The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the existing gender digital divide and digital skills gap. Fewer girls and women in developing countries have access to online tools and digital skills, which are useful in making good use of learning resources, searching for information, purchasing products, communicating with family and peers or accessing alternative financial services such as mobile money.
In Tanzania, 77% of women compared to 86% of men own a mobile phone, according to the 2019 Mobile Gender Gap Report by the GSM. Only 17% of women in Tanzania have mobile internet access compared to 35% of men. Despite owning a mobile phone, women lack the authority to buy bundles due to limited financial autonomy. The inequality for accessing information leads to more significant economic and social gaps.
The Joint Programme on ‘Empowering Adolescent Girls and Young Women through Education Tanzania’ provided smartphones to 400 adolescent girls and young women who are the former participants of the Joint Programme vocational pieces of training in Ngorongoro, Kasulu, Sengerema and Mkoani districts in Tanzania. Through the training led by the Joint Programme, girls and young women developed digital literacy and skills in online communications and interactions. They are able to search for information and evaluate the quality and credibility of the information they found. They also understood the ethical use of information technology and online privacy and security.
Monica dropped out of school and could not return to her formal learning due to family reasons. Through the Joint Programme, she developed vocational and entrepreneurship skills in businesses management, making and selling batik fabrics, nutrition flour, soap and baskets since 2019. Based on the skills she acquired, Monica runs a business of making and selling batik fabrics.
Owning a smartphone with internet access transformed her business and is expected to boost her sales. She learned how to use social network service applications such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, including taking good photos of her products and developing marketing information targeting different audiences.
“I was able to order certain coloured fabrics from Arusha for making batik cloths. I will take nice photos of these batik cloths and advertise them on social networks.” Monica, a project beneficiary from Ngorongoro
Another added advantage of using a mobile phone was the ease of communicating with her peers from the income-generating group established with the support of the Joint Programme. “It was challenging to set up a time for a meetup before, without a cell phone, because we live far away from each other, a distance of 1-2 hours walk. A cell phone made it very easy to have regular meetings of our group.”
Her income-generating group was founded to support each other’s business through sharing knowledge and experience. The group members found that they can also share educational materials through the smartphone. “I searched for and found useful videos explaining customer care on Youtube”, says Spova, one of her group members. In addition, they also can access sexual and reproductive health information through an unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) messaging platform developed by the Joint Programme.
“I searched for and found useful videos explaining customer care on Youtube.” Spova, a project beneficiary from Ngorongoro
This work was a part of the UNESCO-UNFPA-UN Women Joint Programme, which applies a coordinated and multi-sectoral approach to empowering girls and young women through quality education in Tanzania. More than 5,000 girls and young women benefited. The project is supported by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).