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Study tackles gender issues in African ICT

A new study shows woman embrace tech more rapidly than men in some areas

The growth of mobile phones, improved employment and general economic development has enabled African women to embrace technology, although inequities still exist in some areas.

A study conducted in 17 African countries found that in South Africa and Mozambique, more women than men own mobile phones while in Cameroon, more women than men have greater knowledge on Internet. In Tanzania, meanwhile, women tend to own more expensive phones than men do.

The research was conducted by Alison Gillwald, Anne Milek and Christoph Stork from Research ICT Africa, an organization based South Africa and supported by the Canadian International Development Research Center (IDRC).

One of the findings seems to shake the widely held belief that governments should develop ICT policies as one of the ways to address inequities between men and women. The study found that ICT policies can not address gender inequities in access to ICT.

"From this evidence we conclude that, to a large extent, gender inequities in access to and usage of ICTs cannot be addressed through ICT policies per se; they require policy interventions in other areas that would allow women and girls to enjoy the benefits of ICTs equally," the team noted in the research published on their website.

Instead of lobbying for ICT policies, the paper suggests that gender activists should focus on policies and programs that reach out directly to women and provide incentives for participation in mathematics, science and engineering.

In Kenya, the debate has shifted to mentor programs and career support for girls in primary, high schools and colleges. A lack of mentors for girls has been identified as a major reason for the absence of women in technical fields.

"During career days, most speakers in technical professions are men, our goal is to have more women in technical fields as speakers and mentors; policies only create the enabling environment but actions must be taken by individuals as well as ICT organizations," said Gladys Muhunyo, a director in charge of Africa at Computer Aid International who is involved with a mentorship program under LinuxChix in Kenya.

The Research ICT Africa survey offered Interesting findings: while men purchase their mobile phones and airtime, most women receive phones as gifts from relatives or lovers.The study suggests however, that where men and women are faced with similar circumstances -- such as income, education level and exposure to technology -- no significant differences appear. For example, poverty generally contributes to the purchase buying of second-hand phones.

"This means that women with similar income, education and employment status are as likely as men to own a mobile phone; although men spend more on mobile phones in absolute terms, women spend a greater share of their monthly income on mobile usage," the study notes.

From the evidence, the team concluded that although there is gender inequity, poorer men and women may have more in common when it comes to ICT access and usage than women and men across income, and urban and rural divides.

The study was conducted between 2007 and 2008 in Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.