African governments leave women out of digital revolution

Although governments across Africa have collected more than $400-million meant to close the gender divide in access to internet, these funds are sitting unspent according to a report released on Monday.

The report, titled Universal Service and Access Funds: An Untapped Resource to Close the Gender Digital Divide, was launched by the Web Foundation, the Alliance for Affordable Internet and UN Women. It examines the existence of universal service and access funds (USAFs) which are public funds dedicated to expanding internet connectivity and access.

The report states that if governments fail to utilise these funds, they will be undermining the global development that 193 UN member states agreed to achieve by 2020.

The decision to connect women and “offline populations” by 2020 was part of an initiative that saw the internet as key to social and economic development. This led countries to set up communal funds aimed at “expanding connectivity opportunities to unserved and underserved communities” which is how USAFs were created.

Thirty-seven countries on the continent have USAFs set up and 62% of the funds are considered active. Yet most countries are not spending the money and only four of the countries – Rwanda, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda – are actively working on using the funds.

An analysis reveals that at least $408-million intended for programmes to address gender gaps in access to digital platforms has been left unused across the continent with $10-million sitting in South Africa’s USAFs.

Almost half the world is online, but close to four billion people remain unconnected. On the continent, 22% of the population is online, with the widest gap in internet use between men and women at 25%.

According to the report, the $408-million worth of unspent funds could be used to connect nearly six million women, or to provide digital skills training for 16 million women and girls.

The three organisations that compiled the report have called on African governments to “take action to connect women and other offline populations” by investing at least 50% of the collected funds to establish programmes that provide universal and affordable internet for women.

The report also found that only 23 countries on the continent openly publish details on their USAF activities. But these events and activities, according to the report, are either in obscure destinations or too detailed and confusing that they tend to alienate citizens who are interested in learning more.

During the launch of the report, executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said: “Universal service and access funds offer an incredible and vastly underutilised opportunity for making real progress — an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.

“Every day that these funds remain unused is another day women and girls are sidelined in the digital revolution. We call on governments to take immediate action to put these funds toward their intended purpose, and to work to make the digital divide history – starting with women and girls.”

Read the full report here:

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