PIN: Internet illiteracy, expensive data ‘keep Nigerian women offline’

PIN: Internet illiteracy, expensive data ‘keep Nigerian women offline’

PIN: Internet illiteracy, expensive data ‘keep Nigerian women offline’

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The online gender gap that keeps most Nigerian women off the Internet is being caused by Internet illiteracy and high cost of access, a report by Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) has identified.

PIN, a social enterprise that connects Nigerians with information technology technology (ICT) opportunities says that the study was conducted to understand the technology adoption pattern across the country.

While almost all the women interviewed owned or had access to a mobile phone and used them for voice calls nearly every day, only 50% use a combination of voice calls and SMS, according to the report. Only 34% use a combination of voice calls, SMS and Internet-based communication and only 2% of women interviewed use their mainly Internet-based communication.

According to the PIN report, the World Wide Web Foundation commissioned Ipsos Mori, a market research company in the UK to conduct a household face-to-face survey of the gender gap in ICT and Internet use in urban poor residential areas in 10 countries. The survey was conducted in the capital cities or main economic hubs of each of the 10 countries that include Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria.

While almost all the women interviewed owned or had access to a mobile phone and used them for voice calls nearly every day, only 50% use a combination of voice calls and SMS, according to the report. Only 34% use a combination of voice calls, SMS and Internet-based communication and only 2% of women interviewed use their mainly Internet-based communication.

Technology Times photo shows cross section of women looking at the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF 2016) held last week in Lagos.
Technology Times photo shows cross section of women looking at the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF 2016)

The low Internet usage could have a direct relationship with cost, with about 67% of the women seemingly able to afford only N50 – N800 of airtime weekly, according to the PIN report.

1GB data plan costs about N2, 500 on the average on Nigerian telecoms networks, with 1GB data plan on MTN Nigeria, the most widely used mobile network, costing around N3, 500 at the time of collecting the data.

Again, only up to 3% of both male and female respondents have had to use paid public access, and only 2% have had a chance at free public access and both men and women surveyed identified cost as the main barrier to access, with up to 18% of women having to depend on their spouse to pay for their Internet access, the report further reveals.

There is a low level of YouTube users as only 9% of the female respondents use YouTube with only 15% of the males, the study discovered, with the explaination that the low numbers on YouTube may be attributed to the volume and cost of data required to stream videos.

Authors of the PIN report reckon that individual agency and social interaction have implications for women’s empowerment but the Internet has even more enormous potential for the empowerment of women and girls. It can impact on the ability of women and girls to find user-friendly information about critical issues relating to them.

Most of the information provided by the Federal Government of Nigeria about women’s health, rights and other services that promote their well-being only reach a limited locality offline as websites and social media handles are mostly used as news blogs.

The PIN report also explains that most of these web pages are in English, a language that women with limited education and are less likely to be able to read or understand. This generally results in further obscurity and isolation of many women under these conditions since there is a higher percentage of educated men than women in Africa.

While noting that two-thirds of the world’s 870 million illiterate people are women with the lowest literacy rate in 13 African countries and 60% of the 100 million school age children in the developing world are girls who grow up without access to basic education, the report reveals that only 4% of the female respondents on the survey had completed tertiary education. Although 57% claimed to have completed secondary education.

STUDENT ON A TOUR AT THE SOCIAL MEDIA WEEK (1)
Technology Times photo file shows female students during a tour of Lagos Social Media Week 2016

The report further reveals that 18% of women who participated in the survey and do not use the Internet said that the main reason they do not currently use the Internet is because they do not know how to use it.

In addition to digital literacy and lack of information, another clear barrier extracted from the survey is affordability. Despite the fact that Lagos State reached an agreement with the Federal Government of Nigeria ahead of other states in the country to slash the prices of RoW (Right of Way) to telecoms operators in building critical infrastructure for broadband services so as to lower the cost of Internet access, the report states that many urban poor communities in the Lagos still find access unaffordable.

According to the PIN report, in Nigeria, there are no specific legally enshrined rights or policies to promote free or low-cost public Internet access such as budget allocations for Internet access in public libraries, schools or public centers or provisions for spectrum use by community Wi-Fi.

PIN states that its research, which is useful for closing the gender gap in ICT data and policymaking towards the empowerment of women and girls’ through ICTs, reveals that women in urban poor populations face similar barriers as those living in rural areas in ICT access and use. The biggest of those barriers perhaps being illiteracy and high cost of Internet access, with inability to access or use technology further deepening the cycle of discrimination and limitation that women face.

PIN also believes that there can be no real empowerment for women without quality access to information and access in this context even goes beyond availability of ICT infrastructure and web-enabled devices to include understanding the benefits of web-enabled ICTs, and having the skills required to access, manage, integrate, evaluate or create online information.

One of the strategies that can be adopted to increase access of women and girls to web-enabled technology is the development of public access centers such as information centers, especially as part of existing institutions such as health centres, schools and community centres, according to the NGO.

PIN however recommends that there is need for the ICT policy in Nigeria to prioritise issues related to bridging the gender gap in ICT access with concrete targets aimed at achieving equity beyond mere rhetorical commitment.

Unless there are measurable and time-bound targets to include specific interventions or programmes, with adequate budget allocation, encouraging increased access, training and use of the Internet for specific groups of women and girls who are most likely to lack Internet access and/or skills, the impact of this commitment will never be felt. Instead, the gender gap in ICT adoption may continue to widen, the PIN report says.

PIN also underscores increasing need for all players to actively address the issues of cost, speed, reliability and quality of services, affordable devices and competition in the country, adding that the government at all levels and their agencies, need to see telecoms operators as partners in progress. The National Assembly should also pay attention to stakeholders’ call for telecoms infrastructures to be declared as ‘critical national infrastructure.’

Government should implement policies that will promote innovations, stop or at least discourage monopoly, and improve the affordability. It is very important that broadband becomes a universal service at a very low cost to the people because of its impact on education, health and other basic aspects of life, including employment and income. Cheaper Internet access will amount to more women and girls online, thereby empowering them and improving their quality of lives, PIN suggests.

Gbenga Sesan Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
Gbenga Sesan Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria

The Federal Government in its gender empowerment drive has launched initiatives such as ‘Smart-Woman Nigeria’ and the ‘Digital Girls Clubs’ in Secondary Schools, but these programmes mostly promote empowerment among women and girls who already have access, the report states, adding that evolving initiatives that provide basic digital literacy skills and access to web-enabled technologies for women and girls least likely to have access and skills is important to meaningfully bridging the gender gap in ICT policy making in Nigeria in the short run.

Since basic literacy skills has been identified as a major limitation for many women and girls currently offline; relative and adequate training initiatives should be established, especially at the State and Local Government Levels, PIN advises.

Again, existing digital literacy initiatives with potential to reach vulnerable women and girls should be identified, promoted and supported with funding in other to scale, PIN further advises, adding that partnerships should also be sought with existing public institutions such as libraries and other educational government agencies as well as CSOs to execute digital literacy programmes focused on women and girls.

To effectively bridge the online gender gap in Nigeria, authors of the report advise the government to take the following concrete steps:

-Revise the draft Lawful Interception of Communications Legislation to ensure that surveillance powers are in line with human rights obligations and protect and promote women’s security and privacy online;

-Pass a Nigeria Digital Rights and Freedom Bill;

-Enact data protection and privacy legislation;

-Redouble efforts to publish information about women’s health, rights and other services that promote their well-being, using a variety of media including the Internet and ICTs.

-Collaborate with Civil Society organisations that are focused on Women and Girls in ICT; leverage on existing access to the women living in under-served communities through the CSOs.

-Review and update the National ICT Policy to reflect deliberate and concrete steps, (including timelines and budgets) for digital literacy initiatives and public access targeted at women and girls in urban-poor/rural settlements.

-Replicate efforts in federating units of Nigeria: the States and Local Government must commit to take similar measures alongside the Federal Government for meaningful results.

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Elizabeth Edozie Technology Journalist @Technology Times 08077671659 elizabeth.edozie@technologytimes.ng

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