By Zaituni Njovu


JAMILA is a 17-year-old high school student who aspires in future to become an innovator and tech enthusiast with a mission to offer solutions that make life easier for her community. Since her early age, she has been quite a site to see from her extraordinary character and unwavering interest in machinery and any form of electronic device that is within her reach.


Unlike her peers, who use time for self-studying and browsing on social media for amusement; for Jamila, however, it is quite a different story. Most of the time, you will find her busy with a screw driver from her father’s tool box disassembling a broken device, trying to figure out what went wrong. And, well, if it’s not the case of a device that malfunctioned, she will, in the same manner, try to figure out what makes a device work.


Although her daily activities seem to be odd in the eyes of her two older brothers – the first born being an already established entrepreneur while the other pursues a reputation as a freelance communications consultant – they fully support their young sibling with the understanding that women need to be helped in order for them to have a place in the engineering and innovation sector.


As the world marks 2023’sInternational Women’s Day, the United Nations (UN) and UN Women are celebrating this memorable day under the theme DigitALL: innovation and technology for Gender equality in a bid to ensure both men and women share and utilize equal opportunities which are made available by the increasing global digitalization.

According to the 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, across low- and middle-income countries, 59 million additional women started using mobile internet in 2021. It further showed that women remained 7% less likely to own a mobile phone compared to men and are 16% less likely to use mobile internet. This means that there are still 264 million fewer women than men with access to mobile internet. The percentage of women graduates in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is 1.7%, compared to 8.2% of men graduates.


The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa CIPESA indicated that in Africa there were only 19% of women using the internet in 2022, compared to other men. The slow rate of internet access and adoption has been linked to the mobile gender gap where women in low and middle-income countries are 16% less likely than men to use mobile internet as found in GSMA report in 2020. For women and young girls, having access to the internet opens doors to increased opportunity, knowledge and resources.


For Tanzania, various initiatives by the government and non-government organizations have been placed to ensure that women are empowered morally and materially via sponsored education programs such as the Samia Scholarship program overseen by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training; Vodacom Digital Accelerator program which is a partnership program between Vodacom Tanzania and Smart labs; and other initiatives that are aimed to make women become digitally savvy and have equal opportunities.


In the bid to ensure equality and inclusion is realized in the digital space, Zaina Foundation, a non-profit organization which promotes the state of digital rights and inclusion in Tanzania has been pioneering initiatives that aim to empower women in technology through different projects that are tailored to support women’s Internet use in socio economy as well the utilization of safe and secure tools for browsing the Internet.


Accessibility and Affordability of networks in Tanzania is a main challenge facing marginalized women. Digital Voice is one of the famous projects in Tanzania ran by Zaina Foundation that is designed with the sole purpose of empowering young women to use the internet in order to expand the civic space in Tanzania.


According to Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) report, until December 2022, Tanzania had a total of 31.1 million internet users, whereas only 18% were women. This shows that few women and girls in Tanzania participate in the field of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT). As a result, only 25% of women hold technological jobs and only 10% of students are learning degrees in computer science.


Digital gender gap in innovation and technology is caused by different reasons, according to the OECD 2018 report, hurdles to access and affordability of internet and digital devices, lack of education and digital skills, as well as inherent biases and socio-cultural norms and online gender based violence have been listed as the common reasons that discourage women and girls’ ability to benefit from the opportunities offered by digital transformation.


In addition, girls’ relatively lower educational enrolment in disciplines that would allow them to perform well in a digital world such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as information and communication technologies coupled with women’s and girls’ more limited use of digital tools could lead to widening gaps and greater inequality.


Digital gender gap in technology and innovation has social, cultural and economic impact as follows. Lack of new avenues for the economic empowerment of women and can contribute to the gender inequality, Low or no opportunities to earn additional income from the internet, digital platforms, mobile phones and digital financial services offer “leapfrog”, decrease employment opportunities, as 90% of jobs are in technology, decrease chances of knowledge access and general information. Low level of civic engagement to women and opportunities to be accountable and responsible in the community in different areas including political leadership positions, social activist and advocacy programs. Holding back girls and women in this area affects every aspect of their lives including the ability to speak out and campaign on issues that affect them. Without equal access to technology and the internet girls and women are not able to equally participate in society.


At Zaina Foundation, we advocate for equality on Digital Technology in Innovation and Creativity through promoting the state of Digital Rights and inclusion in Tanzania.  In order to close the Gender gap in innovation and technology, it is paramount that measures such as the implementation of digital inclusion policies, programs and tools are incorporated with affordable broadband internet service, investment in digital technology initiatives and expanding of equal access to technology.

These above solutions should be complimented by the provision of quality technical support that will enable and encourage self-sufficiency, media advocacy in promoting gender equality, conducting more research to provide actual data on digital gender gap, investment in provision of ICT knowledge at primary education level and multi stakeholder collaboration.

All the above solutions should work in sync for Tanzania to be able to realize the dream of closing the existing digital gender gap if we are to fulfill the quest of having socio-economic digital equality.

Zaituni Njovu is the Chief Executive Officer of Zaina Foundation, a non-profit organization which promotes the state of digital rights and inclusion in Tanzania.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.