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Nigeria’s young women see ICTs as opportunity, but many still lack skills and access

Web Foundation · August 31, 2015

Ahead of the launch 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, Temitope Ogundipe, Chief Operating Officer at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), tells us about why PIN works on gender in ICT issues and what the future holds for women’s rights online in Nigeria.

 

Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) brands itself as a social enterprise that connects underserved Nigerian youth with opportunities through information and communication technologies (ICTS). How and why did you integrate gender into that goal?

We want Nigeria’s youth to make a positive contribution to the country’s economy and society. However, young people in Nigeria are faced with high levels of unemployment and increasing cybercrime. We believe access to Web-enabled technologies along with training in how to use them safely and effectively can help address this. To achieve this, we needed to do research to understand what access vulnerable young people had to Web-enabled technologies, and how well young people understood how to use them.

In 2007, we conducted a baseline study in Ajegunle, the most populous slum in Lagos. 46.5% of the respondents were girls between the ages of 14 and 26 years. Less than half of the female respondents (48.7%) had used a computer (primarily at school), and only 7.9% of them had learned any useful or productive skill. Only 8% of them owned or had unrestricted access to a computer.

When we asked the girls why they had not had a chance to access a computer, common answers included the inability to afford a computer or other Web-enabled device, limited time to spend learning how to use a computer and a lack of parental consent. However, 94% of all respondents acknowledged the importance of ICTs and 87% had high expectations for ICT and entrepreneurship training opportunities.

These findings are alarming, but we were encouraged by the girls’ interest and belief in technology as an agent of positive change. The Web gives young women and girls a voice and access to information. This is incredibly powerful. It can help overcome problems of economic dependency and low self-esteem, allow them to engage in critical public discussion and lead community projects – there are too many other positive benefits to name them all!

 

What are the biggest challenges faced by women in Nigeria in realising the opportunities created by ICTs?

There are two main challenges we need to address above all: 1. broadband access and affordability, and 2. digital illiteracy and a lack of understanding of their digital rights. And we need to overcome these challenges in underserved communities, which are very trying environments.

To illustrate the type of environment we are working in, it’s important to understand that underserved communities like Ajegunle account for the majority of unemployed and abused women and girls. Many of them end up in precarious lifestyles involving vulnerable sexual relations, substance abuse, prostitution or teenage and unwanted pregnancy.

 

Have you had any successes to date that you’d like to share with our readers?

In 2007, our pilot project, the L.I.F.E. Training Programme, reached just 10% of the young women in the underserved communities where we work across three different regions in Nigeria. Today, we have expanded our reach in these communities to 60%. We’ve also begun expanding beyond Lagos to establish training centres in other regions of the country. We’re very proud of what we have achieved to date, and look forward to expanding the reach of this training programme for women and girls.

 

What do you hope to achieve through the Women’s Rights Online research project?

We hope that the new findings, to be released in October, will bring attention to these issues, and help us improve the rates of Internet access among young women and girls, especially those in underserved communities. We see huge potential for the socio-economic empowerment of women, and feel that focusing on access to ICTs can bring about a revolution in how Nigeria approaches women’s empowerment & rights more generally.

 

What policy changes do you think would most benefit women’s rights online in Nigeria?

There are three key policy changes we hope to advocate for using the upcoming Women’s Rights Online research:

  1. Promoting universal access and the extension of low-cost Web-based services to underserved areas. Our ideal policy would actively address the issues of cost, speed, reliability and quality of services through affordable devices and competition between providers.
  2. Programmes to provide basic digital literacy skills and access to Web-enabled technologies for women and girls who are least likely to have these skills and access on their own.
  3. Pre-defined legal frameworks (e.g. data privacy and lawful interception laws) that are fair and reasonable for citizens, assuring citizens of protection when government surveillance is conducted.

 

Looking forward, what would you like to see happen in the space of gender equality online in the next 5 to 10 years in Nigeria?

We hope we’ll see more informed policy discourse followed up by action through inclusion measures to narrow the digital gender gap. This should be complemented by a more significant role for ICTs in women’s empowerment and the realisation of their rights in Nigeria.

If you enjoyed this blog, take a look at submissions from our other country partners from around the world and sign up to our newsletter for updates on the research.

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