Left Behind: The Unique Challenges of the Digital Divide for Rural Women in Nigeria
The internet is a beautiful thing. Thanks to its invention and rapid evolution, our world has become much more developed and our lives are better than ever. Imagine life without Google, or your favorite app or website. Because we are privileged to have access to a good internet connection and have the tools and skills to be able to use it, we can find information easily, learn new skills, and connect with people from an entirely different part of the world we wouldn’t have been able to connect with otherwise, find jobs that we can perform even from the comfort of our home, and so much more. With access to the internet, we have the world’s largest reserve of knowledge (and opportunities) at our fingertips. Thanks to the internet, the world is truly becoming a digital village.
But, some people still haven’t had the privilege to be a part of this village and to receive all the perks that come with it. This is due to the digital divide.
What is the digital divide?
The digital divide is the gap between those with access to digital technologies and those without access. This gap exists due to 3 main factors; Lack of access to functioning internet facilities, lack of digital skills, and a lack of digital tools.
According to a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), approximately 61% of Nigerians in rural areas are unconnected to the internet, compared to 40% in urban areas and the majority of these 61% of unconnected rural dwellers are women.
Why are rural women being affected the most?
Many factors contribute to this but the major ones have been;
1. Financial factor: The high cost of digital tools (computers, and smartphones) as well as data subscription
For a country that has one of the slowest internet speeds in the world, Nigeria also has one of the most expensive data costs due to poor broadband internet facilities and high government taxes. In addition to this, Nigeria is also a patriarchal society where women are perceived to be limited to a certain kind of job that pays less than others.
To fend for themselves and their families, rural women have mostly taken up small businesses. But this isn’t enough as their income is mainly spent on food, school fees, health care, and other basic needs. When all has been said and done, so little of the money they worked hard for is left for them to spend on themselves and what they need, in this case purchasing a smartphone and data subscription.
2. Literacy Factor:
It’s one thing for rural women to be able to afford these digital tools or to have access to them, and it’s another for them to be able to use these tools to effectively promote their business or do other things that will improve their quality of life.
This digital illiteracy may exist because these women don’t have the time to spend on learning how to use the digital tools that are important to them.
According to insights from the ActionAid program on women’s unpaid care work from Jiwa, a rural community in Abuja focused on subsistence farming, women spend an average of 13 hours per day on unpaid care work compared to 1 hour by men. This results in women spending an average of 3 hours on learning, social, and cultural activities, use of mass media, and other self-care compared to men who spend an average of 7 hours on similar activities.
NB: Unpaid work is work that produces goods and services for household consumption, which includes collecting firewood and fuel, fetching water, cooking, cleaning, and providing care for children, older persons, and other dependents.
Also, rural women may not make time for learning because they don’t know how valuable this knowledge could be to them. So, they decide to spend their time on other priorities that may have a less significant impact on their lives.
How are rural women being affected by the digital divide?
By being digitally excluded, rural women lose the opportunity to access more profitable markets and so keep selling their goods for pennies to middlemen and less generous buyers. This keeps them poor and as a result, renders them incapable of providing for their families and themselves as much as they would like to.
Also, since they earn so little, they keep having so little say in the financial affairs of their household. According to research by EFInA, women who are not employed (88%) and women who earn less than their husband (73%) were most likely to report that their husband primarily decides on his own about the use of his earnings while women who earn about the same as their husband were least likely to report that their husband alone makes such decisions (43%). This shows that there is a relationship between a woman’s source of income and her autonomy over household monetary decision-making.
Aside from the financial disadvantages they experience, rural women also have less access to vital information. In situations like the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, these women wouldn’t have had the same information concerning this disease and how they could protect themselves and their familiesthose where digitally included.
Also, they get to miss out on important online trainings through which they could upskill themselves in any area of their interest and as a result open themselves and those around them up to better opportunities.
How does Tech Herfrica help these rural women affected by the digital divide?
Tech Herfrica Initiative’s programs have been tailored to foster access to appropriate new technology, digital financial literacy, and financial services, including microfinance, needed by women in rural and underserved communities to grow and scale their businesses. We also foster access to micro pension plans for these women to reduce old-age poverty.
One such technology which we’ve developed is our cardinal project, herlocalmarket.com, an e-commerce web application that provides access to market opportunities for small-scale female farmers and traders in rural and underserved communities by connecting them to buyers in cities and international communities who need fresh, nutritious food. This will, in turn, increase the productivity of these women by rewarding them more for the work they do.
To facilitate our work at herlocalmarket.com, sellers are trained and equipped with smartphones to carry out e-commerce, while our team carries out marketing of the products, fosters delivery, manages the web application, and serves as the bridge for quality assurance and issue resolution between sellers and buyers. So far, over 10,000 USD in sales have been facilitated through WhatsApp, while we are still finalizing technical requirements for the launch of herlocalmarket.com.
We empower women in rural & underserved communities in Africa to participate in the digital economy directly, thus contributing to the achievement of digital prosperity for all.
At this point in history, access to the internet has become a fundamental human right that millions of people are still deprived of despite small steady progress being made towards remedying that situation. Bridging the digital divide is something that will require collective contribution from everyone; individuals, government agencies, civil society organizations, and banks.
At Tech Herfrica, we are committed to closing the digital divide one rural woman at a time. With more digital inclusion, people – especially those in rural areas – will get to enjoy more prosperity and opportunities, and can contribute more to the development of society.