SDN has been equipping young people with digital skills, and incubating start-up businesses, since it worked with the Ken Saro-Wiwa Foundation to establish Port Harcourt’s first tech hub in 2016. We are now extending this approach to several states in the Niger Delta to equip women with digital skills and strengthen employability.
The Niger Delta has some of the highest rates of unemployment in Nigeria (often soaring above 40 percent) and these are higher for women. Women tend to work in sectors that are less productive and more precarious, and earn lower wages. A recent International Labour Organisation (ILO) report states that 95 percent of Nigeria’s female labour force tends to be in the informal sector, and for enterprising women, their businesses are mostly small-scale or home-based due to social and cultural norms that assign a bulk of unpaid domestic chores/childcare responsibilities to women. Women also have lower access to critical skills such as digital skills that are often a prerequisite for many employers, or are useful to support their business growth. From the lowest skill proficiency levels, such as using applications on mobile phones to the advanced skills such as coding computer software, the lack of digital skills is apparent.
In addition to the lack of digital skills, women are confronted with various barriers to digital access, such as affordability, social and cultural norms, financial independence, and cyber safety. This lack of access and skills is more severe among women who are older and/or less educated than their peers, poor, or living in rural areas and developing countries.
To mitigate this challenge, SDN, with support from the European Union, launched the project ‘Reducing Digital Gender Gaps in the Niger Delta’. The project seeks to contribute to bridging the digital gender gap in employment aspirations, opportunities, and outcomes in the Niger Delta. Key objectives of the project include:
- Raising Awareness and Overcoming Cultural Barriers: The project seeks to highlight the existing digital gender gap and challenge cultural norms that hinder women’s access to digital skills and opportunities.
- Empowering Women with Digital and Soft Skills: SDN is providing training in digital skills and fostering soft skills development, enabling women to not only grow their businesses but also bolster their employability.
- Supporting Women-Led Businesses: The initiative is dedicated to assisting women-led businesses in leveraging digital tools and skills to facilitate growth and success.
- Strengthening Advocacy for Digital Literacy: By partnering with civil society organizations (CSOs) and similar initiatives, the project aims to enhance their capacity to advocate for increased digital literacy for women.
- Driving Policy Changes and Collaborations: The project is dedicated to promoting evidence-based policy changes that encourage collaboration between various stakeholders, including CSOs, and public and private sectors, to expand access to digital literacy and skills programs for women.
- Ensuring Equitable Digital Support Services: The initiative strives to ensure that women have equal access to digital support services that can facilitate their growth and success.
- Promoting Gender-Inclusive Tech Industry: The project advocates for gender policies that encourage women to pursue opportunities within the tech and telecommunications sectors.
Since the project’s launch in April 2023, SDN has made significant progress toward achieving these objectives. In May 2023, we launched a call to train 1,000 women and 500 women-led businesses to acquire digital skills. The first batch of the training will be managed alongside our partners Youth Alive Foundation and Talklove Africa, and will run concurrently in different centres in Akwa Ibom and Rivers States respectively. The training will reach a total of 1,500 women.
Furthermore, SDN is conducting research on the “Digital Gender Divide in the Niger Delta” which is a crucial pillar of the project. A survey of 9,600 people from both rural and urban communities in the States of Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, and Akwa Ibom has been conducted. The research also targeted tech hubs, CSOs delivering Digital Training Programmes, Special Advisors to the Government on ICT, State Ministries of Science and Technology, Women’s Affairs, and ICT. The research report, when produced, will be disseminated to policymakers and stakeholders across the region and engage them to make policies that will improve digital literacy amongst women.