Breaking Digital Barriers: The Role of ICTs in Empowering Rural Women and Girls

Launch of ICT Hubs for Women and Girls in Three Rural Districts

April 3, 2024

Girls from Chongwe Secondary School Rejoice at the Launch of the ICT Hub

UNDP/Mercy Khozi

The information revolution in the mid 1990’s did not bypass Zambia as most would be made to believe. Zambia, aside South Africa is known as one of the pioneers of the World Wide Web (www) in Africa. It is no wonder that Lusaka boasts of rising Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and is weaving a new narrative of progress, empowerment, and innovation. However, the remote and rural communities have remained a shadow of this development.

Just a few sprints from Lusaka city, lies Chongwe District, a rural town of not more than 313,389 people. Here the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Zambia Information and Communication Authority (ZICTA) have unveiled a glimmer of hope that can reshape lives, economies and societies for rural women and girls. 

With support from the Governments of Ireland and Sweden, under the GRZ-UN Joint Programme on Gender-Based Violence Phase II, the establishment and launch of the first-ever ICT Hub in Chongwe at Chongwe Secondary School, housing 21 desktops accessible to Chongwe women and girls is a sign of commitment to see them empowered in a world where pervasive mobile penetration has not translated into equality. This is because rural women and girls stand at the intersection of multiple challenges making their situation even worse compared to their counterparts in urban set-ups or indeed men. From bearing the brunt of poverty to limited access to communication tools, they face a myriad of obstacles that hinder their socioeconomic progress. 

According to a study conducted by ZICTA in 2023: State of Online GBV Amongst Women and Girls in Zambia, the survey confirms a growing trend in the usage of mobile phone services with the proportion of males to females owning mobile phones being higher. This reveals that significant disparities persist with just how wide the gap is and how much work is required to bridge it by breaking digital barriers. 

Understanding these challenges, the UNDP, under the GRZ-UN Programme on GBV Phase II has not only supported the ICT Hub in Chongwe but has also ensured that Chisamba and Itezhi-Tezhi Districts have set up state-of-the-art ICT Hubs housed at Girls’ Schools. The underpinning purpose of the three hubs in Chisamba, Chongwe and Itezhi-Tezhi Districts is to provide platforms where rural women and girls can have access to reliable and current trends on critical development concerns as well as unlocking new opportunities for providing innovative services to communities. These Hubs intend to transform the way people learn and work and are an important source of education and knowledge on various social and economic issues including Gender-Based Violence (GBV). 

Into the Future: Empowered and Breaking Limiting Gender-Based Myths

With the proliferation of mobile phones and internet connectivity, girls can now access educational resources whilst women can access training programmes remotely. Armed with the know-how, these women can now access online courses, tutorials, and educational apps that provide them with the opportunity to enhance their skills, pursue market linkages through networks and unlock new gateways to empowerment.

This is one of the pathways to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. It is a roadmap to prepare girls and young women for jobs in the ICT sector and encourage them to study STEM subjects to break limiting gender-based myths that girls and women’s place is in the kitchen.

UNDP Resident Representative, James Wakiaga underscored that these ICT Hubs are part of a wider package of UNDP support to inspire girls and young women, 


UNDP Resident Representative Speaking at the Launch of the ICT Hub for Women and Girls in Chongwe District

UNDP/Mercy Khozi
“to immerse themselves in the world of ICT and explore the opportunities and careers offered by the sector. You will be aware that technology is creating new opportunities but it’s also moving and evolving very rapidly. In fact, many of the girls present today will be in jobs in the future which do not even exist today”.
UNDP Resident Representative, James Wakiaga

ICTs encompass a broad spectrum of technologies ranging from mobile phones and the internet to radio and television. These tools have the power to transcend geographical barriers and connect individuals to a world of information and opportunities. For rural women, ICTs have emerged as a powerful vehicle for empowerment, enabling them to access vital services, acquire new skills, and participate more actively in their communities and the economy. ICTs also offer rural women new avenues for economic empowerment. With access to the internet, women can engage in e-commerce, selling homemade crafts, agricultural produce, and other goods online. Digital platforms provide them with a wider market reach, enabling them to increase their income and become more financially independent. Additionally, ICTs facilitate access to financial services such as mobile banking and digital payment systems, empowering women to save money, access credit, and manage their finances more effectively.

These technologies also empower women and girls to make informed decisions about their well-being and that of their families.

Honourable Sylvia Masebo who is Chongwe Central Area Member of Parliament and a witness to the hand-over of the 21 desktops to Chongwe Secondary School where the hub is hosted called on women and girls to embrace the Hub as their stepping stone into the world of possibilities beyond Chongwe District but into Lusaka and the global world.

Bridging the Divide: Leveraging ICTs for Rural Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment

ICTs have proven to be powerful tools for social empowerment, enabling rural women to amplify their voices and advocate for their rights. Social media platforms and online forums provide women with a platform to share their stories, connect with like-minded individuals, and mobilize for collective action. By leveraging ICTs, rural women can now raise awareness about issues affecting their communities, challenge discriminatory practices, and demand greater representation in decision-making processes.

Doreen underwent training and skills development in understanding the role of ICTs and the Hub in community development. For a week, the ZICTA undertook a training in using social media and Microsoft package to enable women and girls make their operations smoother, “for us women in village banking and have formed clubs. With help of the Hub, we will be able to come here and use the computers to make our work presentable. Most importantly, this computer hub marks a statement for a brighter future and a promising future for women and girls in Chongwe.”

Despite the transformative potential of ICTs and the hope this new development promises, there are significant challenges for rural women to fully harness these technologies for their empowerment. Access to affordable and reliable internet connectivity remains a major barrier in many rural areas, limiting women's ability to benefit from online resources and services. Additionally, digital literacy levels vary widely among rural women, with many lacking the skills and knowledge to effectively use ICTs to their advantage. Acknowledging these challenges, ZICTA was quick to galvanise different women in women’s groups for training and capacity building in different aspects of using ICTs for development.


Honourable Sylvia Masebo Making a Point at the Launch of the ICT Hub at Chongwe Secondary SChool

UNDP/Mercy Khozi
“This programme which has come is for women and girls. Its not about computers – it’s the computers which house internet and has an ability to connect you to different markets across the world and in Zambia itself. So its important that these women understand the depth of this technology and that it’s their hub so that they can access information on agriculture, politics, business.”
Honourable Sylvia Masebo, Area Member of Parliament (MP) for Chongwe Central

Partnership in a Connected World

Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts from government, cooperating partners, NGOs, and other stakeholders including chiefs and traditional leaders to invest in infrastructure development, promote digital literacy programmes, and tailor ICT initiatives to the specific needs and preferences of rural women. By prioritizing gender-inclusive policies and programmes, policymakers can create an enabling environment where rural women can leverage ICTs to overcome barriers, unlock their full potential, and contribute meaningfully to their communities' development.

UNDP has also partnered with other UN agencies on the Joint GBV programme which includes IOM, ILO, UNFPA and UNICEF. Working together, the UN in Zambia has been supporting women and other marginalized groups to use technology for development and for income generation. Over 700 girls and women have so far been supported with ICT knowledge and Online Gender-Based Violence (OGBV) information and equipped with skills in digital financial literacy, cyberbullying and digital footprint. 

These efforts have a direct impact on SDG 5 (on gender equality), as well as ICT skills targets under SDG 4 (Quality Education) and internet access indicators under SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

ICTs hold immense promise for empowering rural women and bridging the gender gap in access to opportunities and resources. By expanding access to education, healthcare, economic opportunities, and social networks, ICTs enable rural women and girls to overcome barriers, assert their rights, and participate more actively in their communities and the broader society.

"we have brought the computers but also pledge to pay for internet access for one year!"
Honourable Felix Mutati, Minister of Science and Technology

Honourable Felix Mutati, Minister of Science and Technology Officially Launching the ICT Hub at Chongwe Secondary SChool

UNDP/Mercy Khozi