“I had a story to tell. I could no longer keep it inside,” Olotusun told us while talking about her life in Nigeria. Many years earlier, she was lying in bed next to her one month old child and made up her mind never to go back to the beatings that had landed her in the hospital that night. Searching for a platform to share her voice and story, she came across an organization called World Pulse, an online network of women. There she began to tell her story and, more importantly, build a community of women and support around the globe who heard her voice. “Many women in Africa share a similar story, but sometimes we are too scared or ashamed to tell it.” Since finding her voice, Olutosin started her own non-profit empowering women in Nigeria through small business training. “Through this work, we are creating a movement to empower all the women of Nigeria.” Her experience is one story of the millions of potential opportunities that can result by getting more women online in Africa and sustaining their engagement and use of the internet as a tool for social and economic empowerment.
There is, however, a significant gender technology gap in Africa that hinders women’s abilities to benefit from the opportunities that access to technologies such as the Internet can enable. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 40 million women have access to the Internet and the benefits it holds, compared to 70 million men. This 30 million-person difference is sub-Saharan Africa’s gender-based ‘Internet gap’. One-third of that gap represents young women aged 15 to 25, a critical generation whose empowerment holds great potential for the region. This gap must be closed.
This week in Washington DC, President Obama is hosting an inaugural U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the largest gathering any U.S. President has held with African heads of state and government. “The global economy’s last frontier.” “The hopeful continent.” These are the headlines often associated with Africa—a place with recent years of uninterrupted economic expansion. The hope is to strengthen ties between the United States and one of the world’s most dynamic and rapidly growing regions. This growth of ‘Africa rising’ is being fueled by innovation, new technologies, and entrepreneurship. With 60 percent of Africa’s population under 35, the future success of African nations will depend on the leadership, skills, and ingenuity of an emerging generation of leaders. Young women are integral to developing this future and without a concerted effort to include them, there is a risk that they will be left out.
Today, Intel announced a new collaboration with USAID called the “Women and the Web Alliance” to spark an ecosystem of partners to bring more than 600,000 young women online in Nigeria and Kenya in the next 3 years. USAID, Intel, NetHope, World Pulse, World Vision, UN Women, and Women in Technology in Nigeria are combining our efforts and skills to transform girls’ and women’s lives and livelihoods in Africa through digital literacy training, engaging content and online social networks. The Alliance will introduce girls and women to the transformative benefits of the Internet. All of these partners share a common interest in realizing the socio-economic benefits of more women and girls online.
What’s particularly exciting to me about this Alliance is that it leverages the power of technology and innovation to address a critical challenge for the economic growth of the continent. While each of the Alliance partners brings a different set of competencies and strengths to address the challenge in a holistic manner, we all bring heightened sense of determination. It’s not just about getting women online—it’s about what that enables. As women access the Internet, they not only become consumers of content, they learn the skills to become creators. They can create content, tell their stories, share their voices, and gain the confidence, skills and power to be active participants in the economic and social fabric of the continent and creators of its future.