More than 100 Ethiopian women and girls are taking part in a project designed to help them access content online, differentiate between reliable and fake news, and communicate safely.
The course in ‘media literacy’ is being run by Bahir Dar University in the Amhara region with the backing of Fojo Media Institute and IMS (International Media Support).
Fewer than 21% of Ethiopians have access to the internet and just 6% use social media, with the majority of those reading and sharing information via their mobile phones, according to the strategic marketing company Kepios.
Across Ethiopia male literacy stands as 60% with female literacy at 45%.
When it comes to female digital literacy, Ethiopia is one of the lowest ranked countries in Africa in terms of “equitable access to information technology”, according to The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).
This, CIPESA says, has caused a “gender digital divide” throughout the country.
Media literacy is about learning how to access, analyse, and evaluate online, broadcast, print and social media, and to create and participate in sharing content.
It helps students understand the role of media in society as well as providing them with the essential skills for critical research and self expression. And it looks at how misinformation (unintentionally misleading information) and disinformation (intentionally misleading information) spreads.
One of those taking part, journalism student Kidist, says she already knew the theory of ‘media literacy’, but taking part in the course has given her the practical skills needed to follow and contribute to social and political debates online.
Another, Etsegenet, a second year university student, says that in Ethiopia women and girls are underrepresented on the internet. She says there is a “social bias” against women taking part in online activities, and that has created a knowledge gap, or “digital divide” in the country, particularly concerning access to and the use of digital technology.
Abigail, a high school student who wants to become a journalist, says the two-day course has “opened her eyes” about ways to check facts before sharing information online. The 17-year-old, who is a presenter in the school’s media studio, says the course has given her the skills to ensure that the information she broadcasts is factual and trustworthy.
So far 200 trainees have taken part, half of them women and girls. According to media literacy trainer Solomon Tabor, being able to evaluate content critically and stay safe online are two of the main objectives.
The year-long course has been extended to include other regions of Ethiopia including Ambo, Jimma, Dire Dawa, Haromya, Adama, Debre Markos, Dilla, and Hawassa.
By Elham Mehammed