The 21st century has been characterized by rapid technological advancement giving rise to breakthroughs that will affect our politics, economies, improve medicine and influence our culture.
Technology has transformed social and economic activities, increased connectivity and created a global village. However, there has been an uneven distribution in mobile technology access and usage between men and women. According to a GSMA report, 14% of women are less likely to own a phone, this equates to 200 million fewer women than men engaging in mobile technology. Sub-Saharan Africa is identified as the second leading region with the gender gap in mobile ownership and internet usage after South Asia. In Tanzania, various interventions in education, health and agriculture sectors such as CodeLikeAGirl, Wazazi Nipendeni and Women Farmer Network respectively, seek to address the gender imbalance in uptake of mobile technology.
Social and economic factors contribute significantly to gender discrepancy in low and middle – income countries. Social norms and inequality between men and women in education have predominantly contributed to the gender gap in the tech space. The financial cost of possessing a phone coupled with not being tech savvy featured as a deterrent. Women also cited security and harassment in their respective communities as a hindrance to ownership of a mobile phone.
Mobile technology in improving service delivery
In Tanzania, the government and various stakeholders in the public and private sector have incorporated mobile technology that will improve service delivery in key areas such as maternal health and education.
The aspirations highlighted in the Second Five Year Development Plan (FYDPII), are expected to see a reduction in maternal mortality by 50%. Through the ‘Wazazi Nipendeni’ initiative, the Ministry of Health in partnership with public and private sector actors delivers a solution that dispenses pre and post-natal information. Commenting on Vodacom Foundation’s commitment to improve maternal health, Rosalynn Mworia, Director Corporate Affairs and Vodacom Foundation said, “This program has reached nearly 40,000 women and significantly reduced maternal mortality rate in the lake zone as a result of mobile technology.” ‘At a minimum, women should be equipped with information that will allow them to deliver their babies safely. Mobile technology allows us to reach women in remote areas by sending informative text messages on their progress, providing them with peace of mind throughout their pregnancy.’
Removing impediments to learning include identifying and addressing factors such as that affect school attendance. UNESCO estimates that young girls miss 20% of school per year and according to a 2015 report issued by Tanzania Water and Sanitation Network (TAWASANET), about 75% of schoolgirls acknowledge that menstruation impacts their performance in school. By utilizing mobile technology to advice on menstrual hygiene management and sexual reproductive health education the ‘Hakuna Wasichoweza Project’ empowers girls with education on hygiene and selfcare. Additionally, the collaboration between T-MARC and Vodacom Foundation has equipped more than 10,000 schoolgirls in Mtwara and Lindi with sanitary pads that has resulted in an increase in school attendance.
Tanzania’s agricultural sector
As the leading economic contributor in Tanzania, agriculture employs over 70% of the population and according to the Ministry of Health, women make up 52% of the labor force in the sector. Vodacom’s Women Farmer Networks has empowered women in the agriculture sector through skills development programs and providing access to capital and markets using mobile technology. The network reaches women’s cooperatives in nearly 300 projects in the Northern zone and have recorded remarkable success such as financial independence, awareness of best practices and unlocked opportunities to other economic activities such as livestock keeping and significantly triggered financial inclusion of women.
Mobile technology has the muscle to substantially bring about the socio-economic transformation of communities. However, it is important for women to be included from the inception phase of these technologies and provide solutions that cater to their needs.