Kondoa Community Network: Breaking gender digital divides

With growing populations, decentralisation of opportunities is important, and the internet is a crucial way to achieve it for both urban and rural communities. In order to bridge the digital divide(s), gender should be at the core of the development circle to ensure equal access to services and opportunities. In Tanzania, slightly over 23 million people are internet users, which is an internet penetration of 43%, with 86% of them accessing the internet via mobile phones. Governments are moving to e-services now more than ever, but access challenges make it difficult to optimise these services for all. This is especially true for targeted groups like the LGBTIQA community that have withdrawn from internet use for fear of their activities being surveilled, as was the case during the gay crackdown online instigated by a prominent governor.

Agencies like regulators offer penetration data, but the statistics are rarely disaggregated by gender, making it difficult to decipher access gaps between male and female users, aside from the fact that the internet is being accessed differently by different groups especially based on gender. To make meaningful decisions around internet access, the internet has to be looked at through the lens of gender to pick up the disparities among different groups. Communities of trust are often built among minority groups such as women who leverage the internet as a medium to create relevant content, communicate, mobilise and gain access to information. Without access, groups like women who are widows face challenges to access important information like legal services.

Aziza like many widowed women in the small town of Kondoa was left with heavy responsibilities without the support of her significant other. She serves as a leader in the local women widows group KIWAJAKO, pushing for opportunities and a better life. Among other things, Aziza is a mother, a clothes retailer and a community worker who mobilises fellow widowed women. The women she works with live in the outskirts and rural areas of Kondoa, a district in the capital city of Dodoma, Tanzania. In most parts of these villages, mobile connectivity is a challenge owing to the geography, and people have to walk miles to get good cell reception. To such communities, the internet seems like a far-fetched dream they hear of but can’t reach.

When Kondoa Community Network (KCN) was initiated and Aziza became one of the members of the board, she and many other women learned about the opportunities the internet can accord them, one of them being access to educational content and economic opportunities they could leverage from knowing how to research markets and advertise on social media platforms. KCN is the first community network to pilot the use of television white space (TVWS) in rural areas to address the issue of the internet gaps in Tanzania. Among the key objectives of the network is to bridge gender gaps by ensuring women and girls in Kondoa are connected and make meaningful use of the network.

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