Addressing inequalities in the digital technology landscape


Increasing women's representation in tech challenges stereotypes reshapes perceptions, and inspires future generations of young girls. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Africa has witnessed remarkable growth in the digital landscape, bringing it in line with the rest of the world. However, a clear digital gender divide persists, disadvantaging women.

According to a 2021 study titled "Kenya's Digital Economy: A People's Perspective," only 35 percent of women in the country utilise advanced digital services, compared to 54 percent of men.

One primary reason for the persistence of the digital gender divide is the lack of access to hardware. In Kenya, mobile phones are the primary means of accessing digital services.

However, a 2019 report by the GSM Association reveals that women are 23 percent less likely to own smartphones than men, resulting in a 39 percent lower likelihood of accessing mobile Internet.

This gender gap is further amplified by the disparity in digital skills between men and women. Even at the lowest skill levels, men outnumber women in terms of digital proficiency.

This problem permeates the highest levels of the technology profession, where men significantly outnumber women. Unesco reports that women constitute only 30 percent of all ICT graduates in Kenya.

Given the potential of technology to transform all aspects of life, it is imperative to urgently prioritise and improve women's inclusion at all levels of the digital landscape.

If half of the population is forced to navigate the digital world with one arm tied behind their backs, meaningful transformation cannot be achieved.

To promote diversity and inclusion in the digital realm, it is essential to ensure that the basic building blocks are accessible to everyone.

This begins with extending the necessary infrastructure to marginalised communities. Providing network coverage and Internet-ready devices are the minimum requirements for bridging the gender gap in digital access.

Notably, internet service providers are already working on constructing Kenya's ICT infrastructure, with the government's plan to install 100,000 kilometres of fibre optic cable and 25,000 free Wi-Fi hotspots across the country.

The next step should involve reducing the cost of devices, making smartphones and mobile devices more affordable to enable broader access to the internet and other digital tools for women.

The writer is the Head of Marketing and Communications at the Microsoft Africa Development Centre.

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