news analysis advocacy

Support AfricaFocus and independent bookstores!

Make non-profit your first stop for buying books.
See books recommended by AfricaFocus.


Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Format for print or mobile

Africa: Charting the Digital Gender Gap

AfricaFocus Bulletin
January 25, 2016 (160125)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

New research from the World Wide Web Foundation reveals new details about the enduring digital gender gap in Africa's urban cities, despite the unprecedented expansion of access to mobile phones among women as well as men. In poor neighborhoods of six African cities, the study shows, "women are almost as likely as men to own a mobile phone of their own, but they are a third less likely than men of similar age, education level and economic status to use their phones to access the Internet. " The cities included were Lagos, Nairobi, Maputo, Kampala, Yaounde, and Cairo.

The full 10-country study, also including Manila, Jakarta, and New Delhi in Asia, and Bogota in Latin America, predictably showed that education, age, and income had significant effects on the scale of the digital gender gap, and found that three of ten men surveyed were adamant that the Internet should be a male-controlled domain. But it also showed that once women did have access, they were able to narrow the gap with men in effective use of the Internet.

It concluded that explicit attention to gender equity in ICT policies could have major impact for poor women as well as men, in an urban environment in which access to mobile phones is now almost universal.

The report from Mozambique, which has long pioneered in Internet access, well illustrates the point. "The Women's Rights Online Mozambique report found that while nearly all women and men in Maputo slum areas own a mobile phone, only 33% of women had accessed the Internet, compared to 59% of men. ... The majority of respondents (96% of men and 93% of women) used their mobile phone every day." But while women use it predominantly for voice and text messaging, a higher proportion of men have access to data plans and the Internet.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes the executive summary of the report, as well as two brief blog posts on Maputo and Yaounde. The full report, as well as data files from the survey, are available on the website of the World Wide Web Foundation (

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on information and communication technology, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Women's Rights Online : Translating Access into Empowerment

Global Report - October 2015

World Wide Web Foundation

with support from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) - direct URL:

Executive Summary

The newly adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals include an important pledge to harness information and communications technologies (ICTs) to advance women's empowerment, as well as a commitment to connect everyone in Least Developed Countries to the Internet by 2020. However, until now, estimates of the "digital divide" between women and men in use of the Internet and other ICTs have been sketchy.

This report explores the real extent of that divide in nine cities across nine developing countries, in order to gain a better understanding of the empowering potential of ICTs as a weapon against poverty and inequality, and the barriers that must be overcome to unlock it. Research was designed and carried out in close collaboration with leading national civil society organisations in the countries we studied.

The stereotype of poor people in the developing world uniformly "left behind" in the darkness of a life without Internet connectivity is as misleading as its opposite: the cliche in which almost everyone in Nairobi or Jakarta now wields a mobile phone that gushes forth market price data, health information and opportunities for civic engagement.

Instead, our research reveals a picture of extreme inequalities in digital empowerment - which seem to parallel wider societal disparities in information-seeking, voice and civic engagement. For example, Internet use among young, well-educated men and students in poor communities of the developing world rivals that of Americans, while Internet use among older, uneducated women is practically nonexistent.

Inequalities in access

Women are about 50% less likely to be connected than men in the same age group with similar levels of education and household income.

Women are almost as likely as men to own a mobile phone of their own, but they are a third less likely than men of similar age, education level and economic status to use their phones to access the Internet.

The most important socio-economic drivers of the gender gap in ICT access are education and age. Controlling for income, women who have some secondary education or have completed secondary school are six times more likely to be online than women with primary school or less.

Cities with the highest gender gaps in education level such as Nairobi (Kenya), Kampala (Uganda), Maputo (Mozambique), and Jakarta (Indonesia) were also the ones where the highest gender gaps in Internet access were reported.

Conversely, in the cities where women's educational attainment outstrips the men in our sample (New Delhi and Manila), the gender gap in Internet access has closed.

Unconnected women cited lack of know-how and high costs as the major reasons that they are not using the Internet. In the countries in our study, a monthly prepaid data allocation of one GB (enough for just 13 minutes of Web use a day, excluding video) costs, on average, about 10% of average per capita income. That's 10 times more than what the same data costs the average OECD citizen, relative to income, and is double what

people in developing countries spend on healthcare. In the countries with the highest Internet costs as a proportion of average income, our study found the lowest numbers of women online and the largest gender gaps in Internet use.

Inequalities in use

How people use the Internet, once they are connected, is also strongly influenced by offline inequalities. Most of the urban poor respondents in our study face comprehensive marginalisation in civic and economic life. Only a small minority proactively seek out information from any source on topics key to achieving their rights, and an even smaller percentage participate in political debate or community affairs. Most are in insecure, informal work or don't have any reliable income of their own. Being female deepens exclusion on every single one of these counts.

A few of these poor urban dwellers are starting to use the Internet to change their situation - to gain a voice, seek information, enhance their livelihoods, or expand their networks beyond existing social boundaries. Not only is this group small, it is also disproportionately male.

Women are half as likely as men to speak out online, and a third less likely to use the Internet to look for work (controlling for age and education). However, there is potential for digital empowerment to spread much more widely and equitably:

  • A high proportion of women and men surveyed recognise and value the Internet as a space for commenting on important issues, and say that the Internet has made it safer for women to express their views - even though they may not yet be using it for this purpose themselves.
  • Large majorities of urban poor Internet users do already exploit digital platforms as a vehicle for reinforcing the social ties on which their survival often depends, suggesting that the Internet's power to enhance social capital could be an effective route to digital empowerment.
  • Education is a major enabler of digital empowerment among women, suggesting opportunities for greater investment in girls' education to work hand-in-hand with targeted ICT skills programmes in schools.
  • Gender gaps in how men and women use the Internet are significant - but not as large as gender disparities in access to the Internet. In other words, once women do manage to get online, the gap narrows between female and male users in terms of digital empowerment. The policy challenge is to grow the minority of women using the Internet and expand their voice and choices into a majority - both through expanding women's access and in tackling barriers to women's empowerment.

Notably, women who are active in "offline" political and civic life are not only more likely to be connected in the first place, but are also three times more likely (controlling for education level, age and income) to use the Internet to express opinions on important or controversial issues than other women. We need to better understand this synergy between offline and online agency in order to learn how gender norms that silence women in both realms can be overcome.

Patriarchy online

Around three in 10 men agreed with sentiments that the Internet should be a male-controlled domain, but only two in 10 women agreed. Only a tiny fraction of women said they do not use the Internet because it is "not appropriate" for them or that they are not permitted to do so. Such attitudes were much more prevalent in some cities than others, however. For example, in New Delhi and Manila nearly two-thirds of men agreed with the statement that women should not be allowed to use the Internet in public places, and over half agreed that men have the responsibility to restrict what women look at online. Yet, these were the two cities with the highest levels of Internet use among women, suggesting that patriarchal beliefs don't necessarily stop women getting online. However, further research is needed to explore the extent to which they contribute to selfcensorship in how, where and when women use the Internet.

Summary of key recommendations

We will not achieve the SDGs on universal Internet access and empowerment of women through ICTs unless technology policy is specifically designed to tackle and overcome the steep inequalities of gender, education, and income outlined in this study.

Full details of each recommendation can be found at the end of the report, but the fundamentals include:

1 Establish time-bound targets for equity in Internet access, use and skills, by gender and income level. Our 2014 Web Index shows that many national ICT strategies or broadband plans include, at most, a rhetorical commitment to gender equity. A few have a patchwork of interesting but small-scale programmes and initiatives, but overarching targets linked to budget allocations are needed to ensure coherence, coordination and scale.

2 Teach digital skills from primary school onwards. Our findings point strongly to the overwhelming difference that education makes to women's use of technology, even when controlling for other factors such as income and age. By making sure that primary and secondary school curricula include ICT literacy basics, we can take advantage of near-100% primary enrolment rates to open up digital opportunities for everyone.

3 Smash the affordability barrier. Making broadband cheaper is not only the best way to get more people connected, but also a prerequisite to enable them to go online and explore longer and more often, so they can fully unlock digital opportunities. For example, women who are able to go online daily are nearly three times more likely than infrequent users to report that the Internet has helped them to increase their income.

4 Practice woman-centred design. The impact of online services could be dramatically increased by defining the end user as a woman and not just a generic "consumer". Experience shows that when women are not consulted, products and services are often destined to fail. When government agencies and donors invest in such services, the number one target for success should be uptake by low-income women.

5 Make women's civic and political engagement an explicit goal. The small minority of poor women who are already active in community or political life are not only much more likely to be online, but also far more likely to use technology in transformative ways. Policymakers should work with women's groups to find ways that technology can help women to enhance their offline participation, voice and power.

6 Combat harassment of women online. In 74% of countries included in the Web Index, law enforcement agencies and the courts are failing to take appropriate actions in situations where ICTs are used to commit acts of gender-based violence. Governments must take steps to enact adequate legislative measure

7 It's not (just) the technology, stupid. Neither communications ministries, which typically have lead responsibility for national ICT strategies, nor gender ministries, where these exist, can achieve the SDGs on Internet access and women's digital empowerment on their own. Additionally, our findings underline the lesson that empowering women does not happen in separate boxes labelled "offline" and "online", but requires progress across several fronts at once. Government agencies, civil society groups and private sector stakeholders will need to work together in all sectors to ensure that ICT initiatives are systematically integrated with wider efforts to expand women's choices and capabilities in the labour market, in the home, at school and in public life. Training policymakers across different sectors (such as health, education, small business, agriculture) to understand and harness the potential of ICTs to tackle poverty and gender inequality may be a good starting point.

Mozambique: What is keeping women offline?

Web Foundation · December 11, 2015

Women's Rights Online

As part of our Women's Rights Online research, this series of guest blogs features on-the-ground perspectives from each of our research partners around the world. In this post, Mozambique's Science, Innovation, Information and Communications Technology Research Institute (SIITRI) analyses Mozambique's Women's Rights Online study results and outlines how to get more of the country's women online.

The Women's Rights Online Mozambique report found that while nearly all women and men in Maputo slum areas own a mobile phone, only 33% of women had accessed the Internet, compared to 59% of men. These results confirm that women and girls are being excluded online in Mozambique, and that we must take action to make sure the digital future is inclusive.

As part of the project, we surveyed men and women in 29 urban poor areas of the capital, Maputo to learn more about why the gap in Internet access persists.

In our survey, women cited four main barriers to Internet access:

  1. Many women have never learned how to use the Internet
  2. Women simply do not have a device
  3. Women are not able to access the Internet on their devices
  4. High costs, including both network costs and the opportunity cost of accessing the Internet, prevent women from accessing the Internet

Another important issue we considered was how women use their mobile phones. Since the mobile phone is the first place many people experience the Internet, we needed to know if the increase in mobile phone use was benefitting women in terms of online access.

The majority of respondents (96% of men and 93% of women) used their mobile phone every day. The service most frequently used by respondents was combination of voice calls and SMS, and the frequency of use of these services was higher amongst women (64%) when compared with men (49%), as more men used a combination of voice, SMS and data services.

This discrepancy in ownership and access to data services can be explain in part by differences between men and women's disposable income. A greater percentage of men than women own a mobile phone and spend more on accessing data.

How can Mozambique expand women's access to the Web?

It's clear that efforts are needed to expand women's access. There is much to be done, but we recommend focussing on four key areas to tackle the gap in Mozambique:

  1. Improve education: First and foremost, we must tackle low levels of education and high illiteracy rates of women and girls. Keeping girls in school longer means reading skills will improve. The government should also integrate ICT skills training into the curriculum early on, to equip girls with the tools they need to enter the information economy.
  2. Change attitudes: We must also encourage changes in cultural attitudes. The gender gap in education is often due to domestic responsibilities, and traditions that downplay the importance of girls' education.
  3. Provide affordable public access: In order to facilitate access for women, ICTs need to be located in other local institutions women frequent where they feel safe and welcome. These might include NGOs, women's employment centres, libraries and health centres. Providing Internet access in a local health centre could bring the added benefit of increasing women's access to health information during their visits.
  4. Reduce the cost of mobile Internet: So many women own mobiles, but so few are using them to get connected. Mozambique could consider introducing a subsidised or free Internet access scheme, providing more women with the opportunity to use the devices they already have to get online.

How can we make this happen?

Mozambique was one of the first countries to adopt a comprehensive ICT policy and implementation strategy. As a next step, it needs to become fully gender responsive. SIITRI will target politicians, policy makers and influencers directly with these recommendations to close the gender gap in ICTs through engagement events, workshops and roundtables. We have already begun this work by advocating at a national level at the Maputo Internet Forum organised by Swedish Embassy in October, through the ongoing work and advocacy of the A4AI-Mozambique National Coalition, and by hosting a workshop on "Advocating for Empowerment of Women through ICTs and the Web" in late November. It is our objective to secure concrete and time-bound commitments from the government to close the digital gender gap.

We must ensure the digital revolution is a revolution for women and girls. We hope this project has begun that process, and we are excited about the possibilities for women and girls in Mozambique. You can follow our updates on our website (

Narrowing Cameroon's gender gap: reasons for hope

Web Foundation · October 7, 2015

Women's Rights Online As part of our Women's Rights Online research, this series of guest blogs features on-the-ground perspectives from each of our research partners around the world. In this post, Julie Owono, Head of Africa Desk at Internet Sans Frontières (, shares her experience of how improving women's access to the Internet is empowering women in Cameroon.

Being an expatriate Cameroonian woman, I know from personal experience how Web-enabled information and communication technologies (ICTs) can expand possibilities for women. I have had opportunities that I could never have anticipated if I had remained in the offline world. Indeed, I probably wouldn't have found my job, which now allows me to be involved in initiatives and projects that help build a safe and accessible Internet for all, and help tackle some social and economic issues that plague my country. I am thinking for instance of the project Feowl, an open data project on electricity cuts, that I created and implemented between 2012 and 2013.

I want the change that I have witnessed to spread to the many Cameroonian women for whom survival and dignity are still a daily struggle. ICTs are a tool – one that, when paired with the right skills, can be transformational and empowering.

This is the focus of my work at Paris-based NGO Internet Sans Frontières: ensuring that the Internet remains a space for borderless creation, cooperation, and interaction, as well as a tool for economic, social and political advancement.

Promoting Internet access among disadvantaged communities is central in our work – from youth in Urban poor areas in Brazil, to helping LGBT communities in Cameroon secure their digital communications, and helping decrease the price of Internet access in the country through our work with the Alliance for Affordable Internet -we are committed to ensuring that the Web remains a space that anyone, regardless of social, economic, political background can access and use.

One disadvantaged group still experiencing barriers to access and use of the Internet is women in developing countries. A 2012 study by Intel and Dalberg on Women and the Web concluded that "across the developing world, nearly 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet, the gender gap soars to nearly 45 percent in Sub Saharan Africa".

The figure is striking, but probably not surprising when compared it to other gender metrics. Women are still the most subject to inequalities. In Cameroon, women hold only 16.1 percent of the seats at the parliament. 63.3 percent of the women aged 15 and above participate in the labor workforce, while the figure goes up to 76.7 percent for men in the same age groups according to the UN's Gender Inequality Index. According to a 2007 survey by the Cameroonian National Statistics Institute, Women spent an average 17 hours per week on housework against 9 hours for men. We believe that access to and effective use of the Internet can facilitate women's participation in political and economic life, closing the gender gap.

The good news for Cameroon is that the Cameroonian Government has taken the issue of the gender gap in ICTs seriously. Importantly, the government has acknowledged that the major barriers to gender equality are "socio-cultural hindrances, that are the corollary of a patriarchal social organisation". Admitting this challenge publicly gives women space to discuss the problem and possible solutions directly.

The government also claims to have trained more 100,000 women between 2012 and 2002 in digital literacy and the use of ICT. Our study suggests that while these efforts are commendable, we need to expand on them to make visible progress on empowering women through ICT.

The number of Cameroonian Internet users is also increasing, particularly through mobile phones. More and more women use a wellknown Facebook group called Kamer sisters (read more about the group here – link in French ), gathering more than 7,000 Cameroonian women based in or outside Cameroon, to advertise their products and businesses and look for jobs. It is not rare to see women looking to hire nannies, or young women looking for such positions.

Whatsapp is also gaining popularity as a platform for women to generate income and run communications for their small businesses. For example, one young female entrepreneur advertises her talents as hairdresser and makeup artist, giving her contact details on whatsapp. For entrepreneurs like her, Whatsapp acts as a cheaper and more direct alternative to a traditional website.

This is precisely what we hoped to achieve when Internet Sans Frontières decided to get involved in the Women's Rights Online project: see these new trends in the use of Web-enabled ICTs spread among women from poor urban backgrounds and benefit them socially and economically. We look forward to sharing the full research results and using them to understand the next steps for civil society and government in narrowing Cameroon's gender gap.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Read more on |Africa Economy & Development||Africa IC Technology|

URL for this file: