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A report compiled for zncj.org by Richard Kawazi

Digital poverty is a critical human rights problem affecting most women in Zimbabwe.

Digital poverty amounts to the exclusion and inability of anyone to access and afford digital technologies when needed.

Opening statement to the Commission on the Status of Women at its 67th session, by Ms. Sima Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

Quick facts on Digital Poverty in zimbabwe.

  • High cost of data is the major driver of digital poverty within low income social groups.
  • Digital Poverty yields to socio-economic inequalities such as the gender pay gap, social grouping and education.
  • Digital Poverty within low income social groups mostly affects women who are excluded  from wealth creating industries traditionally reserved for men.

From the facts gathered, digital poverty is a function of social injustice and gender inequities In Zimbabwe.

The digital gap is limiting women’s access to life-saving information, mobile money products, agricultural extension and online public services.

Technology and innovation are proven accelerators to drive concrete progress, once again, across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.   

Zimbabwe was on the positive trajectory with an increase from 5 to 63 percent Internet penetration between 2009 – 2019. It means that more people connected to the Internet during that 10 year period.

This paper does not seek government and Civil society to roll out digital devices for women in rural areas…no , this article seeks to address and expose how the design of technology meant to benefit the public such as eGovernment portals are excluding women through unaffordability and digital illiteracy.

Digital poverty alleviation is a genuine plight to achieve social justice and gender equity in Zimbabwe.

By design, the digitisation of the Courts (JSC) and the NSSA self service portals were meant to be accessible and affordable to all.

However, the digitisation initiatives have not reached the intended general populace who are also meant to benefit from it.

Women are not a homogenous group in Zimbabwe. Their problems can not be solved by a universal solution for all especially when addressing a marginalised group of women.

Intersection of Women and Digital Poverty in Zimbabwe

Imagine a society where more women are connected to the Internet with access to medical information on terminal conditions such as breast and cervical cancer. Digital poverty is limiting women from accessing such life saving information for women.Accesing health blogs can empower more girls and women.

The digital gap between marginalised women and elite classes in Zimbabwe is exposing the digital inequalities that exists in the past 10 years.

An investigation by ZNCJ revealed that women are affected the most by unaffordability and design of digital infrastructure.  

Evidence revealed that out of a sample group of 1,786 respondents in the zncj.org Network, men have 78 percent more chances to access the internet.

Having managed to respond the electronic survey, only 20 percent of women participated in the survey which required a smart device and Internet connection.

Only 18 percent of women were likely to respond to the open survey.

 Egovernment and self-service portals are proving to be more useful to the urban elites and middle class women who can afford to access data through other means such as Wi-Fi networks at workplace and Cafes.

A significant population of women from low income communities in both urban and rural Zimbabwe do not have access to data or ICT gadgets as compared to men.

These marginalised women are burdened with travelling costs to big cities whenever they need public services such as courts, banking, health and other social services.

More so, the women are unable to access mobile wallet products such as eco-cash, Internet banking etc. to conduct digital commerce at their convenience and avoid looking for hard currency to pay their bills in towns and cities.

This is a serious digital gap existing in society which if not addressed, Zimbabwe will not fully achieve gender equity and socio-economic justice.

During the height of Covid-19 pandemic, most public systems migrated to digital platforms to allow the possibilitiesof remote work and access to services.

In Zimbabwe, we witnessed our first virtual court , which was a step in the right direction in digitisation.

By design, egovernment portals should simplify and promote ease of access to public services, as well as promoting a green environment with a paperless system.

However, digital poverty continues to affect 80 percent of low income women in Zimbabwe and a greater population.

As a result of digital poverty, women and youth are excluded from socio-political discourse, where majority of information is accessible online.

Our investigations has uncovered that line cabinet ministires and local authorities have adopted effective means of communication with the public through social media.

The permanent secretary for government communications, is constantly engaging the public and communicating government’s position on issues of public interest on twitter.

Every Zimbabwean has the right to access this information and the only privileged few are the elite and middle class urban populations who can afford data.

ZNCJ discovered that a sizeable urban population is also affected by digital poverty irrespective they can afford a smart phone.The limiting concern is affordability of data bundles.

80 percent of surveyed respondents who own smartphones said they do not afford data bundles to surf the Internet in Zimbabwe.

A surfing bundle of 5Gigabytes in Zimbabwe is costing $9 USD, by selected Internet services providers.

The tragedy is that the urban population can budget for a refurbished smartphone ranging between $40 and $80 but can not afford data. As a result they are limited to the messenger applications WhatsApp.

Bridging the digital divide to eradicate gender poverty

Bridging the digital gap between women and technology will pave way for the possibilities of gender equality and democratic opportunities to unfold.

If women continue to be excluded from socio-political discourse and mobile financial products, Zimbabwe will not reach its fullest potential with a highly marginalised population.

It is evident that infants as young as two years old with full exposure to  digital technologies can already interact with the media under parental control.

One parent, Patience Chipuriro a middle class woman residing in Harare had this to say about her two year old son.

“ We have a two year old son, it is amazing how is able to interact with a smart phone and can access nearly all the learning materials offered in ECD. He can count and also developing cognitive skills. I think it is great for his development. At such an early age, he can interact with mathematics, art and science…I can already observe his keen interest in mechanics when he interacts with emulator programs”, said the parent.

The story exposes that digital poverty is creating less of digitally concious children.

Globalisation is heading towards digital economies and Zimbabwe must not be left behind. It is imperative to address digital poverty in Zimbabwe and beyond Africa to attain fully functional democracies and socio-economic justice for all.

Workable solutions to address digital poverty

  • Government should focus on policy that responds to the problem of data affordability. The major problem with access to the Internet is the unaffordability of data
  • Government should frame policy that responds to the inclusion of women to better access to the Internet and ICTs.

Zero-rating of the following services:

  • Women’s health online platforms
  • Public online services such as the NSSA and  JSC portal.
  • Willingness of tech architects to build technologies that are gender inclusive.

If you support independent community focused journalism in Zimbabwe, you are welcome to donate towards ZNCJ.ORG fund to provide reporting grants for investigative stories like this.

Click here to make a once off donation via PayPal or contact us at zncj@yahoo.com for enquiries

 

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By Richard Matthew Kawazi

Richard Kawazi is a media policy and tech enthusiast, also a multi award winning journalist with a keen interest in Experimental Media Development.