Though women and girls contribute a lot to the global socio-economic development in respect to the under-estimated role they play in the society, they are not able to explore and use all the potentials of digitalization in responding to the COVID-19 crises. This is due to the limited digital access, affordability, and digital skills. Therefore, the digital responses to the pandemic are likely to widen the digital gender gap and affect the post covid-19 recovery plans if there is no change in the current digital initiatives.
The above gender digital divide issues were discussed on Wednesday, June 10th, 2020 during a virtual dialogue, the third edition of the GENDER CAFÉ, organized by FES Rwanda and UN Women, with the title ” Bridging the Gender Digital Divide in the Context of Covid-19 and Beyond”
The Gender café is an already established platform that brings together gender and development experts, gender activists and other people interested in bridging the gender gaps across various sectors.
In his introductory remarks, Mr. Oliver Dalichau, FES Rwanda Country Representative, highlighted the gender digital gap by referring on how women are less represented in digital related jobs, financial transactions and in other digital opportunities. He emphasized that gender equality is a human rights issue and is part of social protection and inclusive economic transformation. He called upon women and girls’ empowerment to bridge digital gaps and to induce their participation in digital economy.
The UNWomen Representative in Rwanda, Fatou Lo, noted that people already excluded from social and economic opportunities tend to be digitally excluded and therefore it is imperative that we ensure that technology is gender-transformative.
Furthermore, three main threats which negatively affect gender equality could be identified which are education, women economic empowerment and gender-based violence (GBV).
To combat those threats, UN Women recommends as a way forward: “Without deliberate efforts to scale up the access, the use of technology and affordability of it, this gender digital divide is going to be widening.“And, “ the future must be inclusive, must be more equitable, would be digital, it must be green as well.”
Despite all these challenges, there are tremendous opportunities to do things differently, to do them better and to make sure that all digital initiatives do not leave more women and girls behind. The answer should be more inclusive trainings, more knowledge, a better understanding, and a cheaper and easier access to technology.
The main speaker of the “GENDER Café”, the Government Chief Information Officer from the Rwanda Information Society Authority (RISA), Madam Josephine Nyiranzeyimana, explained the big role of digitalization in the recent responses to the Covid-19 crisis.
Her examples included the “Gig Economy” and “Gig workers into play”, E-learning and online market platforms, teleworking, digital payments, e-commerce, e-health, reliance on smart devices, etc.
Some other digital projects in Rwanda such as the “Digital Ambassadors Program (DAP”), the ICT Bus, the Women in Technology Program, the Rwanda Coding Academy, the Innovate for Women and Connect Rwanda were mentioned. Challenges associated to the lack of digital education, comfort, and confidences of girls in ICT, cultural biases, technophobia, and awareness could be seen as other obstacles.
Among other questions, the discussion turned around the following questions:
During the digital discussion, speakers and representatives from UNICEF, UNESCO, DoT Rwanda, Carnegie Mellon University admitted that the previous and existing initiatives might not be enough to empower women and girls. Illiterate and rural women are still behind and there is an urgent need to focus on rural communities, and general education as basis of digital awareness and engagement.
Collaborative efforts to ensure that digitalization and gender mainstreaming start at an early stage of education and are integrated in all the initiatives and across all the sectors were recommended.
At the end of the virtual discussion, UN Women and FES Rwanda thanked the participants and invited them to more participation in future gender dialogues: Both organizations underlined the interest to continue exchanging ideas on gender issues and to promote human rights, gender equality through collaborative efforts.