Women and the internet: How to close the gender gap

Technology, specifically the internet, is an essential tool which accelerates development through its numerous solutions to all, especially women .

However, the internet is not yet an equal playing field. According to the global report on women’s rights online done by World Wide Web Foundation, women are still about 50% less likely to be connected to the internet than men.

The report stipulates that women are 1.6 times more likely than men to report the lack of skills as a barrier to being on the internet.

The status of women and the internet gets worse when it comes to Africa, where in most countries, there is nearly no access to internet, illiteracy is high and domestic abuse against women is still high.

What is the situation in Rwanda?

According to Sylvie Nsanga, an employee at the Rwanda Information Society Authority, the government has done everything possible to make internet accessible in all corners of the country.

For now, 4G internet is available in all parts of the country, in every district there are telecentres to facilitate residents to access the internet, but are all those initiatives women friendly, she wonders.

“For example, when women in urban places come back home in the evening, they are mostly confronted by domestic issues, yet their internet bundles are expiring…how can telecommunication companies create specific packages for those women perhaps over weekend? We need to think and create an environment which facilitates women to access and use the internet,” she says.

“The internet is not only for the privileged women living in urban areas. The internet is important for that woman living near Nyungwe who can post on social media the wonderful things in the park or a woman who wants to google about nutrition and prepare healthy food for her children,” she added.

Lack of the women content on internet

According to a study by the Swedish Embassy with its initiative called WikiGap, content about women on the internet is only 17% compared to content about men.

On Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia which mostly contains profiles of many important persons in the world, there are 4 times more articles about men than women. Worldwide 9 out of 10 editors on Wikipedia are men.

Jenny Ohlsson, the Swedish Ambassador to Rwanda says that the number reduces considerably when it comes to Africa. There should be gender equality in all sectors, like politics, business, technology, and music industry among others.

“For example, Rwanda tops the list of countries that have the biggest number of female parliamentarians and much has been done to achieve gender equality and equity. But there are still other countries where the gap is wanting. We have to make sure women are represented equally in all sectors,” she said.

Nsanga says women go to the internet to search for a variety of content according to their profession and background but most of the time, it is not women friendly.

“If the content is not gender friendly and tailored to the literate, semi-literate and illiterate, youth and elders, they will be left behind”.

Jane Umutoni, a lecturer at the University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences, says lack of content about women on the internet affects the number of girls in higher education.

Girls occupy 33% of the student population at this university and very few among them are pursuing technology-related subjects, Umutoni said.

She further added that the lack of information about Rwandan women who have accomplished great achievements plays a key role in holding back girls in higher education, especially in subjects related to technology.

“For someone to be a pilot they get inspired by others who crossed that step, for a woman to think of going to space, she has to have someone to inspire her. If she doesn’t have one, her dreams fade out,” she added.

Online harassment

Olive Uwamaliya, a feminist working for an NGO says women who frequently use the internet are sometimes bullied and cyber abused.

“I have encountered these challenges a lot, both on social media or writing for different online websites and blogs…most of the times when I write something on gender equality, I get negative reactions from men, who attack me personally instead of attacking my ideas,” she said.

For example they focus on what someone is wearing instead of discussing the issues raised.

MakedaMahadeo, a DJ, radio presenter and YouTube personality says men tend to be biased and spend time on the non-important things, when it comes to content created by a woman.

“When I post photos of my husband on Instagram I always get comments from men telling me that they are happy because I posted photos on social media, I’m like okay…but I wonder if a man posting his wife receives the same comments as I do,” she said.

How to close the gap

Nsanga suggests that all initiatives which facilitate access and use of the internet should include specific packages which can create a conducive environment for women from all categories to use the internet.

She added that women who have had the chance to access and use the internet should take part in creating content about women in order to close the gap.

“We need women who inspire others in all sectors of life; we need them to show the youth that all is possible. It’s important firstly on the source because if she is an expert in something then she will be a role model to the young girls,” she said.

Ohlsson says her expectation is that there will be much to read about women in Rwanda and in Africa, for students, journalists, and other curious people. They should not have to search far, the information should be there and accessible easily to everyone.

Uwamaliya urges women not to step down when they get harassed on the internet and report internet abuse because there are laws against.

About 30 women have been trained by a team from Wikipedia through the Swedish embassy on how to edit content on the encyclopedia and have now started to create articles on Rwandan outstanding women.

What others say

Clement Kirenga, Manager of Human rights and democracy, gender equality and equity in Swedish Embassy

What should be done to increase the number of women using the internet and the content about them is for women to feel concerned and be the ones to act first because they are in position to create the content which is friendly to them. They should also be responsive to the technology

BrendahKalinda, a journalist

Women have to move with technology. There are some professions that oblige someone to be on the internet if they want to boost their careers. Women also need to learn how to own their successes.

Don’t say you became successful because you’re married, because of coincidence or because someone helped you from somewhere to somewhere, fight for it and don’t give the credit to anyone else for your achievements, be an inspiration to others.

Phiona Mutoni Ntarindwa, a student in University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences

We as women need to help each other. Those who have had the opportunity to go to school and learn how to use the internet must teach others who haven’t had the same opportunities.

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