By Vision Reporter
Uganda has joined the rest of the world to launch the Women’s Rights Online Research.
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) gender policy officer, Irene Murungi said it’s important to get more Ugandan women involved in internet policy debates.
“WOUGNET envisions a society where women enjoy equal internet access and rights. Our country is surrounded by opportunities for information and communications technologies (ICTs) to address challenges of sustainable development at all level,” said Murungi.
She noted that women must be at the centre of the process. Murungi however noted that women are always side-lined on ICT policy and initiatives.
Addressing the media at WOUGNET offices, Murungi said they are working hard to get online gender equality onto the government’s agenda.
“When we fight for this, a number of questions are raised: Why focus on women and technology when only 18% of the population is online and so many Ugandans are living in poverty? Experts intimate however that these questions miss the bigger picture. When women get online, they can learn about their rights and how to report violence,” said WOUGNET coordinator, Dr. Dorothy Okello.
She noted that with such skills, women are exposed to more opportunities to compete in businesses, jobs and learning to improve their livelihoods.
In Uganda, however such mission faces a number of challenges including getting women connected in a predominantly rural country with a low average income, providing women with the skills to access the web, when the female literacy rate stands at only 71.3%.
Inadequate media reporting on women issues and their use of technology is another challenge.
“We cannot be ignored; we must be brought into policy discussions to make sure gender inequality is not exacerbated by a lack of Internet access. Most critical changes in policy direction needed are a guarantee of freedom of expression and association and laws that ensure a safe space for discussion,” Murungi explained.
WOUGNET campaigns have highlighted gender concerns in Uganda’s cyber policies, and have helped raise awareness on Uganda’s current digital environment. She was optimistic that the future is bright by increasing women participation in political, social and economic discussions online.
“To do this we must eliminate abuse of women’s safety and privacy online, ensuring that women feel empowered and entitled to use Internet and benefit from it on equal terms with their male counterparts.”
A study conducted by WOUGNET with support from Worldwide Web Foundation shows that ICT and telecommunications industry in Uganda is booming. From 2011 to 2012, the sector's contribution to the Gross Domestic Product more than doubled. Uganda boasts of 15 million mobile phone subscribers, but majority of these are in urban areas. Whereas 85% of the population lives in rural areas, 80% of internet users in Uganda are urban residents, according to the Ugandan Communications Commission.
Drawing from research, conducted in urban poor residential areas in Kampala, the report describes the reality of women's access to the internet and seeks to identify barriers preventing women in Uganda from going online.
The report being released states that women's access to the internet is far less than men's, only 21% of the female respondents had accessed the internet in six months prior to the survey, compared to 61% men and that 44% of men had accessed a computer, compared to only 18% women.
Uganda face challenges that include involving limited Internet access and women’s rights online, affordability of internet data bundles, and this was referenced by male respondents to the survey, with 24% of men and 8% of women noting that internet is very expensive.
The study revealed that 34% of women non internet users attributed their limited access to not knowing how to use the internet, and only 15% of men agreed to the same. Three quarters of women interviewed expressed concern that the internet was not helping them, but rather taking too much of their money through frequent chats with friends.
Women however, believed that the internet is valuable for practicing religion. “Surprisingly, 100% of the respondents agreed that people have a right to comment on any post without government interference, except if it’s a politically sensitive post.”
The report recommends public education to change women’s educational, societal and personal attitude towards engaging with the internet and ICTs; and the need to be done to build appreciation of the internet in Uganda and to improve the capacity and confidence of women to go online.
Gender equality goes online; women call for equal internet access