Gender-based digital divide in Africa: what I found out from the latest social media data

eNitiate | Digital Divide | Global Digital 2020 Report | Female Contributions | 18 Mar 2020 - 2

Does Africa suffer from gender-based digital divide? This is the question that this blog will attempt to answer.

Let me say upfront that I know Africa is not one country. I am aware that a generalised question such as the one I am asking above implies this.

The approach that I am using to answer this “question of the day” will make it obvious that I am sensitive to the sentiment that the world must recognise that the continent’s populace is not homogenous, not even within some of the 55 African countries in some instances. Nigerian history experts will attest to this, but I shall end the historic note here.

Is social media a good measure of the digital divide?

This question is key to address, given that I indicate in the title of this blog I shall be using social media data to analyse the issue of gender-based digital divide in Africa.

It has always been my understanding that the word “digital” covers a wide range of aspects of this technology – from technical product development to consumption of the digital media.

With social media being a part of digital technology, and also the best form of measurement due to mass consumption, this channel qualifies.

It is worth noting that access to social media requires the following three things:

  • A digital gadget that is internet enabled;
  • Access to the internet; and 
  • Some level of appreciation of the digital technology that drives both the digital gadget and the associated media platforms.

Clearly then, social media qualifies as a measure of the digital divide, as those that do not have access to the digital tools will not be able to participate.

Of course, social media as a measurement tool in this context precludes those who choose not to be on this platform, and I suspect the number is not as large as those who want to be on it but do not have the economic means, considering the pervasive use of the platform and the FOMO phenomenon that goes with it. 

How will I measure the digital divide on a continental level?

Analysis of the latest social media data will be based on the continent’s top 10 countries by active Facebook users.

eNitiate | Top 10 African Countries | Active Facebook Users

As a recap, 3 in 4 active Facebook users in Africa come from the top 10 countries. 

In addition, 2 in 4 citizens of the continent are found in these top 10, out of a total of 55 countries (including Western Sahara). 

Let’s dive into the data, the bulk of which come from the Global Digital 2020 Report, and see what we get.

What is the contribution of females to populations of Africa's top 10 countries by active Facebook users?

Given the way the question reads, the correct implication is that the balance of the contribution comes from males. In fact, all the female contribution coordinates that are used in this blog should be read this way.

A note to non-binary people.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the world’s gender data is still read in binary terms, with many of the stats being interpreted as male or female only.

According to countrymeters.info, 2 in 4 citizens are female across the 10 African countries. 

Here is how the graph of the female population contributions looks:

eNitiate | Global Digital 2020 Report | Females' Contribution to Total Populations of Africa's Top 10 Countries by Active Facebook Users | 18 Mar 2020
Graph 1

While nothing further can be said about the female contribution to populations of the top 10 countries on its own, it is an important starting point.

Gender-based digital divide test 1: Comparison of female contribution to population and their contribution to social media users in Africa

Here is a graph that plots the two female contribution coordinates – population and aggregated social media users (as represented by top 5 social networks) – in Africa:

eNitiate | Global Digital 2020 Report | Female Contribution to Total Populations of Africa's Top 10 Countries by Active Facebook Users vs Aggregated Social Media | 18 Mar 2020
Graph 2

I could break down the female contributions by individual top 5 social networks in Africa – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and LinkedIn – across the top 10 countries. This is what the graph looks like:

eNitiate | Global Digital 2020 Report | Female Contribution to Total Populations of Africa's Top 10 Countries by Active Facebook Users vs Aggregated Social Media | 18 Mar 2020 - 2
Graph 3

I hope you will agree that the graph with individual social network data is harder to read in Graph 3? Thus, the analysis will be based on the aggregated data, which is found on Graph 2.  

When female contribution to aggregated users of the top 5 social networks in Africa is compared to populations of the top 10 countries, a picture emerges that points to the gender-based digital divide. As an example, only 28% of social media users in Libya are female (and the remaining 72% are male).

The only exception in the top 10 is South Africa, where female contribution to social media users is slightly higher than the contribution to the population of 58 million people for this country. 

Gender-based digital divide test 2: Comparison of female literacy rates and their contributions to social media users

Next, I was curious to understand if there is any correlation between female literacy rates, which is one of the data points I used in the Coronavirus post, and female contributions to the aggregated social media users in Africa’s top 10 countries. 

Here are the results, plotted in a vertical 2-axis line graph:

eNitiate | Global Digital 2020 Report | Females: Literacy vs Contribution to Average Social Media Audiences of Africa's Top 10 Countries by Active Facebook Users | 18 Mar 2020
Graph 4

I found that there is a direct correlation between the literacy rates of and contributions to social media users by the females in 8 of the 10 countries. What this means is that, in the top 8, countries with lower female literacy rates tend to also have lower contributions by this gender to the associated social media’s user bases, and the other way around. 

As can be seen from the graph above, South Africa has a correlation of the joint highest literacy rate of and highest contribution to social media users by females. Ethiopia lies on the other side of this correlation scale. 

The two countries that showed a deviation from the observed direct correlation are Ghana and Libya. However, these two nations have the lowest Facebook user bases in the top 10 respectively, and by implication the lowest social media users overall.

The sum of the populations of both countries – at 36.6 million people combined, are equal to Morocco’s population and lower than individual populations of the other 6 of the top 10 countries. 

Thus, the recorded deviations do not have a discernible impact on the overall continental picture, as represented by the proxy top 10.

REALITY CHECK. We know that accessing social media takes a lot more than high literacy rates. There are economic realities as well, and women suffer from this inequity in marked ways in Africa.

Ok, let me distill what I found from analysis of the data that are plotted in the 4 line graphs that are part this blog post

The summary findings that I am distilling are extrapolated from analysis of data of the top 10 African countries by active Facebook users. 

5 in every 10 Africans are female. Yet, only 4 in every 10 Africans on social media are females. This may seem like a small difference. But when analysed by each of the top 10 countries, e.g. Ethiopia, some of the differences stick out.

Female contribution to aggregated users of the top 5 social networks in Africa vary by each of the top 10 African countries. As an example, South Africa has the largest contribution of females on social media (53%), while Libya has the lowest contribution (28%).

There is a direct correlation between female literacy rate and contribution by this gender to social media. South Africa and Ethiopia provide the best examples at opposite ends of the correlation scale.

My final thought

It has become accepted as fact that the social media channel is the most effective modern-day platform for spreading news and information widely and rapidly across the world. 

We are currently facing an invisible enemy called the Coronavirus. 

Unlike ever before in this generation, active public participation – by way of social distancing, implementing related hygiene methods, self isolation where it may be required, and spreading the correct information – is critical in the fight against this enemy. 

Therefore, widespread access to social media should be considered part of the armour. 

Do you agree with my findings about gender-based digital divide in Africa?

Have you got thoughts of your own to share on this topic?

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