INTERVIEW: Why CITAD Is Committed To Bridging Digital Divide, Empowering Women Through ICT – Y.Z. Yau

INTERVIEW: Why CITAD Is Committed To Bridging Digital Divide, Empowering Women Through ICT – Y.Z. Yau

The Centre for Information Technology and Development is a non-governmental and non-profit organization that is committed to the use of communication technologies for development and promotion of good governance.

The CITAD has through different activities ensured development of the IT sector in Nigeria and beyond, also committed to bridging digital divide and ensuring women are empowered to be digital literates and ICT literates, the centre has been praised locally and internationally.

In this interview, the Executive Director, YZ Yau, speaks on the Information Technology sector in Nigeria, commitment of CITAD to women empowerment in the IT sector among others. EXCERPTS Below

Techmirror Magazine: The quest for female empowerment especially in the area of Digital Literacy and development has become high, what are your views on this?

Y.Z. Yau: I think it has become high because increasingly we are realising that without access to digital systems, women will continue to remain behind. Just to take an example. Today, to gain access to higher education institutions, one has to pass the computer based examination of JAMB. Without digital literacy, people cannot pass it.

We found for instance about four years ago, many female candidates in Kano State failed the exams, not because they did not know the subject, but because for many of them, they were seeing computers for the first time in the examination hold. They were not digitally literate and did not know how to work with the computer to answer the questions. Now if women cannot gain access to higher education due their being digitally illiterate, it means they cannot compete for high skilled jobs, they cannot participate in political processes and in economic activities, given that increasingly business transactions are migrating online.

All these have made those who want to see our women, like our men, have opportunities for self-actualization to be committed to empowering women and girls with digital skills. The COVID 19 pandemic has also created an urgency on this issue. As we have seen, the world was shut down and those who can, have to work online. Without digital skill women became locked in the house and shut out of economic and social activities which have moved online.

Globally, the UN system has underlined the importance of digital literacy for women and has flagged off the campaign that no one should be left behind for without digital literacy and access to digital systems, the sustainable development goals cannot be realized.

Techmirror Magazine: The Centre for Information Technology and Development has been at the forefront of bridging the female digital divide, how has the strides been?

Y.Z. Yau: CITAD has for many years devoted energy and resource in the campaign to bridge the gender digital divide. This has been for us engaging the policy space, undertaking researches to understand constrains and challenged in bridging the divide and undertaking training programmes to ensure that women and girls have the chance to learn to use digital systems. In this we run several schemes including the Abuja and Kano Annual Digital Summer Schools for young women, in which we yearly train young women with the objective of turning them into digital entrepreneurs.

The digital livelihood project which runs for over three years in Abuja Kano and Bauchi, providing training to over 500 girls and women, the digital training scholarship schemes in which we have trained many girls in Kano and Jigawa States and our creativity and innovation project in girls’ secondary schools to encourage to learn and use digital skills.

We realized that for many parents, and the girls themselves, there is the fear of being online due to online gender harassment and the fear of exposure to unsuitable content. For this reason, we have been running a series of safety online training programmes for women focused groups and have been campaigning against gender online violence.

We incorporated monitoring and countering of gender violence online in our hate speech monitoring observatory as our contribution to making the internet safe for women. To support our campaign for influencing policy makers to take action to address the gender digital divide, we introduced the Bauchi Feminist Internet School which is an annual training school where we train and incubate gender digital inclusion ambassadors who join the campaign yearly by conducting activities such as advocacy, further step down training, promoting campaign on social media to demand that Nigeria articulates and implements a national digital inclusion agenda. We are happy that women are answering our calls and campaign to seek spaces to learn digital skills and make demands on duty bearers for this. Our incentivising digital skills through entrepreneurship is also paying.

Last year, we published a book entitled Profile of Some Young Female Digital Entrepreneurs from Northern Nigeria; which profiled some of the women who benefited from this training and are now running their own businesses. Two weeks ago, the Daily Trust did a feature on one of these young digital entrepreneurs who has been running a graphic design business from her home.

Techmirror Magazine: What can be done to ensure that more women are encouraged to be technologically inclined?

Y.Z. Yau: I think in broad terms, what needs to be done is for more women to be encouraged to be technologically inclined is for Nigeria as a country to develop and implement technology and gender policy framework and agenda which will seek to remove all the impediments that women face in entering the technical sphere. We know of course government on its own may not to do this and that is why we call on all stakeholders to support this through various act of advocacy and campaign to impress upon government the importance of doing this.

Techmirror Magazine: The issue of unemployment has been rife in Nigeria, will strengthening women with Digital tools develop our market system?

Y.Z. Yau: There is a story that poverty has a feminine face in Nigeria, arising from the fact that there are more women living under the poverty line than men. As you know unemployment is one of the major contributors to individual poverty. To that extent the story should be recast that unemployment has a feminine face in Nigeria since there are more women not having employment than men. Digital skills and digital systems when place in the hands of women will make them compete for existing jobs but will also make them transform from just job seekers to job creators, by setting up and running their own businesses. And the beauty of it is that digital skills would create jobs and employment opportunities for women in a way that is non-disruptive of certain social norms. That means, they can easily combine house wife domestic job with economic job.

They can work from home, etc. Bringing the large number of women into employment would drastically reduce unemployment in the country. It also means increase in wealth creation and thus reducing poverty. Increased income from newly employed women would support the expansion of the market in the country as now there is more disposable income to spend in the markets.

Techmirror Magazine: What is the biggest motivation of the CITAD in Female focused ICT training and what has been the challenges?

Y.Z. Yau: CITAD is part of the social justice movement that means we promote social justice at all levels and in all aspects of life. The digital divide is a case that demands for digital justice. In this instance, women suffer from digital injustice which is the result of their digital exclusion and marginalization. But it goes beyond for as I talked earlier, without access to digital skills and systems, women will be shut out of social processes across all spheres, be it political, economic, educational or social. For this reason, we see a world that needs justice and we want to contribute to that agenda. This is why we have a special focus on getting more women to train on digital skills so that we can end their digital marginalization.

Techmirror Magazine: Why did CITAD introduce programs such as Bauchi feminist internet program and other computer training programs for solely women?

Y.Z. Yau: As I mentioned earlier, we did undertake research to understand the factors responsible for the digital marginalization of women. Among these, we found gender blind policies, we found fear among both women and men about the internet, we found issues about safely and privacy, etc. We found also attitudinal responses which are the result of patriarchy. In fact, underlining all the other important factors that hinder effective access to and use of the internet by women is patriarchy.

In this sense, you cannot address the problem by mere provision access to women or skills to them without deconstructing the social norms that inhibit the effective use of technology by women. The Bauchi Feminist Internet School is meant to achieve two things. First, it is to deconstruct technology from a gender perspective and to find a response to its negative underlying gender assumptions. In this, we want participants to understand technology as a social process that is informed by our thoughts and action and our existential needs and in meeting these needs, technology needs to take on board the needs for women as well.

The second objective is that once you produce people with the right disposition to technology, they need they to influence others. The objective of introducing the program therefore is to harvest activists would join the campaign for gender digital justice with a clear understanding of how gender relations are embedded in technology. The programme is not solely for women only. It is a mixed of both women and men but women constitute about 70% of the participants. Note that unless men understand the injustice they do to women in terms of articulating policies that does not take women on board, we will not be able to address the problem.

Techmirror Magazine: what should we expect from CITAD going forward in the bridging of Digital divide?

Y.Z. Yau: We would be expanding our advocacy reach, our campaign against unsafe Internet and increase and expand our training programmes. But CITAD alone can only make a small contribution to addressing the gender digital gaps.

We would want partner with both state and non-state actors so that more spaces would be available for women to learn and use technology. There would be more voices to demand for gender digital justice. That we want more women in the IT professionals space and we want more women to be involve in the policy spaces so that their voice and experiences can now informed policy making.

Techmirror Magazine: Would you say females have been appropriately included in Nigeria's Digital economy quest?

Y.Z. Yau: No, women are still largely excluded. But we are making progress on inclusion and I hope that in the coming years as more actors are coming to ensuring that women are fully included we would reach that destination of gender parity in the of inclusion of women in the cyberspace of Nigeria.