This article analyses the challenge of internet access faced by women and other marginalised groups such as persons with disabilities in Uganda during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It discusses how limited or no access to the internet affects women’s digital human rights, as set out in the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (African Declaration). The article deals with existing information and communications technology (ICT) and internet policy gaps and COVID-19 national response strategies, and suggests possible recommendations to ensure a gender inclusive response with a special focus on women and other marginalised groups during and after the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered lifestyles and caused unprecedented governmental actions, including lockdowns and physical and social distancing measures. The pandemic rapidly increased internet usage for social interaction, advocacy work, business meetings, information sharing, online shopping, transactions, deliveries and online studies.
However, internet usage in Uganda is hindered by limited internet access, largely due to social media and mobile money taxation introduced in 2018. Additionally, costly internet data, poor connectivity, limited infrastructures especially in rural areas and slow internet speed have hit hardest on women’s rights online.
Uganda has one of the lowest internet penetration rates (14%) of the 10 African countries surveyed by Research ICT Africa (RIA) as part of the Global South After Access Survey conducted between 2017 and 2018. Besides the low internet penetration, less than half of the population own a mobile phone. Also, while data prices in Uganda appear competitive and relatively low compared to other African countries, data use remains constrained, even for those who have managed to overcome the price barrier of an internet-enabled device. The gender gap in Uganda’s internet use is described as moderate, at 25% percent, but is larger than the gender gap in South Africa (12%), Lesotho (14%) and Senegal (21%).