Women and girls join the internet revolution

The internet revolution is coming, old news in much of the world but not in Chad, a tech laggard where women languish at the very back of the line when it comes to connectivity.

With just 6.5 percent of the population online, the landlocked African nation of Chad has the sixth-lowest rate of internet usage in the world, according to the latest World Bank figures.

Women are even more cut off than Chadian men as so few own phones, literacy rates are low, and cultural norms dictate that tech jobs go mostly to men, according to advocates.

But since the emergence of a handful of tech hubs, coding classes and start-up accelerators in Ndjamena, women have started breaking into the field – and are now pushing hard to ensure others are not left behind.

“Technology is something that will concern our whole lives,” said Aicha Adoum, 35, founder of a Chadian telecoms company that is working to expand internet access in the Central African country, where paved roads and electricity are rare.

“We need to sensitize young girls,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Adoum was looked down on by family and peers when she got a job for a telecoms company because she worked at night and with men, both frowned upon.

With more women breaking into tech, this is starting to change, she said – but slowly.

At a recent tech conference in the capital, a crowd of veiled, young women glanced around hesitantly when quizzed by a 26-year-old entrepreneur.

“Has everyone here used the internet before?” Falmata Awada asked the group, pulling up a slideshow to explain what the internet is and how it works.

Several girls shook their heads to say “no” – they had never been online.

Yet, all were high school or college students in the capital Ndjamena, and all had come to attend a conference on women in digital technology and entrepreneurship.

Women across sub-Saharan Africa are 15 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men and 41 percent less likely to use mobile internet, largely due to gender gaps in income and literacy, according to the telecoms industry body GSMA.

The widest gender gaps tend to occur in poorer countries with overall lower mobile penetration, such as Chad, said GSMA.

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