There are several African proverbs that extol the values of women. Yet, more often than not, society stereotypes women in negative light. For example, an Ethiopian proverb says: "A house without a woman is like a barn without cows." Another Ghanaian proverb reminds us: "A woman is a flower in a garden; her husband, the fence around it".
The object of this article is not about African proverbs but to bring to the fore, an important baseline report on women's rights online issues in Ghana, which was published on the Media Foundation for West Africa's website (MFWA) in December 2017.
FULL REPORT: http://www.mfwa.org/publication/baseline-study-womens-right-online-issues-in-ghana/
Further, some suggestions will be made for the attention of stakeholders to address some identified challenges to improve women's participation in Ghana's cyber space. If Ghana and for that matter Africa is to make progress technologically in this twenty first century, women and girls' issues, especially in the area of information and communications technologies (ICTs) ought not to be relegated to the background.
Ghana cannot be said to be an island on its own regarding socio-economic, political and cultural issues affecting women globally. Thus, before touching on women's rights online issues in the country, it is relevant to take a quick glance at a global report on women's rights online that was published by the World Wide Web Foundation in October 2015. This report could also be accessed on their site. https://webfoundation.org/our-work/projects/womens-rights-online/
The preamble of that global report states: "A newly adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals included an important pledge to harness information and communications technologies (ICTs) to advance women's empowerment, and a commitment to connect everyone in Least Developed Countries to the Internet by 2020."
However, since that declaration, the report lamented that with just about two years to that deadline, the "digital divide" between women and men in the use of the Internet and other ICTs was nothing to write home about.
According to the report, out of nine cities across nine developing countries sampled, it was found that extreme inequalities in digital empowerment "seem to parallel wider societal disparities." In other words, "women are about 50% less likely to be connected than men in the same age group with similar levels of education and household income."
Having casually read that global report on women's right issues online, this writer regretted that Accra the capital city of Ghana was not included in the nine cities selected for the research. The sampled cities included, Yaoundé, Cameroon; Bogota, Columbia; New Delhi, India; Jakarta, Indonesia and Nairobi, Kenya.
The others were Maputo, Mozambique; Lagos, Nigeria; Manila, Philippines and Kampala, Uganda. The report did not seem to have specified the criteria used in the selection of sampled cities and countries.
However, I feel pacified that MFWA, based in my country, took the initiative and conducted their own study about women's rights online issues in Ghana, which is now the subject for discussion in this write up. I think the women's rights group within MFWA that undertook the baseline study deserves a round of applause.
On a more serious note, shall we now highlight the findings of the baseline study on women's rights issues in Ghana? In the executive summary of the report as published on the Foundation's site, a point was underscored that gender inequality in Ghana was a pervasive matter. For that reason, certain sections of the country's leadership, especially among human rights activists, feminists, academics, media and other well-meaning Ghanaians, with the interest of under-represented groups (mostly women at heart, have been making efforts to reverse the trends).
It was noted that, traditionally, efforts to close 'gendered' gaps in Ghana have rested on public education intended to highlight the need to give women equal or similar opportunities as men. However, in spite of the efforts being made, some challenges were also being encountered due to certain cultural and social beliefs and practices; levels of illiteracy among the populace and a general unawareness about 'gendered inequality issues."
This author was highly impressed to note that it was the realisation by the Media Foundation for West Africa that the internet has the potential to bridge the "digital divide" between men and women, but still remains 'unexplored terrain' that prompted them to embark on this baseline study project. In other words, it dawned on MFWA that many Ghanaian women and girls were being denied the opportunity to access the use of the Internet for economic gains and self-development due to affordability and technical knowhow.
Furthermore, it was realised that even the few women who actually have access to the Internet are at "risk of harassment" as their rights online are not guaranteed. For example, some women, if not all who go online tend to experience the same 'patriarchal and misogynistic' attacks they encounter offline. This explains why the title of the report or the topic for the study was WOMEN'S RIGHTS ONLINE ISSUES IN GHANA.
Like the Global Report of Women's Rights Online of the World Wide Web Foundation, alluded to above, the Baseline Report of the Media Foundation for West Africa also sampled and interviewed women's rights groups and government Ministries and Agencies (MDAs) on a range of issues concerning women's access to and use of the internet as well as policy interventions intended to protect the rights of women online.
Basically, the objectives of the study among others were to map out practices and prevailing issues that impact women's rights online in Ghana; assess interventions by government and women's organizations to advance women's rights online in the country; and to make recommendations on the way forward for improving women's online in Ghana.
It is conventional that any scientific research should indicate the method used for data collection, analysis and findings before drawing a conclusion. In that regard, I was curious to ascertain the methodology employed by the MFWA to arrive at their conclusion.
Indeed, the Foundation adopted a mixed approach to gather data from their respondents to achieve the objectives of this crucial study. Besides a survey and in-depth interviews to obtain relevant data from their identified stakeholder groups, in terms of qualitative data, the researchers also employed some basic quantitative methods that allowed for numerical data to determine how widespread the issues of online harassments were confronting our mothers, wives, aunties, sisters and mothers-in-law in this country of Freedom and Justice.
Essentially, for the survey, the cluster sampling technique was used to select 60 female respondents from three clusters including students, formal and informal sectors of the economy in the city of Accra. From the formal sector for instance, respondents included women in financial institutions, government institutions, hospitals, and media organisations. Of course, this makes sense because these are the work places where most working ladies/women would be expected to have easy access to Internet use. At least, the question of affordability would not be a big deal; unless such institutions do not have official computers and Internet connectivity.
For the informal sector, respondents were made up of head potters, popularly known as 'kayayee' in Accra; market women, seamstresses, hairdressers, food venders and shop attendants talked to or interviewed. Naturally, in Ghana, and I suppose in many other developing cities in Africa, these are the categories of women who largely constitute the backbone of informal economies. Yet, they are the most digitally deprived, maginalised or completely ignored by the powers that be.
Again, the report explains that students who were selected for the study were from both private and public tertiary institutions. It would be unpardonable if the researchers of the study had ignored the students of private tertiary institutions in this study. For example, experience has shown that in Ghana, some private tertiary institutions are better equipped with the state of the arts computer labs with well-resourced Internet faculties than some public ones. Thus, it is commendable that they were not sidelined in this research.
Further explanation was given that a questionnaire was used to 'extrapolate' quantitative responses from the 60 female respondents. That interview sessions were held with five ladies/women, five women's rights organisations, two government ministries and one government agency were recorded; and these interviews were later transcribed and analysed thematically.
Demographically, the report contains a comprehensive table that tabulated information on survey respondents, which could not be reproduced in this article for obvious reasons. Thus, it is recommended that the reader visit the MFWA's site linked above for details. Suffices it to say that, of the 60 female respondents selected were between the ages of 18 and 50 years and above. They were a mixed basket of those with no formal education, six; those with primary education, 12; Junior High graduates, three; Senior High, four; and Tertiary, 35. The others included single women, 31; married, 21; widow, two; and divorced, six.
In terms of access to Internet, the report indicates that women's ability to access the Internet was largely linked to the type of mobile phone device they used. It was found that, even though all the 60 respondents owned mobile phones, eleven of them did not have Internet access because their phones did not support Internet services. (In our local parlance, their phones would haven been referred to as 'yams' sarcastically, though).
Thus, the remaining 49 respondents had mobile phones, which supported internet services and so had access in terms of being able to go online and use internet applications and social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and web browsers. By implication, this writer should not be mistaken to opine that most of these 49 ladies/women with smart phones were those who were encountering harassments online.
Again, the study reveals that the level of women's education greatly determines whether women had Internet or not. As a result, it was realised that women who had tertiary education tended to have higher and usage of Internet services (60%). So, by implication, it could be assumed that the higher a woman's education the higher her risk of being subjected to online harassments. Why should this be the case? If this is not men's chauvinism against women, then I don't know what it is. How many highly educated men are harassed online?
Interestingly, the study also establishes that younger women respondents between the ages of 18-30 (53%) were likely to have access to the internet more than older women; this was followed by women between 31-40 years of age (23%) were also likely to have access and utilise internet services more than those above that age group.
Reasons why Women Use the Internet
This author was more fascinated by the reasons why women in Ghana use the Internet as revealed by the MFWA's baseline study. It was found out that the most frequently cited reason for using Internet among respondents was to enable them stay connected with family, friends and acquaintances. For example, one respondent interviewed stated: "I speak with my sister abroad on Viber... aside making online calls, I hardly do anything else on the Internet," she was proud to disclose.
Another lady, according to the report, pointed out: "I make video calls on WhatsApp and Imo, especially to keep in touch with some friends outside the country."
Other reasons cited included using the Internet for entertainment, education, fashion and income generating activities respectively. For example, for the entertainment purposes, one respondent is reported to have affirmed: " to check for new songs or videos and sometimes to check on trending celebrities just to know what's up and to make sure that 'me too' when they are talking I can say some."
One interviewee, who uses the Internet for income-generating purposes had this to say: "I go online to read and check for trending hairstyles so that I can do some for my clients." Others disclosed that they use the Internet to search for job vacancies and to apply for jobs online."
The MFWA's baseline study has identified five major challenges affecting women's access and use of the Internet in the country. They were 1. unreliable Internet service, 2. high Internet or data costs, 3. lack of technical knowhow, 4. online safety and 5. security.
However, the most disturbing challenge, in this writer's view, which authorities concerned, for that matter government should give priority attention to is the online safety issues confronting Ghanaian women.
For example, out of the 60 ladies/women sampled for this study, 19 of them (39%) lamented that they had experienced different types of harassments including non-consensual distribution of their photos/videos online; sexual harassment; cyber stalking; hate or offensive comment/post directed at them for no apparent reasons whatsoever most of the time. Why should women/girls be subjected to these unwarranted cyber mental or physical tortures?
Unfortunately, the study could not place a finger on any policy interventions or concrete measures put in place to address women's harassments online. The report indicates that most victims of the online abuses themselves did not see the need to report their abusers. That the few who did chose to confide in family members or friends who in turn did nothing about the abuses. In fact, the findings established that "strangely, none of the respondents reported any of the harassment cases to law enforcement agents like the police. Is it not a pity?
The study made some recommendations that cannot be left out in this limited write up. There is need to bridge the digital divide between men and women. Internet accessibility should be made more affordable to all, especially women and girls. Conscious efforts should be made to create awareness about the benefits of the Internet usage. Consistent public education should undertaken about safety and security issue of the Internet. Girls in school right from the primary to the tertiary levels should be encouraged to embrace information and communication technologies (ICTs). Concrete policy interventions about online protection of women/girls should be formulated. Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies should be seen to be more committed to implementing existing policies meant to utilise ICTs to reduce gender inequality in the country. Just to mention a few.
First of all, it must be confessed that this MFWA's baseline study has been an eye opener to this writer. And to add my little voice to that of the Foundation, I wish to suggest that all District/Municipal/Metropolitan Assemblies should set aside a certain percentage of their Common Fund solely for women and girls' education in ICTs.
In 2007, this writer was privileged to be associated with the establishment of Community Information Centers (CICs) jointly by the then Ministry of Communications and the erstwhile Ministry of Information and National Orientation with Mrs. Oboshie Sai Cofie as a sector Minister of Information. The two Ministries then collaborated and launched two CICs pilot projects at Dodowa in the Greater Accra and Saltpond in the Central regions respectively. At that time, the Communications Ministry was responsible for infrastructure, that is, provision of CICs buildings, computers and Internet connectivity. The Information Ministry was then in charge of content development and management of the CICs.
The objectives of the CICs among other things were to give an opportunity to the people in deprived and maginalised rural communities to have access to computer and Internet connectivity in their localities. That policy was aimed at bridging the digital divide between urban and rural dwellers, especially the youth including school dropped-outs.
I wish to suggest that the Ministry of Communication which is now solely responsible for the CICs to consider placing those ICT facilities at the disposal of rural schools to enable all Ghanaian children, regardless of their geographical locations, especially the girls to have access to Internet use. This will enable Ghana to act in accordance with the "newly adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals to advance women's empowerment, and a commitment to connect everyone in Least Developed Countries to the Internet by 2020."
There is this Ewe proverb that says: If you cry for your chicken, you should also sympathise with the hawk." Another one cautions: "If you warn the cat not to steal, you should also advise "momoni" salty fish to stop smelling."
As much as unscrupulous men who abuse women's rights online are chastised, some women or girls who also take delight in allowing men to video graph them or take photos of their naked bodies or even record their sexual activities and post same deliberately online should be ashamed of themselves. Of course, they have the right to do whatever they please with their own bodies. But this is one way the abuse of, or sexual harassments of WOMEN'S RIGHTS ONLINE ISSUES IN GHANA could be stopped or minimized!