ICT skills to take on gender digital divide

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Dakar, Senegal

After 15 years of marriage and four children, computer illiterate Aissatou Thiaw (35) is full of desire to knock the learning doors of the information highway. The aim, she told Biztechafrica, is not only to catch up with lost time and opportunities, but also to reduce the digital divide in the family, whereby her husband and their children have long embraced the digital revolution.

“Am I told too old to learn the techniques of information and communication technology? I don’t think so. Learning only stops when you are dead,” Aissatou said.

“I get some sort of envy and jealousy whenever my children are working on a computer while I’m busy doing the household chores.”

Like many women in West Africa, particularly in Senegal, who get married at early age, Aissatou walked down the aisle at the age of 20 just after leaving high school, and got down to the business of making kids without looking back.

But now, thanks to her husband’s understanding and permission, she has registered at an IT centre in central Dakar, where she is attending part-time classes.

“I think it’s time to put some IT sense into my mind, and see what the future holds for me,” she said.

Her husband, Abdoulaye Thiaw, a civil servant, said he has big plans for his wife, and therefore wants her to be well-prepared in case those plans come to materialise. “I’m thinking of opening a little business, something very much related to IT and put her in charge. So these IT skills will help her run it without any problem,” he said, declining to name the nature of the business.

As in any patriarchal and religiously conservative society, women in Senegal lie far behind men in terms of literacy, intellectual development and professional merit. While Aissatou was lucky to attend high school, and can read and write and speak French, not every Senegalese woman is blessed with that rare quality.

One woman out of six (61%) in Senegal cannot read or write, according to UNICEF. And in a country that has woken up late up to embrace the digital revolution, computer literacy among women could be among the lowest in West Africa, according to former IT teacher Ousmane Sy.

“Women in Senegal are more household-oriented than career-minded which is unfortunate. Well, blame it on the traditions and cultural beliefs,” Sy told Biztechafrica.

If Aissatou, or another woman like her out there, manages to complete her IT course, she would not only put some IT sense in her mind – as she said – but she will unknowingly reduce the country’s digital divide, though at an insignificant margin.

A gender digital divide report, The Gender Digital Divide in Francophone Africa – a Harsh Reality, said: “The results of our work are not surprising: the gender digital divide is a reality in Francophone Africa, and its extent is considerable: its composite index has a value of 0,64. Which means that men have ‘10 opportunities’ to women’s six in the vast and multi-faceted ICT sector.”

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