A painting of an African feminist internet
| By Irene Kagoya and Akina Mama
The internet remains one of the historical developments transforming human behaviour, greatly impacting on the social, economic, cultural and political spheres of life at an incredible speed.
The recently concluded African Internet Governance Forum held from 16 to 18 October 2016 in Durban, South Africa reaffirmed the great opportunities of the internet, demonstrating its capacity to facilitate economic growth and transform society. Increasingly the internet is changing the way we do business, socialise, engage in politics and activism, and acquire and use information.
With a 28.7% internet penetration rate in Africa and 9.4% internet users on the continent (source: Internet World Stats), the internet is slowly but steadily growing in Africa.
While the internet has created enormous opportunities for human development with the emergence of e commerce, e-learning, e-government and telemedicine, it remains a double-edged sword for many women and girls in Africa. This is based on the very fact that it has been built, anchored and largely governed by the patriarchal systems of domination right from its birth, as the stories of internet fathers are loudly echoed amidst the whispers of internet mothers. Patriarchy, a system where men control the political, economic, military, religious and social power, remains very difficult for women to manoeuvre through, and the internet is no exception. Women are constantly dealing with power dynamics online which subjugate their being.
Although there have been efforts to create an equitable and inclusive internet by various governments in Africa and beyond, the reality of women and the internet is still blurry. Evidenced by the Gender Report Cards of the IGF, the engagement of women in the leadership and decision-making processes of internet governance remains minimal, both at the national and the regional levels. As the internet of things changes by the day, the realities of women’s and girls’ access to and use of the internet remains slow. For instance, the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) Women’s Rights Online Report 2015 indicates, only 21% of the women respondents in the study had accessed the internet in the six months prior to the survey, compared to 61% of men. This gender gap is perpetuated by a number of factors, including low levels of education, lack of digital literacy, high internet costs, and online threats and violence (surveillance, cyber bullying and “revenge porn”). These in addition to the heavy care work burden remain barriers to women’s access and full use of the internet.