The intensive, educative, informative, and thought-provoking sessions at the 67th Commission of the Status of Women has closed successfully after its two-week long deliberations.
As a UN Women delegate who participated in the UN’s largest annual gathering on gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls and their human rights, I was reassured by the concluding recommendations and statements to chart a blueprint for all stakeholders. At high-level conferences such as this, you have the whole world present, and that’s how you compare the progress of your country to others with regards to the theme under review.
Veracity is Ghana as a country needs to give a lot more attention to this critical topic, more importantly, on how we can bridge the digital gender divide especially for rural women and girls. The month of March is a significant one for our country with key celebrations such as our Independence, Ghana month and also to the world, the month to celebrate women- International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.
Sixty-six years of Independence should have been appropriately celebrated with key milestones such as access to electricity, internet and mobile technology in every nook and cranny of the country. Nevertheless, the story is different because basic social amenities such as potable water, hospitals, schools et al are not easily accessible in most of our rural communities.
Justine Greening said: “No country can truly develop if half of its country is left behind.”
Highlights of the CSW67 Conference
In her opening remarks, at the 2nd plenary session of the United Nations 67th Commission for the Status of Women (CSW67) themed “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”, the Chairperson, H.E. Ambassador Mathu Joyni bemoaned the gender digital divide especially among rural women and girls.
“Gender based discrimination is an existing problem that has been woven into the fabric of our political, social, and economic lives. The technological sector is no different. While digitalization is portrayed as an equalizer of opportunities, it has failed to consider gender, race, age, locality, disability, income, social technical infrastructure of low-income countries when developing technology solutions,” she added.
Thus, Joyni called on everyone to prioritize women and girls’ acquisition of digital skills and learning that will enhance their meaningful participation in innovation processes.
Gender Digital Divide in Ghana
Data made available by Afro Barometer, a pan-African, non-partisan, non-profit survey research network that provides reliable data on Africans’ experiences and evaluations of democracy, governance, and quality of life shows that in Ghana 63 percent of men are more likely to have phones with access to the Internet as compared to 49 percent of women.
On the other hand, 66 percent urban residents have mobile phones with access to the internet than 40 percent of rural residents.
The data also indicates that access to computers is very low. Only 2 in 10 Ghanaians (20 per cent) own computers. With 26 percent of men, 27 percent of urbanites, and 24 percent of the youth owning computers than their counterparts. Between 2019 and 2022, about 92 to 95 percent of men owned mobile phones as compared to 83 to 90 percent of women in the same period.
Inadequate Digital Access in Rural Ghana
In rural Ghana, only 34 to 40 percent of individuals had access to internet connectivity compared 59 to 66 percent of urban dwellers between 2019 and 2022, while only 10 percent of individuals in the rural community own computers as compared to 24 percent in the urban areas.
As of 2022, only 18 percent had secondary education and 54 percent had post- secondary education in Ghana. It is not enough to have connectivity; we need literacy to teach the populace how to use technology. More so, women and girls also need safety on the internet and free connectivity as well. Arguably, funding girls’ education can support the mission to end poverty long-term in most of these rural communities.
Reasons Behind the Digital Gender Division
Cultural factors encourage fewer women to have access to technology while poverty disproportionately affects women and girls more than men. Not forgetting that, the issue of gender digital divide also stems from gender-based discrimination & systemic norms.
Is GIFEC’s Intervention Impacting Rural Communities?
According to information on the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC) website, over the past 25 years, a UN agency (ITU) has promoted various initiatives to accelerate the growth of the information society and enhance the quality of life in the 21st century.
It is against this backdrop that, the Government of Ghana set up Ghana Investment Fund for Telecommunications (GIFTEL) which later became (GIFEC) under the promulgation of the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775) to facilitate the implementation of universal access to electronic communication and the provision of internet point of presence in underserved and unserved communities, facilitate capacity building programmes and promote ICT inclusion in the unserved and underserved communities, the deployment of ICT equipment to educational, vocational and other training institutions.
GIFEC has championed the undermentioned project to provide universal access to electronic communication.
The Rural Connectivity Programme seeks to extend the coverage of mobile telephone services as far as possible into all areas of the country (2,016 Rural Areas (up to 3.4 million residents) where access to such services are not adequately available, and where existing licensed operators have proven unwilling or unable to expand their networks, due to commercial or other technological constraints.
ICT Capacity Building and Skills Development Programme: The objective of this programme is to promote digital inclusion at the community level and also help bridge the digital divide nationwide, by funding the provision of basic ICT training to civil and public servants and others in the underserved and unserved communities using the Community ICT Centres (CICs).
Cyberlabs Programme: This program represents the most comprehensive and extensive component of GIFEC’s strategic approach to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) development in Ghana. The purpose of this program is to facilitate efforts and support full-service internet connectivity, services, and facilities to designated unserved and underserved communities in Ghana, delivering broadband access that is available to all potential users within each local service area.
Proffering these recommendations to improve the digital gender divide narrative in our rural communities. First, by providing digital access on a national scale, with provisions for safety, equitable distribution, legal protections, and more research.
More notably, making women and girls aware of all online dangers and informing them how to protect themselves through access to education and digital literacy.
Quality education is the baseline for a digitised society, hence, advocate for equitable education for all women and girls.
On this note, I urge stakeholders and responsible institutions like the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC) to guarantee a network of support with localized organizations and leaders to address gender gaps in schooling and provide access to digital resources for an empowered, equal, and safe digital space for women.
In my opinion, GIFEC is doing a good job to bridge the digital divide in the rural communities, nevertheless, is their intervention universal enough and are they giving priority to women and girls?
We need a united front for a game-changing and connected world for women and girls to achieve diversity at all levels.
>>>The writer is a Communications & PR Consultant with nearly a decade of experience in public relations, corporate communications, corporate social responsibility, event planning and management, media relations, digital PR, advertising, and content creation. She is currently a PR Consultant for Abjel Communications. She has acquired practical experience in executing communications-related activities for multinational clients and is also a UN Women Delegate who participated in the 67th Commission for the Status of Women. She can be reached via email: [email protected] and on LinkedIn @ Phoebe Pappoe.