Accessing Economic Empowerment Via Tech

Gladys Muthara delves deep into the issue of access to technology and how it can empower the youth in Kenya.

We are living in a world that has not only transformed into a global village, but is also one that is very-fast paced, thanks to technology. And it keeps on changing every single day. Those who are not able to get even a slice of technology are left miles behind, almost in pits of darkness, with limited access to information, opportunities for education, jobs,  and skills development. Countless stories are told of how technology; computers, mobile phones, and the internet have become great enablers and catalysts for development, for instance by amplifying people’s voices to hold their governments accountable, communicating some of their most pressing social issues and needs, as well as accessing opportunities for economic empowerment.

Despite the many benefits and opportunities presented by technology, most women and girls, particularly in rural areas, have limited access to technology, resulting in a growing gender digital divide.

Statistics show that 1.7 billion womendo not have access to mobile phones; similarly, many have been left behind in using the internet. In Kenya’s rural areas, the situation is no different.

I grew up in in a tiny village in rural Kenya, a place that did not know much about technology save for radio and TV, none which my family had. I encountered a computer for the very first time at the age of 18 years, when I moved to Nairobi, in search of a computer college. I was lucky that my sister enrolled me in an informal college to learn basic computer skills. She paid $60 for it. By the time I completed the course after 3 months, I did not know how to type or even navigate the web!

Today, my story is no different from that of thousands of girls in Kenya’s rural areas. While my country has made advancement in technology, particularly mobile phone penetration at over 89% and internet penetration at over 90%, young women and girls have been left far behind in acquiring vital digital tools to enable them maximally reap the benefits of ICTs by accessing limitless information and opportunities that could potentially help to unlock their economic possibilities. Save for a dummy mobile phone, often used by their mothers to communicate and receive money through mobile money transfer services in my country, most girls in secondary schools have never touched and switched on a computer.

According to TAP Africa’s DLEEP project baseline survey, only three young people out of 15 know what the internet is. Equally, it is extremely rare to find a girl who knows how to navigate the web. In a secondary school with more than 400 young people, only a handful can claim to have ever interacted with a computer. Additionally, many do not know what are emails, much less to type anything on a word document. The situation worsens as reality hits your door, in that most teachers are equally computer illiterate.

In 2018, after conducting a digital skills needs assessment among girls in Kirinyaga county, TAP Africa team led by myself, Fridah Ndoro, andWanjiku Karanja embarked on a journey of equipping young people, especially girls in rural day secondary schools, with digital tools. The project dubbed “Digital Literacy for Employability and Entrepreneurship” was designed to offer Basic Digital Skillsto in-school students,Advanced Tech-skills for those interested in progressing and acquiring specialized tech skills that could lead to employment or starting own ventures, as well as the 1 Computer-1 Neighborhood activities,  which entail project beneficiaries peer-training others  on digital skills, in a village neighborhood setting.

The demanding work entails trekking and motorbike rides on dusty, sometimes muddy roads, deep into the rural areas where some of the schools are located. It is an inspiring journey, often characterized by tears of joy and disbelief, when we see the students  learning, slowly but surely, from the very first day, when they practice how to type their names on a computer in order to gain confidence, to the last day, when they graduate after completing the full course package that entails; Introduction to Computers, Microsoft Office, and the Internet.

Fast forward and our very first cohort has finally completed their 3-months Basic ICTs training, on theInternational Girls In ICT Day (April 25th, 2019)! It has been a beautiful journey but not one without challenges. Out of a class of 20 young people, 10 girls and 10 boys, only three girls managed to sail through to the end when the other seven dropped out!Interestingly, all the 10 boys stayed put learning all through to the end, and even bring along another one of their friends. Today, a total of 14 young people have completed the first cycle and are set to sit for their final test in the coming weeks, as well as receive their certificates.

This is a classic example of the dire need for all stakeholders to ensure that girls are adequately supported to embrace and learn ICTs in order to reap the limitless benefits that would drastically enhance their economic empowerment.

Looking forward to the next Cohort, with training scheduled to begin in May 2019, we shall put deliberate measures to encourage and adequately support girls to join and learn ICTs. Our first measure was in having a female trainer, Wanjiku Karanja, who kept encouraging and supporting the remaining three girls, till they completed their training alongside the boys! Other measures will include sensitization workshops and presenting the girls with female role models, who they can aspire to be like. It can be done. Girls too can learn computers and we are determined to support them and enable them learn.

But while our determination is unfailing, we are faced by one key challenge: inadequate access to computers/ laptops, which partly makes the girls frustrated. We URGENTLYneed 10 used/new laptops.  Now we have 3 laptops and 4 desktops, which the beneficiaries have to share during classes. An additional 10 laptops would, therefore, mean that we can comfortably train 20 young people every semester,per school. It also means that our trainers can reach more girls in other schools, since laptops  are portable.

Remember, for many this is an incredibly rare opportunity, and they count themselves very lucky to learn Basic ICTs for free. Their parents, who mainly live on less than a $1 a day, may never be able to afford paying for the informal cyber-cafes’ computer packages training.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” Mother Teresa


Gladys Muthara is the Founder: TAP Africa


A Champion for Girls’ Education and a Youth Economic Empowerment Specialist

(Article originally published on 7D (

Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash


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