In northern Nigeria, about 60 percent of women do not have access to the internet. The technology ecosystem of the country is mainly dominated by men. According to a study by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), 55% of men in Northern Nigeria do not want their wives to use the internet, and 61 percent of fathers discourage their daughters’ from using the facility.
This problem is general in the country as Nigeria’s ranking stood at 139 out of 153 countries in the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report. These figures simply paint the uneven picture that while men are actively shaping Nigeria’s technology ecosystem, women are largely passive users.
For this reason, Zainab Usman Salihu enrolled herself in the Bauchi Feminist Internet School 2023 session, where she got to learn digital safety for use of the internet and social media platforms. She has learnt how to use strong passwords and which application to use.
“I learned about online harassment and how to stay safe while online (either on social media or on the internet). I also took the training to my organisation, where I work. They appreciated it, when I taught them,” she said.
The Bauchi Feminist Internet School (BaFIS) is an initiative of the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) aimed at bridging the digital gender gap in northern Nigeria. The BaFIS selects and trains youths, especially females, to produce digital inclusion champions who will contribute to bridging the gender digital divide in the country.
Ali Sabo, Communication Officer at the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) told BONews that the school was set up “To bridge the gender digital divide in the country and dispense the notion that technology is only for the men. The objective of the school is to produce digital inclusion champions for bridging the gender digital divide in the country.
“Bauchi Feminist Internet School is an annual school being organised by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) to bridge the gender digital divide in the northern part of the country.
“The school, instituted in 2018 exposes its participants to different technological tools they can use to protect themselves online. Issues of gender-based violence are given priority at the school where participants are taken through different types of gender-based violence both online and offline, and teach them different methods they can use to protect themselves from those violent acts online.
“The school selects its participants from the 19 northern states with females occupying 70 percent of the participants. Every year, the alumni of the school are expected to, after the training, undertake activities to expand the knowledge on gender digital inclusion in the country and step down the training to at least 10 other persons.”
Additionally, Sabo said alumni of the school were expected, after graduation, to embark on advocacy visits to relevant government agencies to solicit support for the national digital inclusion agenda and write articles on how the digital inclusion agenda could be realised in Nigeria.
“So far, the school has held five times and directly produced 215 hundred female participants and over 3315, through step-down training by the champions,” Sabo said.
Maryam Garba Usman is one of the over 200 graduates of the school. She told BONews that she “learnt a lot regarding internet violence, especially for women and how to advocate for the passage of the internet bill.
“Getting more knowledge on how women are bullied on the internet and the need to make the space safe for women,” he said.
As a 2019 alumnus, Mrs Garba Usman took the training down to her immediate community. He said “I stepped the training down to 10 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and eight media in Kano state.”
With support from Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the three-day annual school offers intensive training on various topics regarding access to and use of the internet as well as internet governance and policy making in the arena from feminist perspectives.
“It also focuses on internet security; how individuals’ can secure their different social media handles from attacks and hackers. Other aspects being taught at the school include the African Declaration on Internet Freedoms and Peoples Rights, Feminist Internet Principles, Applications and Mobiles Platforms, Digital Health and Safety Clinic.
“The school through its alumni has helped in bridging the gender digital divide in the country by empowering the participants with right knowledge to access the internet, create awareness among their peers on the importance of the internet and through the advocacy paid to the different government agencies by the alumni resulted to improvement in teaching ICTs subjects in some schools,” Sabo buttressed.
Fatima Ibrahim Mukhtar is a participant too, who took the training down to her community. She said “The Gombe Feminist Internet School (GoFIS) was a replica of Bauchi Feminists Internet School. It was interactive as participants learned more about the digital rights bill.
“I held a step down training of what I learned from Bauchi Feminist Internet School to 20 participants in Gombe state withs support from CITAD and APC,” said Ibrahim Mukhtar.
This school situated in Bauchi has since produced ICT gender advocates, who are taking the campaign to the doorsteps of residents in their various communities. The school holds annually since its premiere in 2018. However, this school only lasted for three days, limiting the time for training participants.
According to Sabo, another challenge the school faces is shortage of funds. He noted “The most noticeable challenge so far is funding the school as it requires huge funding looking at the number of participants engaged every year who have to be accommodated, fed, and transported from their various states,” he noted. The school keeps making progress and adjusting its syllabus to meet the current demands of the digital age.
“In the 2023 edition, the school introduced another topic to the school known as “Digital Rights’. Considering the importance and sensitivity of the topic, the school offers three-day intensive training on various topics regarding access and use of the internet as well as internet governance and policy making in the arena from feminist perspectives,” he said..
Safiyya Daba, Lead, Women Techmakers Kano argued that knowledge of digital rights was paramount in a digital age and commended the school for the timely initiative.
“I think training women on digital rights is important. Training women on digital rights can help them to understand their rights and how to protect themselves from online harassment, violence, and discrimination. It can also help them to use the internet to access information, education, and opportunities., she said.
According to her, it will help to “Increase awareness of digital rights, improve digital literacy, reduce vulnerability to online harassment, violence, and discrimination, and increase access to information, education, and opportunities.
“No matter how you choose to train women on digital rights, you are making a valuable contribution to their empowerment. Overall, learning digital skills can empower women in many ways. It can help them to improve their lives, their careers, and their communities.
Mrs. Daba further encourages women to learn digital skills. For digital skills, they are essential in today’s world, and they could open up a world of opportunities for women.
“I encourage you to take the first step and learn ICT skills today. By doing so, you are investing in your future and the future of your community,” she concluded.
This story has been made possible by Nigeria Health Watch with support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.