and grown, successful product campaigns have been held, innovative ideas have shared, and great minds have been nurtured.
Internet is thought of as a tool for equalization. Literally everyone should be able to access internet devoid of gender or socio-economic status. However, internet access is a challenge, with more men able to get access than women. According a UN report 200 million more men access the Internet than women worldwide. http://www.networkworld.com/article/2170200/lan-wan/un-report-highlights-massive-internet-gender-gap.html
Key among reasons why women do not access internet is poverty and gender inequality. Women lack information about technology and have therefore developed a sense of inferiority. Some feel that technology is a male arena and would rather settle for good old household chores. There are however great opportunities open to women if they get full access to internet. The digital space provides a forum where women access vital information and beneficial networks online. Self-confidence is bound to improve in women accessing internet because they interact positively and share ideas in the various digital platforms exposed to them. Business can be created online, Jobs can be secured online and women can participate in online campaigns geared to social change.
According to the women and web report commissioned by technology giant Intel if more women receive digital literacy skills and are able to access the internet the annual Gross Domestic Product(GDP) across 144 developing countries would increase by $13 billion to $18 billion. That is remarkable growth to economies that can be achievable if 600 million more women get internet access. This why international development agencies like the United Nations and USAID have partnered with technology company Intel corporation to enable young women and girls in Kenya receive digital literacy training. Dubbed the She Will Connect campaign the platform helps equip women with internet skills to help them gain meaningful information and economic opportunities. Over the years Intel has been involved in designing innovative technological advancements that will improve livelihoods. In Kenya, the She Will Connect platform has already enrolled 2000 women who are receiving digital literacy skills. The program is crafted with relevant programs that improve learning through online peer networks. Women and girls also learn basic steps guiding safe browsing in the internet. Penny an upcoming gospel musician in Kenya is one of the beneficiaries of the program who has learnt how to effectively engage her fan base through Facebook.
“I must admit that social media was very new to me. I barely used the internet because I didn’t see any benefit. Through Facebook my fan base has increased, I’ve met fellow upcoming musicians whom we interact frequently. I’ve also learnt to upload my music online for free saving me money,” said Penny. She is among women undergoing digital literacy training in Kenya. The program provides a safe online environment for women and girls to seek relevant beneficial information including education, health among others.
Mercy a high school student in Nairobi has learnt of a great online tool that breaks down complex reading material. “It’s exciting using internet for learning. I realized it’s not just for gaming. Our teacher also taught us how to browse safely online when seeking information,” she says.
Access to internet has also changed how we respond to issues. It has enabled communities across the globe learn each other’s challenges and triumphs. For instance, most issues affecting women are common globally. Through various digital platforms successful social campaigns have been held attracting millions of supporters across the world and this in turn has led to an informed world ready to fight for their rights.
In Africa internet access still remains a challenge especially in areas experiencing extreme poverty. Lack of infrastructure and electricity also poses a challenge to internet access. This however hasn’t broken the spirit and enthusiasm in learning especially for women. Global companies like Facebook are investing to provide free internet in Africa especially in the rural areas. This will in turn increase the number of women accessing the digital space for socioeconomic benefits. Empowerment through technology has the potential of spurring economic growth in the world but stronger political commitments from governments and private sector partnerships are needed to address the gender gap in internet access.
Internet access has arguably reached a no turn back stage. One literally can’t do without, so while we are at it why don’t we use it constructively and advance the well-being and overall development of humanity.