Digital activism: Research shows the internet has helped urban women in Ghana and Nigeria make their voices heard

Digital activism: Research shows the internet has helped urban women in Ghana and Nigeria make their voices heard

Information technology and the Internet have proven to be a powerful force in creating collective action groups and mobilizing communities of protesters. Among the main advantages of digital and online activism are its increasing accessibility (relatively inexpensive and easy to use), its speed and its ability to reach large numbers of people around the world.

Digital activists can protest and advance their cause using a variety of digital tools. They include online petition websites (such as and, social networks (Facebook, YouTube, Myspace), blogs (as a form of citizen journalism), micro-blogging (Twitter ), mobile phones and proxy servers. .

These digital platforms can connect to a large community and locally and internationally. The interconnected nature of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook makes it easy to share information. Activists can post messages, slogans, photos and instructions more easily than using traditional street protests or door-to-door mobilization strategies.

The downside of digital campaigns, however, is that the same tools can be used for hate speech and misinformation. This has sometimes compromised the objectives of these campaigns.

Women’s rights groups in Nigeria and Ghana are among the social movements that have these tools. Groups like Female in Nigeria and Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana seek to empower women economically and politically. They also advocate for women’s rights to education, respect, social justice and inclusion in political leadership. They protest against violence and victimization and draw attention to inequalities.

As a Social Media and Society Specialist, I conducted a study to investigate women’s rights advocacy groups in Nigeria and Ghana and how digital communication may have enhanced or constrained their actions and goals.

My findings show that social media gives voice to women’s advocacy groups, allowing them to express themselves more freely in a context of traditional patriarchy. This shows the importance of technology in shaping social life. Women in these countries are demanding change – and change is on the way. But the reach of the groups is limited mainly to urban areas because internet access is limited in rural areas.

A safe space

For my study, I drew on the websites of women’s rights groups in Nigeria and Ghana and posts on their social media platforms. I used computer-assisted discourse analysis, a method of analyzing online interactions and their implications for society. The analysis takes into account information about the people who interact online, their relationships with each other, their communication goals, what they communicate about and the type of language they use.

The groups I looked at were the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, the Nigerian League of Women Voters, the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), the Gender Center For Empowering Development, and the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana.

These groups have been very active for some time. They target the public, including government and other interest groups.

I focused on political empowerment campaigns rather than access to economic and material resources.

The websites of these groups were notably non-confrontational in style. They encouraged group activities, raised awareness, and sought feedback and participation. The language was mainly used to inform, report and claim, and to describe events and processes. Sometimes it was used to give direction, like calling and prompting certain actions.

English was the language used for most content on the website.

The groups were not only active through their websites, but also on their social media platforms, especially Twitter and Facebook. The campaign messages on these platforms were different from those on the websites. They celebrated successful women politicians and expressed their resistance and hope. They showed solidarity with inspiring women parliamentarians and other role models, and mobilized support for women candidates for political office.

Social media posts called on members to take part in offline rallies and protests, demand change and reject the marginalization and victimization of female politicians.

The messages did not explicitly challenge male authority, but called for a fair chance for women to decide matters that affect their lives.

Other campaign messages focused on group activities such as webinars and training for women aspiring to political office.

The language used tended to be encouraging towards women and not hostile towards men.

Room for improvement

With the support of the United Nations and the African Union, women in African countries are making progress. Rwanda, for example, has the world’s highest level of female representation in government, at 61%.

The number of women in government in sub-Saharan Africa reached a regional average of 23.7% in 2018. In Ghana, 14% of seats in parliament are held by women after the 2020 elections. In Nigeria, the House of Representatives has 18 women (5%) out of 360 while the Senate has eight women (7%) out of 109 members.

Future progress will depend in part on the challenges facing online activism. These issues are not specifically related to the content and nature of online communication, but rather to access to technology. Urban women have an advantage over rural women because of their access to the internet.

In Ghana and Nigeria, the Internet is not reaching rural areas due to perceived low incomes and high investment costs. Tech companies don’t invest where the population is small or dispersed.

This makes it difficult for people in rural areas to access online advocacy forums and trainings.

While the online activism of women’s empowerment advocates is effective, it is limited to a small percentage of the population. Women are still vastly underrepresented in Nigeria and Ghana.

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