MIND THE (DigitALL) GAP
In April of 2021, the US Census Bureau released data from a 2018 survey on computer use. The report showed that of the 121,000 homes surveyed, 92% had at least one computing device: desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. That same April, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey that found virtually total cell phone ownership among Americans, and no appreciable gender difference with 97% of men and 98% of women owning a cell phone. When considering 18-29 year olds, that rate was 100%. Likely, statistics are similar across most industrialized countries.
Reading this, whether on desktop, laptop, tablet or phone, you likely take the screen for granted. For many in the west, looking at our screen(s) makes up a significant portion of the day and provides access to many daily essentials – news, weather, shopping, banking, travel, entertainment, and of course, communicating with others.
In the developing world the picture is quite different.
A 2021 report by UN Women states,
“Globally, 3.7 billion people do not have access to the internet. Half of them are women. In some parts of the world the digital gender divide has been shrinking, but data shows it is growing in Africa.” While this figure shows that globally the digitally dispossessed split evenly along gender, it also shows that in Africa, where we do our work, the split is widening.
At Asante Africa, growing or not, we know the gender disparity in East Africa to be true, and we are working to change it. Asante Africa has been working across East Africa to make digital access a fact of life among the young, especially among East Africa’s young women: In families where financial resources are few, what is available is typically earmarked for sons, not daughters. Asante Africa redresses the scales. We may not be able to change what is typical but we do change what is available. We put resources in the hands of girls and women that their families can’t, or won’t.
As effective as our efforts may be getting girls into classrooms and helping them stay there, bricks-and-mortar schooling can carry the girls only so far; as expansive as a student’s true potential may be, with only bricks-and-mortar knowledge, learning is limited and restricted to what is locally available. Many of our young girls aspire to enter into remarkable careers and do remarkable things, as doctors, as lawyers, as engineers, but if those aspirations remain stuck within an orbit of digital scarcity, their prospects of ever growing beyond the local and realizing those aspirations are dim. For them, the path to aspirations ends if they can’t get out of the district schoolhouse. In 2023, the only path out and beyond is a digital path.
Yet, digital access isn’t important only for someday doctors, lawyers, and engineers.
The hard truth is that much as young East African women may want to attend college, many simply can’t afford to. Technology provides them a backstop, allowing them an alternative course to successfully head into business, whether to create one or improve an already established one. For a young entrepreneurial woman living in a rural East African community, the abundance of online materials that can assist her starting or growing a business is money left on the table if she can’t access those materials. (To see what even a little technological savvy can mean in the hands of a young woman with entrepreneurial spirit, check out Laura’s story.)
Be she academic or entrepreneur, technological access can erase the achievement gap for girls and young women in the 21st century.
Since 1917, March 8 has been celebrated as International Women’s Day (IWD), each anniversary providing an ambition for the coming year. The 2023 theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” dovetails with the focus of the upcoming 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. In short, both the IWD and CSW seek to raise awareness to the digital divide that keeps girls and women from reaching their potential, and to press the point that if girls and women are to learn and contribute to that full potential, they must be on equal digital footing with their male counterparts.
Asante Africa has been working steadily for years to shrink that digital divide in East Africa, particularly for girls and women.
WRITTEN BY: Jerry Blitefield
Are you are inspired to join in the cause?
You can make an impact by clicking the “Donate” button and contributing to Asante Africa’s efforts. Together we can provide East African girls and women the kind of dependable digital access that is so vital.