Gender ICT divide worsens in Senegal
By Issa Sikiti da Silva, Dakar, Senegal
The female illiteracy rate in Senegal stands at 61.3%, the World Bank says, while the World Economic Forum ranked this West African country 90th in its 2011 Global Gender Gap Index. Women overall have one chance in three less than men of benefiting from the African information society in Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali and Mauritania, according to the Gender Digital Divide in Francophone Africa: A Harsh Reality, a report jointly published by ENDA, OSIRIS and ARTP.
The six countries, described by ITU as being ‘on the worst side’ of the world digital divide, had very little data available on gender-ICT policy convergence, and their gender did not interconnect with ICT policies, the report said.
It is difficult to ascertain whether some progress has been made since the report was published in 2005. However, the lack of solid data monitoring the gender digital divide makes the issue even more complex to understand.
In Senegal, where the 2010 gender parity law that put 64 women in the newly-elected 150-member Parliament has been criticised by hardliners as ‘unfair’ and violating traditional and religious principles, the picture is somewhat bleaker, as one woman found out.
“I don’t know how bad it is in other African countries, but the gap in Senegal is widening year after year,” former telecommunications employee and feminist Fatou Diop told Biztechafrica, as she was busy teaching computer skills to three women in the back of her house in central Dakar.
“You don’t need any statistics to assess the impact of gender digital inequality in Senegal, all you need is to look around to see for yourself.
“We have made some inroads in ICT in the past five years or so, but there’s still no place for women, especially the poor and rural ones.”
The report noted that gender disparities are the most serious among poor and illiterate women.
The three women in their mid-thirties – rural-like, semi-literate, veiled and enthusiastic – seemed to enjoy their first experience in front of the two old, battered computer desktops fitted with Microsoft Office 2003.
“They can only write and speak a little bit of French, but they are getting there. Their fundamental aim is to land on Facebook and Skype, open email accounts and type a document, and I’m doing the best I can,” Diop said.
Diop blamed politicians and policymakers for failing to come up with ICT policies that enable equal access to both men and women in terms of content, connectivity, control and capacities.
The report deplored the systematic way in which gender aspects are being overlooked during the process of drafting and implementing ICT policies, saying that it is of concern to analysts of the information society’s development.
In the Bridge Gender and ICTs Overview Report, Anita Gurumurthy lists the following obstacles hampering women’s access to ICT:
- Unfamiliarity with the dominant languages of the Internet
- Lack of training in computer skills
- Domestic responsibilities
- Information delivered by ICTs not being valuable to them
- Infrastructure: mostly concentrated in urban areas whereas more women live in rural areas
- Public ICT facilities, which have a great tendency to become men-only spaces, are effectively inhibiting women’s access
A courtesy visit to an internet café in the vicinity of Diop’s house led to the discovery of grown-up men and schoolboys busy surfing the Internet, while a group of six schoolgirls surrounded one computer, checking videos on YouTube.
“Why would my wives worry about IT skills and for what good reason would they want to join Facebook or whatever you call it,” one polygamist man charged.
“They must stay at home to take care of the kids and cook for us, and study the Qur’an. This is Senegal! Women can’t just do things as they please.”
“Yes, my friends and I are all computer literate and we want to study IT at university to become computer wizards,” schoolgirl Jaineba Sarr said, laughing.
However, the Gender Digital Divide in Francophone Africa warned that while these ‘women of tomorrow’ with a secondary school education seem exempt from these gender disparities, they are still only being prepared for a secondary role as consumers and ‘helping hands’ in the information society.