Who wins? Who loses? Understanding women’s experiences of social media taxation in East and Southern Africa

Today, Africa lags behind other continents in internet connectivity. One of the greatest barriers to getting people online in Africa is cost, with individuals paying an average of 9 percent of monthly income for 1GB of data, compared with 5 percent globally. These high costs are being exacerbated in East and Southern Africa where some governments recently introduced consumer-facing internet taxes targeting social media services, making it even less feasible for many individuals to connect. While we know that women are already less likely than men to use the internet in these countries, there has been little study of whether, or how, these taxes have affected women’s access.

This report explores how social media taxes in Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia are affecting the ability of citizens — in particular, women — to connect and access the internet’s benefits, and finds:

  • Participants had little awareness or understanding of the rationale behind the taxes, due to a lack of communication and little public consultation from the governments ahead of the taxes being introduced.
  • The ability of people to pay the taxes depended largely on their socio-demographic status. The taxes are therefore likely to deepen digital inequality between the rich and the poor.
  • One of the main barriers keeping many women offline is skills. The tax is likely to exclude those who could most benefit from the ease of use of select services, widening the digital divide between those with and without digital skills.
  • With higher costs preventing individuals from participating in online discussions and accessing online government services, the taxes were also believed to have a negative effect on the freedom of expression and civic engagement.

To avoid further worsening the digital divide, governments must pay particular attention to the impact taxes have on women and other groups who are traditionally excluded from digital spaces.  And, in order to limit the harmful effects of social media taxes and to promote connectivity, encourage technological innovation, and advance the creation of local content, governments should consider alternative tax options in the technology sector that do not directly burden internet users.