The digital divide and child marriage: what’s the connection? Reflections from The National Women’s Conference on Inclusion, Nigeria.
The digital divide is undermining women and girls’ access to education and employment - but also has the potential to lift women and girls from poverty.
Like many countries, Nigeria is still struggling to achieve gender equality with child marriage rates remaining high across the country, at 30%. Nigeria is home to the fifth largest number of child brides in the world - after India, Bangladesh, China and Indonesia - according to the most recently published data by Unicef. The new data also suggests Nigeria needs to accelerate progress on child marriage by nearly 38 per cent every year between now and 2030 to reach the goal of zero child marriage." (1)
Despite the numerous efforts made by policymakers, activists, and civil society organisations, women continue to experience gender-based violence, discrimination, and marginalisation. They face entrenched social norms on the inferiority of women and girls in society, and economic challenges make the reality of poverty a constant, daily pressure. With gender inequality being the norm, “access” for women and girls has consistently been significantly limited compared to men - access to health, access to education, access to opportunity, access to employment, access to leadership positions, to name but a few.
Limited access to digital literacy is another of these important exclusions which acts to undermine gender equality. Globally, Internet penetration rates are 12% lower for women than men – 48.4% of women use the Internet in comparison to 58.3% of men (2)
While the gender gap for Internet use has narrowed in most regions since 2013, the gap in Africa has widened with 25% fewer women than men using the Internet (2)
The relationship is two-way - digital inclusion is a catalyst for educational outcomes, and higher quality educational outcomes (ie. literacy) can support digital access. “Literacy and digital skills are ranked as the top barrier to mobile internet adoption by both male and female mobile users across survey countries who are already aware of mobile internet. In Nigeria, for instance, 41 per cent of female mobile users who are aware of mobile internet but have not yet adopted it cite difficulties with reading and writing as an important barrier, compared to 32 per cent of men." (3)
Social norms are also a driver behind girl’s limited access to mobile phones. “Lack of family approval still ranks in the top three barriers to mobile ownership for women in Nigeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan.” (3).
What’s the potential? As the world evolves, digital skills are becoming one of the highest paying skills, with the potential to lift women and girls from poverty and access to more productive lives. Digital tools are opportunities for girls to network with each other and get timely information, access safe, anonymised comprehensive Sexuality Education and services (if used correctly) and for programmers to reach a wider audience with messaging on ending child marriage amongst others.
Discussing these pertinent issues, “The National Women’s Conference on Inclusion: Technology and Digital Education for Gender Equality and Women Empowerment” was held in Abuja on the 4th of April, 2023. Welcomed by the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline K. Tallen OFR, KSG, five hundred delegates from diverse backgrounds, including technology experts, Civil Society organisations, and women’s rights activists, met to discuss the challenges women face in accessing technology and digital resources, and explore how we can use technology to improve gender equality.
Sessions focused on the reality that digitalisation has compounded inequality and exclusion of girls and women. Globally women remain 7% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, and are 16% less likely to use mobile internet (3). Nigeria was found to have one of the highest gender gaps in Internet use, at 61% despite having relatively high internet penetration rates. (2)
Women and girls are prevented from receiving an education, and in turn, further excluded from resources, information, and knowledge in digital skills. This keeps girls and women from digital careers, the fastest growing sector in the world. We know that child marriage is rooted in this gender inequality and a belief that girls and women are inferior to boys and men which prevents them from going to school. Keeping girls in school is one of the best ways of delaying marriage, with the likelihood of a girl marrying as a child is six percentage points less for every additional year she stays in secondary education (4). Supporting girls to access education and employment opportunities will lead to a reduction in child marriage.
What can we do? Some key actions were put forward by conference delegates:
- Develop gender responsive policies, plans and budgets that are informed by data and evidence and include specific actions to tackle the digital gender gap, promote gender responsive digital learning and address online violence and injustice.
- Ensure increased access and connectivity to digital technologies for girls.
- Focus on affordable, safe, secured, and available gender responsive and age-appropriate content and services.
- Promote gender responsive digital teaching and learning by investing in digital pedagogy, removing gender bias and stereotypes from curricular, digital books and learning materials and supporting STEM education and digital skills for girls.
- Create safe digital learning environment.
- Work with communities to support digital learning for girls, raising awareness about the potential of technology to benefit girls’ lives and informing them about the available safeguards and controls to protect girls online.
- Engage girls and young women in the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of digital solutions.
‘…significance of this is a gender responsive approach to innovation, technologies and digital education can increase the awareness of women and girls regarding their rights, civic engagement in the struggle for gender justice…’ - Professor Hauw’a Evelyn Yusuf (Lead Paper Presenter)
This important initiative provided a platform for women to share knowledge, best practices, and experiences in leveraging technology and digital education to promote gender equality. The conference encouraged us to focus on women’s digital literacy and skills, to mobilise technology which can address gender-based violence and discrimination, and to promote inclusive technologies that cater to the diverse needs of women.
We can all play our part. What can you do?
To find out more on this issue, check out https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/connected-women/ for the latest data and thinking on this issue. Their latest report is launched on 31 May - and you can access existing resources and thought-pieces.
Want to know more about Child Marriage and Education? Look here for key facts and data. https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/learning-resources/child-marriage-and-education/
Get inspired by these 10 inspirational Nigerian women working in Tech
1. Kemisola Bolarinwa- invented the smart bra for early detection of cancer. She was awarded an award for “Inclusive Technology & Digital Education for Gender Equality and Women Empowerment.”
2. Funke Opeke- founder of Mainstream Technology who is providing internet to over 15 countries.
3. Kofo Akinkugbe, founded a group of companies that was the first to produce sim cards which she exports to 21 countries.
4. Hajia Rakiya Mohammed, the DG, National Council for Women Development, a first-class graduate of mathematics.
5. Dr. Amina Sambo, first female with a first class in Artificial Intelligence. She also celebrated the young girls from Onitsha in Anambra State who represented Nigeria at San Francisco in the US in 2018
In the time it has taken to read this article 72 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds
About the authors
Girls Not Brides
Peace Adebola Okeshola
- 1 - UNICEF Child Marriage Country Profile
- 2 - https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-12/BP.1_Alison%20Gillwald.pdf
- 3 - GSMA – The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022
- 4 - Wodon, Q, et al., 2018, Missed Opportunities: The High Cost of Not Educating Girls,Washington, DC: The World Bank