March 8 has been celebrated globally since 1911 as the International Women’s Day. Several countries celebrate it as a day for unity, celebration, reflection, struggles, rights advocacy, action and giving women a voice in a male-dominated world.
As part of the various commemorative events, Paradigm Initiative, in partnership with the World Wide Web Foundation hosted a workshop, on tackling issues surrounding digital inequality and women’s rights online in Nigeria. Held at the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja Lagos, the workshop was aimed at sensitizing and building support towards addressing the empowerment of women and girls in Nigeria through the web; with a coordinated statement to be developed afterwards for presentation to policy makers and actors in the political capital.
Delivering the welcome remarks, Tope Ogundipe, Director of Programs, Paradigm Initiative, presented the 2016 Women’s Rights Online Report Card, which measures the progress of bridging the gender digital divide in Africa and in Nigeria. The report reveals that African nations still struggle with high rates of digital gender divide. Nigeria has an overall score of 30%.
- 67% of women surveyed in Lagos were unable to afford a 1GB data plan;
- Only 36% of poor women in Lagos use the internet;
- There is no data on the number of schools connected to the internet in Nigeria, education is not explicitly addressed in the 2012 national ICT policy;
- Just 2% of women have access to mobile financial services, information about women’s health, rights, and other services is lacking online and the;
Nigerian police rarely pursue charges of online harassment and the Cybercrime Act only criminalises cyber stalking but not harassment or other violence against women online.
Hence, the report reveals that on a scale of 10, Nigeria scores 5 on affordability of internet services, 2 on internet access and women’s empowerment, 2 on digital skills and education, 3 on relevant content and services, and 3 on online safety. Nigeria’s performance is generally poor in women’s digital empowerment/development even though the country’s performance is still higher than those of many other Sub-Saharan African countries.
Speaking on advancing women’s digital rights, the Policy and Government Relations Manager for Google, Titilayo Akinsanmi explained that the issues and discrimination women face in real world are same as those faced in the digital world as they are naturally translated to digital activities. She enjoined women advocacy groups to take the lead at infusing digital policies into their individual/corporate operations, get more grooming in digital education before they can expose women and girls to both general women’s rights and the available women’s digital rights. Akinsanmi shared some of the available tools for knowing and exercising digital rights such as the Google Trends, Trusted Flagger, Report, Blacklist, and Blocking options for online harassments, as well as legal rights such as the Cybercrime Act, the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill, which has passed second reading, and the African Union Cyber Security Convention (awaiting enforcement).
The workshop ended with a class activity where participants were grouped into five, to develop specific organisational strategies for advancing women’s digital rights and empowerment, putting into cognizance the strategies discussed at the event. As expressed by the leader of group 1, Ifeoluwa Oloruntuyi, Research Associate at ThistlePraxis Consulting, some women organisations are faced with challenges of getting girls to attend empowerment sessions, misinformation, and abuse of information, amongst other challenges. Hence, the group suggested strong personal/corporate online presence, awareness in form of campaigns, advocacies, and petitions, partnerships, educating women and girls on their rights and building confidence, as well as Parent-Teachers’ forums, as specific strategies to advancing women’s digital rights. Other groups highlighted mentoring, suggesting policies to the government, and building a network of girls.
The workshop participants put forward five (5) points to improve women’s digital empowerment: Protection of online rights, integrating digital literacy into schools’ curricula, making internet accessible and affordable, introducing local language contents to education and government websites, and setting development targets and measurement indicators.