KAMPALA —Uganda’s digital divide and financial inclusion gaps are further widening, not narrowing, laying bare issues of inequity facing women across the country.
The National Policy Paper on Digital Inclusion in Women Economic Empowerment in Uganda released by a consortium of civil society organizations last week highlighted significant gaps in broadband access, barriers to filling those holes among other obstacles.
The paper which was also discussed by mostly women Members of Parliament under their umbrella body, the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) that the fact that the majority of the countrywomen are either illiterate or semi -literate, their attitudes on uptake of digital technology is low, and that they are reluctant to embrace technology.
“Some of the interview respondents running fintech and e-commerce APPs indicated that women are largely the last adopters of technology and would resort to traditional methods of doing business if they had an option,” Ms. Ritah Nanyonga, the Women Economic Empowerment Technical Officer at ActionAid Uganda said.
She added: “Women’s slow adoption of particular e-commerce platforms has also meant that women in business miss out on the opportunities presented by some of these platforms like access to a wider market”.
Uganda Women Parliamentary Association Chairperson, Sarah Opendi said the government’s over-reliance on commercial providers for delivering broadband is deepening the country’s “digital divide and in the process affect women and people in underserved communities.
In Uganda, only 26 per cent of people have online access – one of the lowest rates in sub-Saharan Africa, according to research site DataReportal.
“The report was spot on and it has really alerted us and, we are going to ensure that we continue on legislating and ensuring the appropriate appropriation in terms of the budget for the interests of the women,” Ms. Opendi, also Tororo Municipality MP said.
“We will engage the ministry of ICT and Ministry of Finance on issues around infrastructure for ICT. We are going to sit back and see how best to tackle this, so that when we resume [Parliamentary Business] some issues may come as questions to ministers or come as motions, so that they can be discussed”.
On financial inclusion, the paper highlighted women business owners in Uganda face gender specific barriers, including lower access to capital, and segregation into lower-value sectors.
Mr. Edton Babu, a programmes director with Care Uganda that there’s a need to put together a comprehensive package to address key barriers in a comprehensive manner, to empower women entrepreneurs and transition their enterprises, from micro to small and, from small to medium, as well as improve their productivity.
The position paper, broken down into primary areas including digital divide and disparities also made a raft of policy recommendations — with players asking the government to work on regulations that provide for standardized criteria in ICT application development to include gender and disability considerations.
In their recommendations, the CSOs petitioned government to re-consider fiscal policies on taxation, a development they say would
address tax policy deficits.
“It is of necessity that the 0.5% tax on mobile money and the 12% internet tax be revised to increase digital uptake and grow the digital economy,” they recommended, adding that subsidizing taxes on smart phones should also be considered as a stop gap measure to lower the cost of smart phones and increase their access and use.
“This taxation review should also include taxes on equipment like mobile phones and other hardware to make them more accessible to the population to drive increased internet use.”
Concerning digital infrastructure constraints, CSOs asked Ugandan authorities to prioritize investing in data infrastructure to focus on rural communities.
“The planned additional 2000km of fiber network under the National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) should be rolled out in rural areas,” they recommended, also — asking the government to fast track the approval and implementation of the National Broadband infrastructure blueprint.
The players also want the
National Identification & Registration Authority (NIRA) to provide a window for deliberately targeting women in rural areas to register and be issued National IDs as an affirmative action towards digital inclusion.
“A policy to accelerate ownership and access of National IDs to ease access to digital services should be adopted,” they said.
They also want Tier 4 Micro Finance Institutions and Money Lenders Act 2018 and the Regulations (2020) to be amended to incorporate digitization of services regulated by the UMRA.