A few tips on how to create an inclusive digital PVE platform to promote peace discussion among boys and girls

Internet penetration in Rwanda has increased significantly over time. As of January 2021, 31.4% of the total population in Rwanda had access to the internet, which shows an increase by 8.8% since January, 2020. The majority of internet users access it on their phones (96%), while only 1% rely often on public internet facilities available within their communities[1].

Despite the undeniable progress made in the number of internet connections, data show that there is still a significant digital gender gap in Rwanda, with women and girls having less access to the internet compared to men and boys (aged 15+). Data from a multi-country Survey carried out in 2018, show that Rwanda had the highest gender gap in internet use among all surveyed countries, together with Bangladesh (62%)[2].

When looking at the youth, specifically those aged between 13 and 21, data show that more than a half of them have access to mobile phones, with no significant difference with respect to gender. However, when looking at qualitative data, it is evident that more boys own mobile phones with internet access (these could either be advanced feature phones or smartphones)  compared to girls[3]. Girls usually own simple feature phones (or dumbphones), without access to the internet or are borrowers of devices from their brothers, parents or male friends, and are more likely to depend on the latter to access the internet. Girls’ internet access tends therefore to be more intermittent and less regular than boys’.

Moreover, girls face more restrictive mobility norms, and are less likely to freely move in order to be able to connect to free wi-fi, visit cyber-cafès, or to earn money in order to afford internet bundles. Finally, a sort of “moral panic” is still expressed by parents with respect to their children accessing the internet, particularly girls. They are afraid of the risk of girls being lured by predatory males online (shuga daddies), accessing pornographic content that would influence their behaviour or-more simply- spending too much time on the internet and being distracted from their studies. Girls themselves are aware of such stigma and are proactive in finding ways to negotiate access with device owners or escape parental control. All gendered barriers highlighted above are even more severe in rural areas.

Therefore, for any successful digital or online behaviour change intervention targeting youth and aiming to engage both genders equally, there is a need to consider the additional barriers that girls specifically face and these ought to be addressed at the design stage, throughout the implementation and also during the M&E phases.

The following paragraphs summarize a few best practices on how this could be achieved, based on the experience of the EU-funded ISOOKO project, which involved different stakeholders in Rwanda and Kenya, to develop and test an interactive technology to promote peace and values education online.

The ISOOKO platform is a Peace and Values Education  (PVE) tool, which aims to promote online discussions about peace and reconciliation among Rwandan and Kenyan youth (aged 18-30 for Rwanda and 18-35 for Kenya). The platform comprises an integration of different technologies: the BRCK device, a router that can be deployed anywhere (including remote rural areas and bus networks) to allow free internet connection through the Moja wi-fi network; the Ushahidi platform, a crowdsourcing and mapping tool which allow users to rapidly, collect, manage and analyze crowdsourced information on peace and justice from their communities; the ISOOKO website, as an archive of PVE audio-visual material; and finally youth-led Facebook groups created specifically for PVE discussions.

The user experience is the following: a young person would connect to the Moja Wi-Fi from either his/her smartphone on a bus or from a desktop in a youth centre, to access the internet. Before starting to browse the internet, he/she would have to watch some short PVE visual youthful content. After watching, the user would have to answer a couple of questions pertaining to the video and would finally be invited to visit the website and join one of the youth-led FB groups, where different information, as well as user-generated materials is shared and discussed. By engaging youth in peer to peer PVE discussion, the aim of the technology is to increase their ability and motivation to contribute to building peace in their communities. While promoting behaviour change, the technology would also simultaneously gather engagement as well as impact data from the users, to be displayed on a dashboard, allowing for visualization of the campaign results in real time.

Aegis Trust Picture – ISOOKO Youth Champions training, November 2020

Based on the lessons learnt from the experience of building and piloting the ISOOKO platform, here are some tips on how to ensure that a digital platform targeting youth can be designed and developed to be equally inclusive for boys and girls:

  • In the design phase, during the consultations, the co-creation and the prototyping workshops with youth as the main stakeholders, it is recommended that both girls and boys, from rural and urban areas should be included. Their voices would be instrumental in the choice of the technologies to be used (for example which social media), to make sure they are accessible, meaningful and appealing to both sexes;
  • The deployment of connection points (in the case of ISOOKO, the BRCK devices) should be strategic, covering those spaces where girls and young women are more likely to spend more time (for example markets, health centres, schools and youth centres);
  • A network of peer to peer youth volunteers should be created (or existing youth network should be leveraged) to raise awareness of the initiative within their communities, including online and face to face engagements, and it should include both boys and girls and these should be trained to purposely engage girls and young women;
  • Given that the use of internet and social media particularly is still perceived as “dangerous” by adults, there is also need to raise awareness of the initiative within the communities, by involving influential adults, so that parents and gatekeepers, as well as teachers and local leaders are supportive and facilitate their daughters’ mobility to the connection points or access to internet through their devices;
  • The content to be displayed should aim at including stories of both boys and girls, so that all users can be inspired and see that peace-building can be equally carried out by everyone within their communities;
  • The youth volunteers who moderate the online groups/fora should also be trained to be able to prompt considerations around any possible gender implications linked to the discussions happening. For example, if there is a debate around household conflicts or GBV, the moderator should be trained to bring out some elements related to unequal social and gender norms to enrich the discussion;
  • Linking the online spaces with existing off-line spaces (like youth centres) where discussions can be continued face to face is of paramount importance, so that even those who have intermittent access to the internet (the majority of whom are girls) can be fully included in the initiative;
  • The marketing of the campaign (through radios, billboards, print and digital media) should carefully display relatable images of both girls and boys connecting online in different locations (rural and urban) and convey a positive and empowering message about youth (and particularly girls) accessing the internet;
  • The M&E design should carefully disaggregate quantitative data according to the sex, the location (rural and urban) and qualitatively consider the role of the gendered barriers mentioned above to interpret the findings;
  • When piloting the platform, different populations of youth could be considered, with respect to their initial understanding of social and gender norms. For example, it could be useful to track whether users had previously participated in any gender training and for how long, to evaluate whether this aspect has any positive influence on the way they engage with the platform.

Aegis Trust Picture – ISOOKO Youth Champions training, November 2020

[1] NISR (2017), EICV 5- Rwanda Poverty Profile Report, available at https://www.statistics.gov.rw/publication/eicv-5-rwanda-poverty-profile-report-201617

[2] Full report available at: https://afteraccess.net/wp-content/uploads/2018-After-Access-Understanding-the-gender-gap-in-the-Global-South.pdf

[3] Girl Effect Rwanda (2017), Qualitative Wave 4 media behaviours survey.