The Ajira programme is set to take center stage in Kenya’s efforts to bridge the digital gender gap, and it’s aiming to do so by placing a special emphasis on empowering women. Despite Kenya’s noteworthy achievements in broadband connectivity, digital services, and ICT infrastructure, the gender disparity in the country’s digital landscape remains a substantial obstacle. This inequality not only hampers women’s access to advanced digital services but also inhibits their participation in the technology sector.

The recently unveiled plan for the Ajira Digital programme introduces a fresh approach that includes the introduction of the AjiraForShe apprenticeship initiative, specifically designed to cater to young women. The driving force behind this initiative is eMobilis Technology Training Institute, in collaboration with KEPSA and the MasterCard Foundation. The objective is ambitious yet commendable: to achieve a 70 percent participation rate of young women, particularly from marginalized communities and refugee camps.

Intriguingly, a study entitled “Kenya’s Digital Economy: A People’s Perspective,” conducted in 2021, revealed a disheartening reality: only 35 percent of women demonstrated the ability to utilize advanced digital services. This gender-based digital divide isn’t confined to high-level skills; even at the most basic skill levels, men continue to outnumber women in terms of digital proficiency. This imbalance even extends to the upper echelons of the technology industry, where men currently hold a considerable majority.

Edna Karija, the program manager at eMobilis, shed light on the significance of this initiative. She highlighted that currently, around 53 percent of young women have undergone the Ajira programme. However, a global perspective reminds us that the gender gap is still prevalent on a global scale, especially when it comes to women’s digital connectivity and participation in digital jobs. The overarching goal is to elevate digital opportunities for young women and provide them with a pathway to contribute to the digital workforce.

Interestingly, the Mobile Gender Gap Report by the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association unveiled an alarming statistic: women are 39 percent less likely than men to have access to mobile internet. This discrepancy underscores the urgency to address gender-based disparities in digital access and utilization.

Ehud Gachugu, the project director for Ajira Digital Program under KEPSA, emphasized that upskilling is pivotal in tackling the region’s unemployment challenges. He stressed that the skillsets of the past are insufficient to address the complexities that businesses and the economy face in today’s rapidly evolving landscape. Gachugu’s viewpoint urges young individuals to transcend the notion of limited work opportunities and instead focus on aligning their skills and talents with the prevailing needs of society and businesses. This shift in perspective is crucial for fostering innovation and creating tangible solutions.

The Ministry of Digital Economy’s Ajira programme has made significant strides in raising awareness about digitally enabled jobs and the digital economy. Among adults, awareness has reached 53 percent, and among the youth, it stands at an impressive 56 percent. These figures signify a growing recognition of the potential that the digital sphere holds for employment and economic growth.

One notable observation is that despite the proven effectiveness of apprenticeship as an on-the-job training model, a substantial portion of Kenya’s women workforce hasn’t fully accessed this opportunity. The 2019 National Census by KEBS highlighted that women constitute about 40 percent of the country’s employees. Collaborative efforts between various partners hold the potential to surmount the barriers that young women encounter, facilitating their entry into digital and digitally-enabled work. Sandra Owiti, a program partner at the MasterCard Foundation, emphasized the importance of such collaborations in ensuring women can attain dignified incomes through digital work.

The future of the Ajira programme envisions equipping the country’s youth with ICT skills through existing TVET institutions. As the programme embarks on this new phase, its implementation will be a joint effort involving eMobilis Technology Training Institute, KEPSA, and the MasterCard Foundation.