In contemporary civilized Nigeria, the Internet has become a household name used in offices and at homes to access, receive and retrieve information. Many innovations in the world today are as a result of the exposure and access to the world of the internet and people all over the world can access any other parts of the world to receive information about anything that borders on their interest in life. Women in their quest for empowerment and societal recognition have adopted and accepted the web as an instrument for their advancement and empowerment. This is manifested in their previous two world conferences in Nairobi, 1985 and Beijing, 1995, where among several areas of concern, the role of the media in subordinating women featured prominently. But unfortunately, despite the much emphasis placed on the use of internet in Nigeria, women are often underrepresented in terms of access and use. It is against this background that I am writing on the challenges and prospects of internet utilization among women in Nigeria. These challenges include lack of infrastructure, education and skills; urban-bias; and sociocultural and economic challenges. To address these gender gaps in Nigeria, all hands must be on deck to change women’s attitudes towards internet use by overcoming technophobia; women should be provided with educational and economic empowerment; government policies and programs must address the needs of women; and the civil society should be part and parcel of this crusade for the betterment of women and the society at large. Let me focus for now on the economic challenges, I shall be looking at the other challenges in my next write-ups.
From my experience in working with women through my NGO, Initiative for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Children (IEVAWC), I see that Lack of financial resources is what hinders women to participate fully in the web. This is because almost all communication facilities cost money and majority of women are afflicted by poverty. Poverty is rooted in gender imbalances, which are in turn rooted in gender inequality dynamics that stem from issues which cut across race, religion, status, culture and geographical location among others. Thus in comparison to men, women are worst hit as a result of their very limited involvement in economic activities in relation to their male counterparts. Also as a women’s right activist, I realized that to achieve the right to communicate as a basic human right for women in Nigeria, women have to take on themselves the difficult task of gaining access to the necessary infrastructures that will enable them use the internet. This entails the provision of more infrastructures that will take care of the majority of women who reside in rural areas as well as making available the latest infrastructure for users’ needs. This means an understanding of the system of access and use of the web by majority of the people in the society. Similarly, women must be involved in the technical complexities of information technology in order to reflect gender issues. The Nigerian government and NGOs therefore, should work towards actively devising creative solutions to provide access to the internet. Access to communications and ICT through community access points should be looked into by government and NGOs. They should also look into concerns related to consumers’ ability to pay for services, particularly in rural and poor areas. Universal access policies aim at developing solutions that provide community access at affordable prices. New technologies have made these efforts promising and many developing countries are investing in such policies.
From the various campaigns going on in the internet and especially the World Pulse’s WWW campaign, it is obvious that women have embraced the internet as a way forward in their quest for empowerment. Notwithstanding, they are caught in a web of numerous challenges of which I have just highlighted one of them above. To wriggle out of these problems in Nigeria, affordable and accessible internet policy and programmes must address the needs of women. Similarly, using and benefitting from the web requires learning, training, affordable access to the technology, availability of information relevant to the user and a great amount of support for enabling environments. Solving internet problems and enhancing the position of women in access and utilization would indeed facilitate development in the various areas of women endeavours. In addition, sensitizing women’s organization and civil society in general to the gender impact of internet issues in Nigeria would yield greater dividends for women. There is an urgent need to improve the representatives of women in the use of the new technology to enhance their status. This will increase their visibility as women in the society as well as eliminate discriminative tendencies against them. Women in Nigeria need to be committed in the use and access to the web in order to demystify the general notion that internet is a field exclusively reserved for men. Furthermore, engendering ICT policies in Nigeria will secure the benefits of the information age for girls and women. This will make them reap the benefits of the information age. Finally, the Nigerian woman needs all the help she can get to free herself from the forces that subjugate her in the wider society and in the world of the web, which are powerful instruments for creating and reinforcing herself-image.WWW: Women Weave the Web