According to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), The country has over 28 Million+ Internet Users and 51 Million+ Mobile subscribers as of 2020. However, it is yet to be determined from these numbers how many are women compared to men in the context of the digital gender divide and this lack of disaggregated data on mobile ownership and internet use continues to be a hurdle in addressing the digital gender divide in Tanzania particularly when it comes to co-creation of designs and solutions in addressing the same.
This data is missing from both the local research from respective institutions and authorities, the private sector and even in the few bodys of work published accross the African region, numbers from Tanzania are in fact missing.
Even in the absence of this disaggregated data, actors and stakeholders pushing for Women’s digital inclusion in Tanzania have been making commendable strides in designing and implementing targeted solutions aiming targeted female groups as efforts towards addressing the digital gender divide in the country.
In an Insights report ‘The State of Women’s Digital Inclusion and Safe Online Spaces in Tanzania’ presented by LP Digital, (an arm of The Launchpad Tanzania -an NGO that works at the intersection of Sustainable development and among other focus areas, digitalization) at a regional virtual symposium this November 2021; there are quite a number of initiatives currently running that are addressing different components of Women’s digital inclusion in Tanzania, from capacity building, advocacy to resources, and the network is growing.
Despite all these actors and existing current programs, Policy and governing laws remain imperative in pushing for Women’s digital inclusion in it’s entirety.
Four factors continue to act as barriers; Ability (skills and literacy), Affordability (data + device ownership), Accessibility (Network coverage and access affected by socio-cultural norms), Appetite (feminist technologies, digital solutions, digital content ) and they cannot be fully addressed without comprehensive implementation strategies within the national policy that both cater to women in the formal economy/education system and those outside who unfortunately continue to be the majority and remain unreached.
According to The Tanzania National ICT Policy 2016 (NICTP 2016) it has ‘provided a national framework for ICTs to contribute effectively towards achieving national development goals and transform Tanzania into a knowledge-based society through the application of ICT.’
Women should be an intergral part of this framework. In the Insights report, LP Digital highlights how there is zero mention of the word women in the 2016 ICT Policy, which may raise concerns on whether or not the objectives are target driven particulary when it comes to specific interventions in addressing the digital gender divide.
In the 2016 ICT policy, the issue of Gender and Social diversity is addressed through a specific objective which states ‘To enhance participation of gender and social diversity groups in ICT’ which then continues to outline
‘The Government in collaboration with stakeholders shall:
i) Ensure equitable participation of gender and social diversity groups in developments and use of ICT;
ii) Promote use and application of ICT products and services relevant to special group.’
Upon reviewing the implementation strategy document for this policy, LP Digital found there was lack of specificity as It remains unclear at how exactly the policy through this particular objective with it’s supporting strategy will actively support in pushing for concrete interventions that can further contribute to lessening the digital gender divide in the country.
Although the strategy states to ‘Promote equitable participation of gender and social diversity groups in developments and use of ICT’, the targets also remain unclear on the mechanisms that will be used to effectively deliver intended results considering the multi dimensional factors that might affect the deliverables beyond systemic structures including but not limiting to socio cultural norms that continue to be a barrier towards the girlchild’s and women’s social and education progression, including mobile ownership and usage.
The issue of safety is only addressed in the context of devices and cyber safety attacks but does not cater to gender related issues when it comes to online abuse, which could very well have helped with resulting to establishment of a specific component in the Tanzania Cyber Crime Law 2015 on online gender based violence.
However, drawing from reflections, shared findings and learnings highlighted at the regional virtual symposium, it seems Policy and Governing laws that can further promote women’s digital inclusion remain to be a challenge across the African continent; with an exception of a few countries like Rwanda who have very specific deliverables on 50/50 for women from entry programs to opportunities around the digital economy and professions.
By the end of the symposium, it was in agreement that policy on women’s digital inclusion should also be aimed at safeguarding their participation through addressing the rising issue of online safety.
Key findings from reported cases and observed trends highlighted the problem of online violence against women in the region as becoming prevalent as offline gender based violence from the staggering numbers shared in the surveys conducted by some of the organisations and testimonials from cases of victims they have supported.
From LP Digital’s Insights report alone, a number of 18 cases were reported to the Tanzania Police Force — Cyber Crime Unit from January to October 2021. The cases range from non consensual sharing of intimate images/pornorgraphy, deep fakes, and targeted cyber bullying.
From LP Digital’s help desk which runs a 24hr Whatsapp Helpline available on it’s Facebook Page and a google forms reporting tool that is used to escalate cases to respective authorities and digital platforms safety departments, there have been 83 cases reported from August 2020 to November 2021.
37 of these cases are on non consensual sharing of intimate images/ revenge pornography around the age group of 18–42 years old which has been observed to be a rising trend contributed by a number of socio-economic factors including financial quick gains, as well as literacy levels in digital citizenship, digital etiquette, digital footprint and digital safety.
Most reported consequence is mental wellness for the victims and the process they go through until they can become active digital users again from the shaming and harassment they get exposed to.
The most disturbing finding in these cases is the reluctance of victims to directly go and report perpetrators and abusers at any respective authority. 90% of the 83 received cases were not aware of the Cyber Crime law and where to go in the case of facing any violation or offense online. 70% of all 83 reported cases were convinced they were not going to see the law enforced upon the abuser upon reporting and felt they needed a lot of money for that to happen.
40% of the victims who then agreed to go report at a police station brought feedback of being shamed and scolded by the police on duty, creating a sense of uncomfort and lack of victim support making it harder for the victims to follow through with the investigation process.
When victims were also educated on how until intent is established in the court of the law i.e if it wasn’t for public use, the law might criminalize them in the instance where it is established the images were first shared by themselves with consent, 99% of them instantly refused to proceed with filing a case.
One other suprising element, one might have assumed that most of the cases would be of high profile women perhaps in politics, or leadership, or socialites or the ones who are vocal or very active online but the data proved us wrong.
This also proved that online gender based violence affects women disproportionately and we cannot push for a one size fit all solution.
Also regardless of the woman’s position or profession or occupation, or lack thereof, women’s rights are digital rights and they should be protected as long as they are a digital citizens. Digital rights are human rights.
It is important to note that the ecosystem needs to address the problem of women’s digital inclusion and online gender based violence from a feminist perspective. This is how we will be able to design effective solutions that would allow for actors to prioritise women’s needs when they develop and use information and communication technologies in a way that they are not irretrievably shaped by the weight of patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism.
There is still a very clear need to continue pushing for a multi-stakeholder approach that would merge efforts from both the public and private sector in pushing for women’s digital inclusion and dismantle the culture of working in silos if we are to truly bridge this divide. We can also only do that by acknowledging and reviewing policies and laws that would support the effective implementation of solutions, and be cognisant of the brutal fact that as much as we support women to get online, we need to ensure their safety to stay online and become and active part of the rising digital economies
Other recommendations called on accountability from all actors involved when it comes to ensuring and safeguarding safe online spaces for women’t digital inclusion. An industry based approach was suggested in addressing platform accountability and how they address cases of online violence against women in their platforms. A need to advocate for more local content moderators was insisted on citing how inaccessible and the delay of some platforms taking down abusive content due to dependence on algorithms instead of the human empathetic element.
Mobile operators were also called out for having a role in raising awareness on digital citizenship as in the rights and responsibilities as they are the actual bridge to the digital world for all the digital users, and therefore should make digital literacy and digital citizenship as an integral part of their customer awareness programs. It could be as simple as making this information available in their in built applications or pop up messages in a simcard starter pack.
Amidst all this, there is still hope and optimism on the agenda through the ‘Digital Tanzania’ soon to be implemented project supported by The World Bank in Tanzania.
This project has objectives that might push for women’s digital inclusion and how digitalization can be used to support gender equality and development in Tanzania.
As LP Digital, we remain committed to pushing and contributing in addressing the digital gender divide through the different programs we implement including the #MitandaoNaSisi campaign on Women’s Digital Inclusion under Women At Web Initiative in East Africa which is supported by DW Akademie and The German Cooperation. We look forward to sharing more progress made on the same.
Written by Carol Ndosi for LP Digital/The Launchpad Tanzania
N.B — We look forward to uploading on the above websites all presentations and reports (Pollicy — Uganda, Acacia — Women at Web Rwanda, Siasa Place — Women at Web Kenya, ITU- East Africa Region) from the Virtual Sysmposium on the State of Women’s Digital Inclusion and Safe Online Spaces in East Africa