Unveiling the Core: Tackling the Heart of Gender Digital Divide in Ethiopia

The digital world and its functionality differ based on age, region, gender and other factors which in most cases tend to benefit one group and disadvantage the other (Antonio et al., 2014). Digital gender divide emerges when the offline challenges faced by women and girls, extend into online spaces limiting their access and use of digital technologies.
Although this disparity is widespread globally, it is particularly evident in Sub-Saharan Africa, where women are inadequately represented, and accomplishments in technological fields fall short of continental aspirations (Tamrat, 2023).

A case in point is Ethiopia, where only 11% of women have digital access compared to 20% of their male counterparts. A study at Bahir Dar University revealed a gender gap in digital literacy, with female students demonstrating notably lower social media literacy than males. This imbalance may stem from the broader educational landscape in the country. Additionally, the study highlighted intersecting factors such as socioeconomic status, educational level, and rural residence, which further diminish women’s digital literacy level (Atinafu, 2021).
Other contributing factors for the digital gender divide are:

  • Economic dependence: Women predominantly rely on male spouses or relatives for financial sustenance, leading to minimal influence in resource allocation and consequently hindering their ability to afford phones or internet access. Furthermore, a greater proportion of women resort to shared or borrowed phones compared to men. Projections indicate that approximately 200 million individuals from low-income backgrounds, with a majority being women, utilize shared phones within low- and middle-income markets (Salman and Vidal, 2023)
  • Social norms and cultural biases: Communities harbor negative attitudes toward young women using mobile devices, often labeling it as ‘inappropriate behavior’ (USAID, Digital Frontiers and DAI, 2020). Due to societal roles casting girls primarily as prospective brides or caretakers, their progress in technology often lags behind that of men.
  • Digital generational divide: We as humans are normally cautious of what we don’t know, especially parents who want to protect their children from the unknown. When parents lack a comprehensive understanding of the digital realm and perceive it as an unfamiliar concept, capable of exposing their daughters to an uncharted world at the mere touch of a button, their initial inclination tends to be one of safeguarding (Girl Effect, Vodafone Americas Foundation and UNICEF: 2023).

The aforementioned findings reveal, the digital gender gap is intricately connected to longstanding gender inequalities, necessitating a profound examination of deeply ingrained gender norms. Failure to include women in the digital economy is estimated to have resulted in a loss of $1 trillion for low- and middle-income countries in the past ten years. Without measures to tackle this issue, the projected cost is set to rise to $1.5 trillion by 2025 (UN women: 2022)

However… not all is gloomy: Bridging the digital gender gap

There are some promising initiatives currently being implemented in Ethiopia that respond to the underlying causes of digital gender divide such as gender based stereotypes in schools, lower economic status and living in rural areas.

  • The pandemic improved digital access for girls: School closure during COVID-19 helped girls gain improved access to digital devices and services, which also provided the opportunity for parents to witness their girls engaging safely in the online space (Girl Effect, Vodafone Americas Foundation and UNICEF: 2023).
  • Anyone can code initiative: Betelhem Dessie, a 21-year-old self-taught female programmer is dedicated to empowering young minds in the tech realm. She offers computer and coding education for 8-18-year-olds through the icog-acc initiative, only receiving payment from those that can afford. Additionally, she founded the solve IT program, providing free training in entrepreneurship and design thinking for individuals aged 18 to 28. The initiative includes a nationwide competition, offering startup funding to winners (Trevett, 2024).
  • STEM Power: Understanding the crucial roles that schools and universities can play in enhancing girls’ participation in STEM fields, a local organization called STEM power is implementing a ‘Girls in STEM’ program. The program seeks to introduce STEM to girls at an earlier age by enrolling them in specialized learning facilities that offer hands-on lab projects in electronics and virtual computer; facilitating educational visits to STEM centers, reaching rural girls through the STEM TV program and offering mentoring opportunities. One of the current mentors is an engineer who succesffuly created an electronic burglar alarm and has been part of the program since the 9th grade (STEM power, 2024).

These initiatives are commendable for their commitment to addressing the underlying factors contributing to gender digital divide, which is a digital manifestation of pre-existing gender-based disparities and inequities. The proactive nature of these initiatives in foreseeing the digital gender divide and actively mitigating them, warrants replication and mainstreaming by Ethiopia’s digital transformation strategy and others engaged in the sector. These efforts ensure that girls are not left behind from the current digital transformation in Ethiopia. Addressing the root cause of the digital gender divide holds the potential to not only achieve sustainable solutions for digital gender divide but also to make significant strides in addressing deeply ingrained, longstanding gender issues in Ethiopia.


● Antonio, Amy, and David Tuffley. “The gender digital divide in developing countries.” Future Internet 6, no. 4 (2014): 673-687.
● Arisha Salman and Maria Fernandez Vidal, As more low-income people generate digital trails, women lag behind, 2023, CGAP, https://www.cgap.org/blog/more-low-income-people-generate-digital-trails-women-lag-behind
● Atinafu, Behailu. “Higher Education Students’ Social Media Literacy in Ethiopia: A Case of Bahir Dar University.” Journal of Media Literacy Education 13, no. 3 (2021): 86-96.
● Girl Effect, Vodafone Americas and UNICEF, 2023, Girls & Mobile report, 2023, https://girleffect.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/2023-Girls-and-Mobile-Report-FINAL.pdf
● Nicky Trevett, One woman’s mission to empower Ethiopia’s youth through tech, 2024, imagine5, https://imagine5.com/interview/one-womans-mission-to-empower-ethiopias-youth-through-tech/
● Stempowerprograms, 2024, https://www.stempower.org/programs
● UNwomen, Progress on the sustainable development goals, The Gender Snapshot, 2022, UNWomen,https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-09/Progress-on-the-sustainable-development-goals-the-gender-snapshot-2022-en_0.pdf
● USAID, Digital Frontiers and DAI, 2020, The gender digital divide primer, https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/2022-05/DAI-1089_GDD_Primer-web_rev1_9.6.21.pdf
● Wondwosen Tamirat, Bridging digital gender gap through inclusive STEM education, 2023, University world news, Africa edition, https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20230523213059437

Bezawit Fantu
Gender and SBC Manager at Girl Effect, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia