Gender and women rights activists have called on the private sector and civil society organizations to come on board with funding programs which will enable women and girls’ access and afford digital tools to bridge the existing digital gender divide.
The call was made this weekend during a webinar session on awareness and advocacy on the use of ICT for Gender Equality in Rwanda organized by Save Generations Organization (SGO) in partnership with Urgent Action Fund Africa (UAF-Africa) aimed at discussing the challenges and opportunities for women and Girls to benefit from the current Digital Revolution in Rwanda.
The meeting was attended by womem ICT experts, academia, government ICT focused organs, private sector, media and civil society organizations.
In her welcoming remarks, Save Generations Organization (SGO) Executive Director, Madam Yvette Nyinawumuntu said that Since June 2021 up to date, Save Generations Organization is conducting an awareness and advocacy campaign for bridging the gender digital divide between men and women in Rwanda.
The aim of the initiative is to contribute to the Government of Rwanda’s Generation Equality Commitments on bridging the gender digital divide which Rwanda committed to co-lead at the Gender Equality Forum held in Paris, France on June 30-July 2, 2021.
She said ‘’Save Generations Organization as a civil society organization is contributing to this commitment by conducting this awareness and advocacy campaign to bridge the gender digital divide between men and women in Rwanda; with the aim to engage different partners and raise awareness on the importance of bridging the gender digital divide and advocating for the existing challenges that limit women and girls to participate equally in the use of ICT, Let’s stand together for this cause.’’
During the webinar, gender activists recognized government efforts in laying ICT infrastructure, crosscutting gender equality policies and access to technology devices but said that this has been left to government thus impeding key challenges of affordability and access cited among causes of the current digital divide.
Sylvia Nsanga, a feminist and Gender Digital Inclusion Expert, who also represented the Rwanda Information Society Authority (RISA), who has for more than 20 years helped government formulate ICT policy strategies said that there are many challenges Rwanda faces in bridging the digital divide but two of them are inevitable and have to be solved immediately if Rwanda is to implement its GEF action coalition commitment in leading the digital divide bridge.
The Generation Equality is a platform for Gender Equality; and from the 30th June to the 02nd July 2021, the Generation Equality Forum was held in Paris. The forum aimed at accelerating the progress towards gender equality through the implementation of Six Action Coalitions.
Rwanda is Co-Leading the action coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality, and as a country it has plans and commitments in this area.
Among them is the need to bridge the gender gap in digital access and address challenges limiting women and girls to benefit and participate in the current and future digital era.
This has seen the government lay countrywide internet fibre optic, establishment of innovation centers and schools, a smart Rwanda master plan and zero taxation on ICT equipment, digital ambassadors to train citizens, and under the Connect Rwanda program to offer free tech gadgets to Rwandans among others.
Nsanga said this has enabled access, affordability and skills development to a greater level but with private sector added efforts Rwanda can have mileage in solving existing critical gender gaps.
“We cannot negotiate access and skills because they are critical and have to be done. Everyone, especially the private sector, has to come on board and this will depend on how much they will invest,” Nsanga said.
She suggested that just as in other countries the banking sector must start offering subsidized tech gadget loan facilities to enhance government efforts in increased access and affordability.
Nsanga said if this is done, it will enhance President Paul Kagame’s recent commitment at the GEF meeting to address the further digital divide caused by the COVID19 pandemic which has affected women more.
For example, one of these women affected is Joy Ishimwe, a final year tourism student at the University of Tourism (UTB) who shared her experience of struggling to acquire ICT gadgets in order to remain relevant studying under the pandemic restricted movements.
“I had to find ways of acquiring an iPad on top of my smart phone so I can follow online lessons. Learning online was new but I had to learn even when it came with mockery from others, ” Ishimwe explained as one of the challenges of internet bullying women go through while online.
In such challenges some women like Lillian Ujeneza, a university lecturer in mathematical science and environmental studies, says they managed to beat the odds in male dominated domains in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) by seeking support from older successful men and women.
“To beat such stigma sometimes you have to speak out against it and also get support from role models around you,” Ujeneza said in her case she picked interest in science by working with her late Dad who was an agronomist.
To increase the ratio of women in sciences, Ujeneza advised government to deconstruct the STEM agenda by establishing a process in which girls are escorted through their studies and given knowledge on what chances of success they stand in life if they choose any of the science subjects especially after secondary level where there is a 50/50 uptake between boys and girls.
On the government side, Benoit Gasigwa, the Director of planning at the Ministry of ICT and innovation said; it’s the role of civil society and the private sector to offer a helping hand to the government to bring tangible solutions to challenges that hinder women from getting involved in the current digital revolution.
As civil society, Save Generations Organization Executive Director, Yvette Nyinawumuntu said that they will embark on advocacy and mass mobilisation to open public discussion on new ways of engaging other stakeholders in addressing other challenges especially culture mindsets, content relevance, safety and security, stereotypes and education which hinder gender equality in ICT.
She ended by calling upon all stakeholders including private sector, academia, Government Institutions and Agencies and civil society organizations to join hands together to bridge this existing Gender Digital divide hence creation of the Generation Equality for the Rwanda we want.