Lifting the veil on ICT gender indicators in Africa

Mariama Deen-Swarray · Alison Gillwald · Ashleigh Morrell · Safia Khan

Gender equality has been identified as critical to the realisation of knowledge societies. This has been reflected in policy commitments at both global and national levels. The increased take up of information and communication technologies (ICTs), particularly broadband, has increasingly been linked to economic growth and social inclusion. Yet, the uneven nature of such developments is widely known. In acknowledgement of this in relation to gender the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003 called on governments to find ways of providing opportunities for women to participate and empowering them to ensure their full and equal participation at all levels. Despite these rhetorical undertakings though there has been little systematic collection of sex disaggregated data on ICT access and use and even less that analyses the descriptive data that exists. Without such analysis, descriptive data is not only incomplete but can also mislead policymakers on the correct points of policy intervention aimed at encouraging greater gender equity in ICTs.

The conceptual framework of inclusivity provides a lens through which to explore the findings of the Research ICT Africa (RIA) 2012 household and individual access and use survey, in order to provide a descriptive and empirical analysis based on gender disaggregated data. The analysis seeks to unmask the gender dimension of the limited sex disaggregated ICT indicators available. Using the dataset from the 2012 survey, which was conducted across 12 African countries, the purpose of this paper is to look at the gap in ICT access and use, from a gender perspective, both at the country level and comparatively across countries. Building on the 2010 RIA gender and ICT report (Gillwald et al., 2010), the paper seeks to examine whether the gap between men and women with regard to ICT access and use diminishes the greater the equality in education and income between men and women.

With the increased access to the internet through mobile phones by those at the bottom of the pyramid, which this study confirms is where women are concentrated, the skills barrier to accessing the internet has been lowered. While this has improved access, the unevenness in use and the skills to optimise the informational and educational, and indeed entertainment, value of the internet may be as wide as ever. Focusing on mobile phones, the study highlights the differences in ICT use patterns from a gender perspective and further explores empirically the factors that impact access to, and ownership and use of ICTs, particularly income and education. The methodology and questionnaire adopted for the data collection take into consideration the various factors that are likely to influence ICT access and use in developing nations, specifically addressing the issue of disaggregation. The gender split is integrated into the design of the study and methodology, facilitating gender analysis. In this way this study is able to contribute to the limited body of literature on African ICT access and use at the individual and household levels, using disaggregated data.

The descriptive findings show that women generally have less access to ICTs than men and this increases as the technologies and services become more sophisticated and expensive, requiring greater levels of income and education to access and to operate. The analysis demonstrates that gender disparities exist for mobile phone adoption in rural areas. In urban areas, differences in mobile phone adoption are a consequence of the differences in income and education. Internet adoption however, is affected by gender disparities in both urban and rural areas and women seem to be the last movers (or late adopters) of technology in this case.

Keywords: Gender, sex disaggregation, indicators, ICT policy, inclusivity, exclusivity

Suggested citation

Deen-Swarray, M., Gillwald, A., Morrell, A., & Khan, S. (2012). Lifting the veil on ICT gender indicators in Africa(Evidence for ICT Policy Action). Research ICT Africa.