- The program exposed the learners to basic computer skills, internet safety, utilizing credible online sources, and discussions around emerging technologies like Generative AI.
- According to data, due to the cultural roles of girls and women, more boys and men afford longer and more regular access to digital gadgets and skills than their female counterparts.
- More girls and women need to be incorporated into digital spaces and workplaces where they can hone their digital dexterity.
While the world continues to get more interconnected through digital innovation and technological structures and inventions being unearthed daily, the development speed and embracing of technology-driven approaches in Africa remains slow, especially in rural areas.
Available data indicates that urban women are twice as likely as rural women to have access to the internet via a mobile phone.
Narrowing down, girls have lesser access to digital gadgets like phones, computers, and laptops, denying them access to the internet and robbing them of the chances of becoming digitally savvy.
The itchy part of it all is that the world won’t excuse them for that or understand them for not having hands-on digital skills!
Their competitors, fellow young people, will continue going way ahead in bagging the benefits that come along with having digital skills.
To bridge this gap and have more people, especially young girls, equipped with the knowledge and dexterity to incorporate digital skills in their engagements and be at par with their digitally-savvy colleagues, Stacey Motachwa founded Digital Playbook Africa.
It is a USA-based NGO operating in Kenya to bridge the gender gap in internet use and access for girls and women in rural Kenya.
The organization provides digital literacy training programs, computers, laptops, and internet access aids.
Going grassroots, training youngsters
On August 24-25, 2023, Digital Playbook Africa hosted a digital literacy training program for 11 students (aged 14-18) to participate in basic computer skills training at St. Anne Sengera Parish Girls Secondary School in Gucha Sub-County, Bomachoge Chache Constituency, Kisii County.
The training program was done in collaboration with Kisii University’s Computing Science Department and was led by Ms. Motachwa, Founder and Executive Director of Digital Playbook Africa, and Teresa Abuya, a Lecturer at Kisii University and the Chair of Computing Sciences Department.
Ms. Abuya, the session’s Lead Trainer, is a Youth Empowerment Champion with research interests in ICT for Development, Bioinformatics, and Machine Learning Technologies.
She was accompanied by two ambassadors for Digital Playbook Africa: Mercy Kanana and Betty Njuguna, both fourth-year students at Kisii University, taking BSc. Computer Science and BSc. Information Technology, respectively.
The program exposed the learners to basic computer skills, internet safety, utilizing credible sources online, and discussions around emerging technologies like Generative AI.
The two organizations set out to showcase the transformative power of digital skills to break barriers, foster confidence, and create economic opportunities for young women in Kenya.
This session aimed at helping young girls enhance their education opportunities to pursue further studies, expand their knowledge, and improve employability by having access to online job searches and freelance work, which opens them up to potential sources of income and financial independence.
It also aided them in developing essential life skills by learning about internet safety to foster responsible online behavior, protecting them from online threats and cyberbullying.
The training exposed the girls to three areas of interest:
- Digital skills empowerment for girls and women in rural Kenya
- Bridging the gender divide through tech literacy for rural girls and women in Kenya
- The economic opportunities for girls and women in rural Kenya
“Digital skills are used from communicating or connecting with others, to searching for a job, finding information, in the workplace, studying remotely and doing business,” said Ms. Abuya during his presentation.
She pointed out that no matter the professional inclination, digital skills are now an indispensable aspect of our daily lives, and it is paramount for everyone to be digitally literate.
A digital divide
According to a 2021 study, Kenya’s Digital Economy: A People’s Perspective, only 35 percent of women use advanced digital services compared to 54 percent of men.
This is despite Kenya’s digital strides over the years, meaning that other African countries behind Kenya digitally have worse statistics and a wider digital divide.
Lack of digital skills, poor access to the internet, divisive social norms and stereotypes, and general unaffordability of data and digital devices are some of the factors Ms. Abuya cites, from research, as causatives of the digital go-slow experience in rural areas.
“Inadequacy of physical and digital infrastructure poses significant barriers to equitable access to education. Access to computers, laptops, tablets, and internet is limited for girls and women in rural Kenya where the high population resides. This is a major hindrance to bridging digital divide,” said the trainer.
According to data, due to the cultural roles of girls and women, more boys and men afford longer and more regular access to digital gadgets and skills than their female counterparts.
Closing the gap
To bridge this divide and offer girls and women equal chances as their male coequals, digital devices and facilities must be availed to them in rural areas to empower them.
“Girls need a stronger push to overcome the compounding socio-economic challenges to transition beyond the basic levels of education,” said Ms. Abuya.
She added that the higher the education level attained by girls and women, the more the gender gap in digital skills decreases.
They also need to be incorporated into digital spaces and workplaces where they can hone their digital dexterity.
Even in major organizations, this remains a lingering problem, locking women out of opportunities that would have pushed them to growth.
A 2021 data by Statista shows that as of 2021, only one-third of the workforces at Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft were women.
According to UNESCO’s 2021 research, in sub-Saharan Africa, less than 33% of the digital technology workforce comprises women.
However, this divide starts at an early age.
“At 15 years of age, on average, only 0.5% of girls wish to become ICT professionals, compared to 5% of boys,” said Ms. Abuya, adding that people must change gender-specific expectations about the future.
Removing obstacles to adult education is equally important for all workers and women in particular.
With the opportunities for educated girls and women rising, raising awareness about education opportunities is key for them.
“Changing gender-specific expectations about professions is crucial, including by fostering female role models in STEM,” Ms. Abuya advised.
She further advocated for the encouragement of more girls’ interest in ICT and its use at an early age.
To researchers and statisticians, “Action requires measurement,” says Ms. Abuya.
“Evidence-based policymaking requires the systematic collection of data aimed at identifying priorities and defining and monitoring key lines of action. Fostering the addition of gender-related dimensions in official statistics is important in this respect,” she adds.
Ms. Abuya, who has been in the ICT field for many years, says that currently, software is a male-dominated world, especially in companies.
She argues that incorporating more women in inventive spaces will boost diversity, bringing both social and economic value.
“Greater inclusion of women in important invention-led roles will increase the percentage of women in software development,” she envisions.
As part of teacher professional development and ongoing training on digital skills, she says that gender awareness modules should be included to address any exclusionary practices that could affect girls.
To stay empowered with digital skills, Ms. Abuya encouraged the girls to embrace remote work and network widely as well.
She also urged them to take basic and advanced digital skills programs, have mentors, establish a robust support system, and ask for assistance whenever needed.
About Digital Playbook Africa
The organization was founded in 2020 by Stacey Motachwa, a Kenyan-American woman who, during the COVID-19 pandemic, saw an increase in reliance on digital services as she was living in New York City.
She understood that leveraging the potential of digital technology is a major factor in creating a sustainable and inclusive community.
Unfortunately, women in rural areas in her home country, Kenya, are still behind in their ability to access, use and afford digital tools, creating a gender divide between those with digital literacy skills and those without.
The cause of this difference is rooted in traditional sociocultural norms, a lack of educational opportunities, and the lack of access and affordability of technology.
“Without digital literacy skills, women are unable to benefit from all the resources the internet affords, including but not limited to job opportunities, health information and educational services–all things that could further boost their overall livelihood, well-being and economic activity,” Ms. Motachwa told Scholar Media Africa.
Achievements so far
Digital Playbook Africa has received a donation from Techstars Foundation, a widely-known mentorship-driven accelerator program based in Denver, Colorado, which connects entrepreneurs, conservationists, corporate partners, and investors.
The funds from Techstars have allowed Playbook’s team to reach 11 students at Sengera Parish Girls High School in Kisii County and provide them with basic training and scholarships to continue with their education.
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Ms. Motachwa adds, “The steps Digital Playbook Africa and its community are making now will majorly impact the stabilization and resilience of communities, especially women and girls.”