Open data for women and persons with disabilities

9 Nov 2020 08:40h - 09:40h

Event report

The session addressed the need to make open data available to all citizens, including women and individuals with disabilities in the East Africa Region (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan). Panellists encouraged governments to develop open data governance policies and frameworks. Moreover, the urgency to have standard formats for publishing data that women and people with disabilities (PWDs) can interpret was emphasised.

The moderator, Ms Peace Oliver Amuge (Civil Society, African Group), highlighted that open data policies related to access to the public has become significant in the East Africa Region. Ms Amuge invited panellists to explore challenges involving the availability of data, data accessibility by vulnerable groups and PWDs, and government support to innovation in the East Africa Region.

Ms Joan Katambi (Founder of the Digital Literacy, Uganda) noticed that the open data movement in the area of access to the public is very new in Uganda. Ms Katambi defined open data as data that is accessible and available in a standardised machine-readable format and under license that allows it to be re-used and re-shared. The element of usability is crucial for PWDs. In this sense, intermediaries might act to make data useable. Countries in the East Africa Region have implemented initiatives to make data available to the public. In Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan both private and public entities are working together to make data available to the public. In Tanzania, the Keylab project was implemented to make data related to education, water, and the health sector available. Rwanda’s government has issued a directive for all departments of the state to disclose public data. In Burundi, initiatives aim at centralising all open data in one platform.

Ms Eileen Kwiponya (Civil construction engineer student at University of Kenya) mentioned the legal background that safeguards open data to all citizens. In Kenya, by law, every citizen has the right to information. Currently, the country has an open data portal. In Uganda, the Access to Information Act (ATIA) 2005 manifests a step forward for government willingness to provide useful public information. In Tanzania, the government has an open data portal, but no law guarantees this information to the public. Ms Kwiponya concluded by saying that even though governments in the region have advanced open data policies, women and PWDs are still underrepresented when it comes to the implementation of open data.

Mr Innocent Adriko (Civil Society, African Group) believes that the main problem regarding open data is inclusiveness. Most women in East Africa live in rural areas and do not have access to the Internet or mobile phones. Government data initiatives are fruitless when most women are illiterate. Another issue concerning inclusiveness of PWDs and women is that data is provided primarily in English, which completely neglects the local languages. Awareness of public initiatives for open data is also very low in the region. Mr Adriko claims that priorities should be refocused to make open data useful for civil society, especially for vulnerable people.

Ms Shamim Nampijja (Information and Technology professional at the National Union for Women with Disabilities, Uganda) underlined that persons with disabilities still suffer from social exclusion in Uganda, despite all the international and national legal frameworks that safeguard their inclusiveness. The situation is particularly concerning in the rural areas, where most people with disabilities are concentrated. Official numbers estimate that 4% of the entire population in Uganda has some sort of disability. Open data provisions are still too technical for some PWDs to understand.

Ms Katambi concluded the session by claiming that civil society organisations should run campaigns to ensure that people are aware of their needs related to open data access. They should advocate for policies and concrete governmental strategies, including high level plans, actions, and sources to guide decision makers. Across the region, countries have open data policies that allow access and sharing of information; however, these policies do not further mention how women and persons with disabilities will be able to access it and how it can be interpreted.