Digital inclusion for women: First Lady urges girls to be bold

First Lady Jeannette Kagame has called on girls in Africa continent to be bold enough and take on studies and careers in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to bridge the gender digital divide.
First Lady Jeannette Kagame with panelists from the 'Digital Inclusion for Women's Empowerment' session during Transform Africa 2015 in Kigali, yesterday. (Courtesy)
First Lady Jeannette Kagame with panelists from the 'Digital Inclusion for Women's Empowerment' session during Transform Africa 2015 in Kigali, yesterday. (Courtesy)

First Lady Jeannette Kagame has called on girls in Africa continent to be bold enough and take on studies and careers in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to bridge the gender digital divide.  

Mrs Kagame made the call yesterday while speaking at the on-going Transform Africa Summit in an introductory speech for a discussion session about ‘digital inclusion for women’s empowerment’.

“We're here to address the digital gender divide and do so in the shortest time possible,” she told delegates at the summit, urging them to put the issue of gender digital divide on their daily agendas.

The First Lady, who has so far awarded about 4,000 girls over the last ten years for academic excellence through her Imbuto Foundation, said that the girls hold the key to bridge the gender digital divide.

By being bold enough and adopting the attitude that the sky is the limit, girls can manage to take advantage of the advancements in ICT and propel their lives forward, the First Lady said.

“Girls, be bold, be curious and never doubt your own ability to change things for the better,” she said.

She added that girls and women have been left behind in different innovations in ICT, both in Rwanda and other countries in Africa, and she encouraged them to keep doing more.

“I have no doubt that Rwanda, and Africa as a whole, has not seen the last of young promising female innovators,” she said, essentially encouraging the next generation of women innovators.

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First Lady addressing the question of digital inclusion for women's empowerment. (Courtesy)

Experts say that bridging the gender digital gap means that more women have to be involved in using internet to address their needs.

Recent research by the World Wide Web Foundation, a global civil society organisation that works to promote the web as a global public good and human right, has found that women are less involved on the internet than men in many countries in Africa.

Ingrid Brudvig, a researcher with the World Wide Web Foundation, said that women are 50 per cent less likely to access internet in certain communities in Africa,  they are 52 per cent less likely than men to share their contribution of ideas online, and that they are 25 per cent less likely to look for a job online. The researcher recommended putting both boys and girls through schools as a way to address the issue.

“Education is the key driver of equal access. Digital Gender gaps decrease as a result of education,” she said.

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High-level panel on the Digital Inclusion for Women's Empowerment. L-R: Crystal Rugege-Ntore, Business Development Director - Carnegie Mellon University Rwanda; Alline Kabbatende, COO - Rwanda Online; Dorothy K. Gordon, Executive Director - Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT; Shikoh Gitau, Sr. Consultant - Technology Innovation for Inclusive Growth at AfDB; Diana Ofwona, Regional Director - UN Women; Hon. Rebecca Joshua Okwaci, Minister of Telecommunications of South Sudan; Sonia N. Jorge (moderator), Executive Director - Alliance for Affordable Internet. (Courtesy)

Other panellists pointed at the need for girls to be inspired by role models and their parents if they are to succeed in using ICTs.

“There is need for more women in technical or strategic roles,” said Alline Kabbatende, Chief Operating Officer of RwandaOnline, a technology company formed as a public-private partnership with the Government of Rwanda to make government services more citizen-centred.

She added: “I know that most women need role models in technology. For women who are in technology, be more active in reaching out to girls who are interested to come on board in the technology sector. Rwanda is a great country to be a woman, to be young, and in technology”.

Crystal Rugege-Ntore, Director of Business Strategy and Operations at Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, agrees that girls need to be more inspired if they are to succeed in the ICT sector.

“We need role models and parents to encourage us in these disciplines,” she said.

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Crystal Rugege-Ntore, Business Development Director - Carnegie Mellon University Rwanda. (Courtesy)

Overall, panellists emphasised the fact that women can’t be left behind if Africa is to succeed in using the digital revolution for its development.

“The women population is high. They can’t be excluded in any way,” said Rebecca Joshua Okwachi, South Sudan’s Minister of Telecommunication and Postal Services.

About 2500 delegates at the on-going summit, who represent more than 850 ICT companies and over 80 countries worldwide, have been discussing critical issues affecting the growth of the ICT industry in Africa. The summit that started on Monday this week ends today.

 

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