Bridging the Gender Digital Divide in Zimbabwe

21 Aug 2014

imageFemale primary school students demonstrate a mobile app at the Brown Bag seminar facilitated by UNDP on bridging the gender digital divide

Harare: Studying chemistry at the University of Zimbabwe, third-year student Ms Sandile Mtetwa, is confronted by the challenge of accessing campus notifications from the administration, lecturers and colleagues.

“Students require a notification service that is convenient, effective and green” says the founder of NotifyU, a prototype mobile application that seeks to provide an instant link between the student community and the university administration.

“The platform has many benefits. It will combat pollution caused by paper notices and flyers, as well as limit the need to cut trees for paper production” explains the potential investor in ICT.

Ms Mtetwa was among a dozen of female students who participated in a Policy & Practice Seminar titled Bridging the Gender Digital Divide: Exploring Efforts to Scale Women Uptake of ICTs for Development. The event took place on 15 August 2014 at the UN premises in the Arundel Business Park. It was supported by UNDP’ s Innovation Facility in collaboration with the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Courier and Postal Services.

Students were drawn from Chirodzo Primary School; Haig Park Primary School; St Peters Secondary Schools; Louis Mt Batten School; Harare High School; Girls High School – Harare; Chisipite Senior School; and the University of Zimbabwe.

“There is need to promote the best projects from women entrepreneurs to become business ventures” relates Dr. Gilford Hapanyengwi, a University of Zimbabwe professor who doubles as the president of the Computer Society of Zimbabwe. “We should enable the ICT girl child to preach and teach ICTs”.

This sentiment is echoed by other experts. “In a country where there is a large and growing skills in the ICT sector, we need to get more girls involved in science, technology, engineering and maths – the STEM subjects – and we need to get more girls taking an interest in ICT careers,” avers Mr Z Mukova, the Acting Principal Director of Education in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Harare Province.

Describing as unique the needs of women and factors affecting their ICT uptake, Ms B. Chinjonzo who is director of ICT in the Ministry of ICT and Courier Services calls for an in-depth research and analysis of this issue. This will serve as a basis for inputs into the national ICT policy.

“Issues such as content development, e-governance, e-health and other related services are key for the uptake by women as women identify with issues that can solve their current challenges.”

According to Techwomen a local, NGO, the limited presence of women in position of leadership and power across all sectors and industries is also reflected in the ICT sector that is male dominated, with women occupying blue-collar positions mainly. “This has a consequence on girls’ uptake of STEMS as a study subject and of ICTs as a career path. Research indicated for instance that positive role models can have an impact on traditional mind-sets and behaviours related to women’s engagement in ICTs and science” wrote Aretha Mare and Rumbidzayi Miambo, the co-founders of the NGO, in a recent paper.

But in a world dominated by modern ICT systems, bridging the gender digital divide in Zimbabwe will require much more than merely improving access to ICT, says the UN Women Deputy Country Director in Zimbabwe, Ms Revai Makanje Aalbaek.

“As we work on improving women’s access and use of ICTs lets us also at the same time develop systems, policies and practices that protect women and girls from the harm and abuse that is perpetrated on them through some of the modern forms of communication.”

Launched in June 2014, with generous support from the Government of Denmark, the UNDP Innovation Facility is in line with UNDP’s Strategic Plan 2014-2017 that stresses the need to identify , explore and scale up innovative approaches across priority subject areas in programming through established and new knowledge and collaboration partnerships.