By Maureen Shelmith
The digital age has brought forth immense opportunities for the empowerment of women and girls in Kenya, from online learning to digital activism and high-paying tech jobs. However, technology is also introducing new forms of inequality and threats to their rights and well-being. Women and girls are underrepresented across the creation, use and regulation of technology, limiting their digital empowerment and the transformative potential of technology.
This exclusion has significant economic consequences. Over the past decade, women’s exclusion from the digital sphere has resulted in a $1 trillion loss in GDP in low- and middle-income countries. As such, closing the gender gap in technology is not just a matter of human rights, but also economic growth and development.
March is Women History Month. UN announced that the theme for International Women’s Day (IWD), 8 March 2023 is, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. The theme focuses on the repercussions of the digital gender gap, which exacerbates economic and social inequalities.
To advance human rights in Kenya’s digital age, we must take action to close the gender gap in digital access and skills. This means providing equal opportunities for women and girls to learn digital skills and enter tech-related careers. It also means addressing the digital divide that leaves many women and girls without access to digital services and technologies. Creating technology that meets the needs of women and girls is also crucial to advancing human rights. This requires involving women and girls in the design and development of technology to ensure that it is inclusive and accessible to all. It also means creating technology that addresses the specific challenges that women and girls face, such as access to healthcare and education.
Kenya has made strides in advancing digital technologies, with mobile penetration at 62% and a growing tech industry. However, this progress should not come at the cost of the safety and well-being of its citizens, especially women and girls. A recent study by Plan International Kenya found that 52% of girls in Kenya had experienced some form of online violence, highlighting the urgent need for action.
One of the most pressing challenges facing women and girls in the digital age is technology-facilitated gender-based violence. This includes online harassment and violence, which disproportionately affects women and girls. To address this, we must develop legal frameworks that protect women and girls from technology-facilitated violence, as well as provide support services for survivors. In addition, design processes based to improve reporting and moderation systems, helping to take the onus off victims. Teaching digital citizenship can help cover issues of online violence, instilling empathy and ethical digital media use, and teaching boys and men to become advocates for gender equality.
In response, civil society organizations in Kenya have been working to raise awareness and promote digital safety. For example, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) has been advocating for better digital policies and advancing digital literacy. However, more needs to be done at the national level to address online violence. The government should work with civil society organizations and the private sector to develop coordinated strategies and policies to promote digital safety, with a focus on protecting women and girls.
An equitable digital future requires a concerted effort from all sectors of society. Kenya has the potential to lead the way in promoting digital safety and gender equality, but action is urgently needed to ensure that the benefits of the digital world are enjoyed by all, regardless of gender.
Maureen Shelmith is a Communications Officer at Amnesty International Kenya and writes in her personal capacity. Email: [email protected]