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Gender, Information Technology and the Digital Divide in Africa

March 28th, 2001

Presenter: Nancy Hafkin, former Coordinator of the African Information Society Initiative, UN Economic Commission for Africa

Chair: Robert Schware, Senior Informatics Specialist, CITPO

Closing Remarks by Motoo Kusakabe, Vice President, RMC

Text contributed by Sarah Nedolast


Robert Schware of the Global Information and Communications Technology Division of the World Bank introduced Dr. Nancy Hafkin. Dr. Hafkin has 30 years of experience working on African Development issues and most recently served as the Coordinator of the African Information Society Initiative at the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Dr. Hafkin is known for her work in gender, technology and development.

Dr. Hafkin began her presentation by looking at some of the questions surrounding IT and development and more specifically IT and gender. She explained why it is important to look at the gender dimensions of the digital divide and discussed some of the constraints that women face in accessing technologies. Statistics were used to demonstrate the magnitude of the divide in Africa. Dr. Hafkin gave examples of how IT can be used to empower women economically, politically, and socially. Given these opportunities and challenges, she highlighted the need for ICT policies to ensure that women are included in policy dialogue and women-friendly access alternatives exist. Furthermore, gender and development policy should include the possibilities offered by ICT.

Finally, Dr. Hafkin gave the following recommendations for ensuring women's inclusion in ICT policies:

  • Train women in non-traditional fields and develop role models for women;
  • Include ICT training in education projects for girls and women;
  • Train young women at community centers so that they can become community intermediaries; and
  • Improve girl's and women's education in Africa.

Mr. Schware stressed that the digital divide does not only refer to access to the internet, but also universal access to communications; this is a basic need and fundamental right. He also highlighted the increasing number of developing countries that are using call centers to create employment opportunities, particularly for women. Finally, Mr. Schware stressed that regulatory reform is needed before the opportunities ICTs bring can be fully-realized.

During the discussion participants questioned the accuracy of the data on internet access and women's use of the internet. Since one computer often has many users, this information may not show the whole picture. Dr. Hafkin's acknowledged the difficulties in obtaining reliable data, particularly on women's usage, and said that most of the current data comes from national level marketing surveys or ad hoc research. A participant suggested research be done on the geographic distribution of web-based e-mail accounts, such as hotmail (as many users in developing countries use internet based accounts). Other issues discussed included the importance of having content created by women on the internet, using technologies to leapfrog divides, and combining technologies such as the internet and radio.

Mr. Kusakabe closed the session by reiterating the high priority the Bank places on both gender and digital divide issues. He emphasized the need for the development of content and technical support to developing countries and called for additional focus to be given to connectivity issues, particularly connecting local communities to the global fora. Three areas the IFC is now prioritizing are content, capacity building, and infrastructure. Two ways the Bank is supporting NGOs on these issues are through the Japan Social Development Fund ( and the infoDev grant program ( Both of these funds invite proposals from the development community outside the Bank. Mr. Kusakabe stressed the need to find a viable and sustainable business model to scale-up ICT in developing countries.

Updated: 6/9/04

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Presentation Materials 03/28/01