According to the State of Broadband 2019, a 2018 report published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) asserts that the gender gap in internet adoption appears to be widening globally in favour of men. This is corroborated by the GSMA’s “The Gender Gap Report 2019” which shows a similar trend for mobile ownership and mobile internet usage. While reliable data on Ghana is not readily available, inferring from my work at the Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana (IIPGH) the digital gender gap is real in Ghana too. In the first part of this article, the challenges of affordability, digital skills, relevant content and safety and security militating against females were sufficiently discussed. In this article, several approaches in dealing with affordability and digital skills challenges will be suggested.
Dealing with Issues Related to Affordability
“The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) defines affordability as 1GB of mobile broadband data costing no more than 2% of average monthly income”. However, the average for African countries is 7.12%. Even though Ghana is not among the African countries with the most exorbitant data prices, mobile data is still expensive for majority of our citizens. This is also the case because income levels are generally low. Service providers argue that affordability challenges include the cost of capital and network investments, availability of radio frequency spectrum for coverage, connectivity speed and the need to ensure universal access. In order to connect to the internet, the costs for the end user include user devices, services, access and ancillary costs (cost of electricity, usage and devices taxes).
The biggest barrier to connecting to the internet, even for countries where free government Wi-Fi is available, is the cost of user devices. Stakeholders must look at how to reduce prices of user devices. Network operators must partner device manufacturers in order to supply affordable devices onto the market. The area of taxes is one that government must consider seriously. This does not only apply to user devices but also to the service. Recently, the Government of Ghana increased the Communication Service Tax (CST). The Minister of Communication has also dropped hints of the possible taxation of mobile money transactions. Telecommunication taxes have a substantial effect on the affordability of broadband services and a reduction in the adoption of the service. The only digital technology where this gap is not significant is mobile money and any attempt to tax it may further widen this digital gender gap. According to ITU, 10 per cent increase in mobile broadband penetration in Africa would yield an increase of 2.5 per cent of GDP per capita. Therefore, telecommunication sector specific taxes may have a counterproductive effect on the economy.
Satellite technology offers the opportunity to connect especially rural and remote areas in a cost-effective manner. This option must be considered seriously. It is also important to look at the cost of licensing for these services. If as a country we see licensing cost as revenue, then these high licensing fees will be passed on to the end-user. If these costs cannot be waived, they can at least be limited to the cost of regulating the service.
Approaches to Dealing with the Digital Skills Gap
Since its formation, IIPGH has trained 1000 children, youth and professionals in digital skills. Only 20% of those trained are females. The statistics is more worrying when we consider advanced digital skills. This trend is not different when you consider our membership which is a reflection of the professionals in the ICT industry.
To improve the digital skills gap, we need a coalition consisting of public, private and the third sector players to work together in formulating a digital skills strategy for the country. The strategy should include the development of a media campaign to increase awareness and to fight stereotypes that advanced digital skills are for only men. There should also be a campaign to provide digital skills for females. Ghana Education Service and Council for Technical and Vocational Educational Training (COTVET) will be important stakeholders in this campaign in training girls and out of school youth and women. The best way to provide free universal digital skills training for girls is to use the education system. In addition, the private sector must be motivated to support equality in digital skills development. Incentives and scholarships must be provided for females to take up careers in the digital sector. Getting females involved in designing, training and managing digital skills programmes for girls will help address all the challenges and socio-cultural factors contributing to this digital skills gap.
According to GSMA, closing the mobile ownership and usage gender gap by 2023 will deliver an estimated 140 billion dollars for the mobile industry over five years. Similarly, closing the mobile internet usage gender gap by 2023 is likely to increase GDP by 700 billion dollars in the countries involved over the same period. While these statistics are not specific to Ghana, I think it should offer enough motivation for closing the digital gender gap. Closing the gender digital gap makes economic sense!
Author: Kuuku Sam – (Director of Programmes and Professional Services, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana)
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