From a childhood marred with uncertainties, poverty and incessant lack, Namuli has defied all odds to finally find a place in the estimable diplomatic world. At just 26, she has traveled to 31 countries, attained 18 Leadership and Human Rights certificates, participated in well-regarded international fellowships as well as attended high profile conferences along with some of world’s greatest leaders. Her secret: the internet.
After graduating from a local Institution in Uganda, Namuli sought for a job for nearly four years in vain. Most job postings, she said, required computer literacy which she barely had at the time. In 2012, she decided to enrol for a 6 weeks computer course where she learnt crucial computer packages. She used her newly acquired computer knowledge to search for job opportunities online where she stumbled upon a youth opportunity repository. The rest, as they say, is history.
Stories such as Namuli’s are becoming common by day. The internet has opened us unto a world of endless opportunities. The days of hopping from office to office, khaki envelope in hand seeking for job openings are fast fading into oblivion. Now, with just a click, one can access thousands of education, business, and employment opportunities anywhere and at any time. This increased access to information and knowledge has facilitated the empowerment of individuals, spiked social and economic transformation as well as stirred unstoppable global movements. Unfortunately, amidst the expanding digital connectivity and advancement, one group has been largely left in the dark –women in Africa.
Two thirds of women from Africa are reported to have no computer knowledge whatsoever. And, despite the rapid growth in internet and mobile usage across the continent, women are still much less likely to get online than men. A study by Africa-Focus reveals that much as women in the region are as likely as men to own a mobile phone of their own, they are a third less likely to use their phones to access the internet. This wide spread digital discomfort among African women has created extensive limitations to their economic and social advancement.
In the agricultural sector, for example, where women form the bulk of the workforce, their hard labour has failed to translate into financial liberty. This is mainly because few women have the skill and or resources to adapt to the new ICT tools which could have helped improve their yields, productivity and consequently income. Instead, majority of women continue to practice traditional small holder farming which leaves them prone to erratic climate changes, pitiable prices and a very narrow market.
The story is not any different in the formal job market. The growing digitalisation of the formal workplace is gradually pushing African women to the sidelines. 4 in every 6 employers we contacted during our survey confessed that female applicants were more likely to be uncomfortable with operating digital devices during interviews as compared to men. The employers also noted that the rate of operation was slower among women who had computer knowledge as opposed to men whom they said were faster and more efficient.
By day, the influence of technology is fast increasing. It is not only influencing global economies and political processes but our day to day lives, making digital literacy a necessity and prerequisite to social and economic empowerment. For that reason, if economic empowerment is to become a reality for African women, it is crucial that they are first supported out of digital darkness. With the necessary ICT skills, they will not only elevate their employability chances, but like Namuli, they will have access to innumerable opportunities, information and knowledge to help them break out of poverty.