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, Racheal Nakitare, Board Member of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television in Kenya, urges the Kenyan Government to do more to ensure women are not left behind in the country’s digital transition.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) will drive forward progress through all three social, economic and political pillars of the Kenyan government’s Vision 2030. The vision is ambitious, and aims to propel Kenya to middle-income country status.
It’s no surprise that the government sees ICTs as the obvious engine for this growth: We have one of the most successful mobile money systems in the developing world, 36.1 million mobile subscribers and 47% of the Kenyan population is online.
However, women, who constitute more than half of the population, continue to lag behind in their use of technology, meaning there are an increasing number of missed opportunities for them to benefit from Kenya’s development.
So why aren’t Kenyan women on the Web? A number of factors are commonly cited as obstacles to women getting online, including: Internet affordability, lack of Internet knowledge, limited access to smartphones, tablets, computers or other Web-enabled devices and fear or insecurity on the Web. Our upcoming survey to be published this month will allow us to take a deeper look at which of these factors has the most impact.
Though Kenya has the cheapest communication and Internet connectivity charges on the continent, it is still expensive compared to incomes, and we expect this to be a major barrier cited in the surveys. We spoke to Mr. Victor Kyalo, CEO of Kenya’s ICT Authority, who conceded that “accessing Internet is still expensive considering that it consumes 125% of one’s disposal income, much higher than in the developed countries at only 5%.”
To overcome this affordability gap, the government has initiated projects to improve ICT access. One of the most visible achievements is the establishment of e-services at a low cost through Huduma centres, where citizens can access examination results, tax returns, open data, applications for birth certificates and national identity cards, registration of business names and applications for marriage certificates, driver’s licenses and police abstracts through the Internet.
Mr Paul Kiage, the Project Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at the Communications Authority of Kenya, confirmed that the “Universal Service Fund (USF) was established to support widespread access to ICT services, and promote capacity building and innovation in ICT services in the country with special emphasis on rural, remote and poor urban areas. The Authority has used the funds to support projects in schools, libraries and local communities.”
However, Mr Kyalo, CEO of the ICT Authority points out that though the ICT master plan is measurable and time bound, “there is no specific emphasis on the woman being made a beneficiary of the ICT Master Plan, as there is no direct targeted gender process in government.”
According to Fiona Asango, CEO Telecommunications Service Providers Association of Kenya (TESPOK), her membership promotes free and low cost public internet access purely as an economic factor. “The separation of gender in access is yet to be addressed. Until the Universal Access gaps are met for the entire population it is least likely that there will be such a policy”.
While these programmes aimed at the entire population are commendable, it is important that the government recognise the need to ensure women benefit as much as their male counterparts. Clearly, none of the programmes on the ICT master plan are specific to empowering women and girls with ICT skills or access. ICT related laws and procedural laws are also vague on redress for Kenyan women who experience discrimination or gender-based violence online. Partnerships with civil society and particularly initiatives founded by groups of tech women who are using ICT to empower young girls and women have been rewarding, but it is not enough. The Government needs to show leadership on the issue.
According to Mr Kyalo, improving women’s access to the Web by just 10% would lead to a 133% change in their disposition and livelihoods due to having a greater influence on how households are managed. If women are included in Kenya’s ICT-driven development, the entire country will benefit as a larger percentage of the population increases its living standard.
In order to effectively include women in Kenya’s Vision 2030, we must address their priority concerns- from health, education, agriculture, women’s rights and environmental policies and correlate them to gender and ICT. We need measurable targets and dedicated indicators for women’s online accessibility, affordability, infrastructure and safety. Building on this, the Government should also work hard to ensure the Web is an empowering tool for women to seek information and find solutions. This is a challenge that will require clear policies that seek to provide the relevant content while overcoming cultural barriers, but it is one that will benefit all Kenyans as we strive to achieve the Vision 2030.
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 or follow #WomensRightsOnline @webfoundation on Twitter for updates on the research.