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African women given the impetus can put technolpgy to good use. Source: ris.lib.unc.edu

I pose this simple question to ICT4D researchers on International Women's Day 2012. My orignal intention for this post was to highlight the limited access that African women, and those in other parts of the developing world, have to the Internet and other vital information sources. But where could I find comprehensive statistics to back my claim?

Tweeting at BarCamp Takoradi, Ghana: Men dominate the show

 Or, perhaps am I just tasking myself to bring a non-issue into the limelight? I don't think so. Cursory observation and scanty data available show just how grave the situation is:

  • Women’s participation in Internet usage in Africa ranged from 12% (Senegal) to 38% (Zambia), according to this 2003 study. This is notwithstanding the fact that women constitute the majority in most African countries.
  • According to socialbakers.com, far more men than women use the social networking site, Facebook in Ghana.

Male/Female ratio of Ghana's Facebook Users

Studies showthat women naturally tend to use the Internet and mobiles for personal and intimate encounters, like what persists on social networks, more than men. So why the huge disparities?

  • In Uganda, women's awareness and usage of ICTs is nearly three times less that that of men (ResearctICTAfrica, 2006). There, women tend to acquire basic ICT skills in order to be able to get  employment in gender-stereotyped roles, it was noted.

These sad developments defeat the objectives of women empowerment as captured by the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in 2003:

We are committed to ensuring that the Information Society enables women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society and in all decision-making processes. To this end, we should mainstream a gender equality perspective and use ICTs as a tool to that end.

Team Azma coming out of the Kuyu Project Digital Camp in Kenya show the way forward for African girls and women

Not only that. Granted that ICTs have been identified as development tools and women are at the heart of development in our communities, the situation is worrying. Knowledge is power. The inability of women to drink from the knowledge well of the world-wide web is disempowering; this is the inimical to the advancement of development in Africa and elsewhere. Their lack of avenues to express themselves through the emerging digital frontiers choke their voices in the arena of public discourse. This cannot be!

Firstly, we need to be able to place a figure on the actual number of active female Internet users. Next, we should figure out the factors that inhibit women's use of the web and finally put in measures to reverse this trend. Many women are leading the way when it comes to technology in Africa, but we must support many more to bring change to our communities. Bring the women online!

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