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Including women and girls in the digital revolution: Lessons from our #eSkills4PolicyMakers workshop

Web Foundation · August 6, 2019

This post was written by Ingrid Brudvig, Gender Policy Manager, Web Foundation. Follow Ingrid on Twitter @IngridBrudvig.

Research shows that 60% of women in Africa own a mobile phone, and just 18% of women in Africa have access to internet (compared to 25% of men), leaving over 200 million women unconnected. To bridge the digital gender gap we need government leaders who understand the barriers to access and have the tools to promote more inclusive public policy. With support from German Development Cooperation, we’re facilitating a series of #eSkills4PolicyMakers workshops throughout 2019 to support government actors develop gender equality targets and reformulate their policies to ensure equal, affordable and meaningful access to the internet for women and girls. Here are the top takeaways from our workshop in Ghana.

In Accra, Ghana this July, we joined the country’s Ministry of Communications to bring together stakeholders representing government ministries, ICT regulatory authorities, ECOWAS, The West African Telecommunications Regulatory Assembly (WATRA), Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) national coalition leaders, and civil society partners from Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  

Kicking off the workshop, The Honorable Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Minister for Communications for the Republic of Ghana, acknowledged the importance of A4AI’s work to equip policymakers with the skills needed to ensure universal, affordable access to the internet.

We assume that by virtue of our position, policymakers understand the challenges and trends taking place in the development of digital economies — we don’t. We need to be educated so that we can take the right decisions to the benefit of our countries and in sync with the rest of the world. It’s important that we provide civil and public servants, ministers and heads of institutions with the right skills that make them understand the development in the world.

– The Honorable Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful,
Minister for Communications for the Republic of Ghana

Participants engaged in an open discussion to uncover both personal perceptions of gender and deep-seated ideas about culture to understand their influence on policymaking. We established that every problem has a social, economic, political and cultural dimension that needs to be assessed and addressed in gender-responsive policy. And we discussed how problems can have multiple underlying layers that need to be analysed to the root causes in order to secure the right policy options that speak to closing the gender gap.

The right evidence and data are critical components of defining the digital gender gap and formulating a policy response. Participants were reminded that stakeholder consultation is important from the beginning of the policy process, to make sure all voices are considered and weaved into the solutions. 

For me, every single one of the processes that we went through taught me something eye-opening. I have a lot of information and tools for why we need to pay more attention to women and ICT — these are not stand-alone, but should be the foundation on which every department hinges. I’ll take away that prioritising gender doesn’t mean de-prioritising other issues.

– Workshop participant

The workshop demonstrated that prioritising gender equality does not mean de-prioritising other issues. In fact, gender-responsive policy making is an opportunity to open the ‘rigid’ approaches to policy and to cater to groups left behind.

Gender-responsive policy-making is not just about gender as a stand-alone issue — it is about making better policies that are accountable to the public and serve the public interest. This requires technology policies to take a gender approach and to integrate measures to close the gender digital divide.

Moving Forward with Gender-Responsive ICT Policy

Workshop participants engaged in a group role play exercise, with some taking on the role of key ministries, ICT regulators and development partners while others pitched their policy solutions for women’s ICT access in Sierra Leone.

So, you might ask — what tactics worked to gain support from key partners and move forward toward implementation of gender-responsive policy?

  • Align proposals to relevant policies, goals and objectives from the different ministries and partners: Make the case for why the gender-responsive policy initiative can further other partners’ own institutional goals; form alliances and find common ground. 
  • Use evidence-based strategies: Provide proof of the problem and concept. Harness data for advocacy. Some ways to do this include conducting a Women’s Rights Online Digital Gender Gap Audit and checking how your country performs in A4AI’s annual Affordability Report
  • Identify a high-level champion: Work with key allies and supporters within each ministry or stakeholder group to support the vision of the policy, and encourage women’s leadership in technology policy and decision making. 
  • REACT to close the digital gender gap: Rapid progress to close the gender gap is possible if policymakers take immediate action to REACT that is, to focus on Rights, Education, Access, Content, and Targets.

Women are excluded from the digital revolution because of policy failure. This can be reversed by governments taking simple steps, like reducing the cost to connect, introducing digital literacy in schools, and expanding public access facilities.

At the Web Foundation, we look forward to supporting policymakers to integrate gender equality into their information and communication technology (ICT) policies. We can’t wait to host the next #eSkills4PolicyMakers workshop in Asia later this year!

One of the things I’ve learned is the act of making policy and going through that process – it has been key since I’m developing our national ICT strategy. I will take it back to the table and make meaningful effort. Coming here, I wasn’t looking at the gender lens but this has given me the opportunity to see the metrics and statistics to see how we can make inclusive policy.

– Workshop participant

Want to learn more on gender-responsive policy in the digital sector?

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