International Women’s Month: We need Real action to close the Digital Gender Gap for Good
By Tshego Bokaba, CSI Manager at Momentum Metropolitan With all the noise around load shedding, the national shutdown and the looming April Holidays, you’d be forgiven for missing the fact that it’s International Women’s Month this March. But even as we approach the end of the month, there’s still time to sit up and pay […]
By Tshego Bokaba, CSI Manager at Momentum Metropolitan
With all the noise around load shedding, the national shutdown and the looming April Holidays, you’d be forgiven for missing the fact that it’s International Women’s Month this March.
But even as we approach the end of the month, there’s still time to sit up and pay attention – and pay attention, we should. Because this year’s theme is an important one.
According to the United Nations (UN), the 2023 International Women’s Day (IWD) theme – DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality – explores the “impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities.”
This gender gap is very much real. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) ‘Bridging the Digital Gender Divide’ study has found that even today, around 327 million fewer women than men have a smartphone (and can access the mobile internet).
Moreover, according to the UN, 75% of jobs in 2050 will be linked to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas – but women currently make up less than one-third of the global workforce in technology-related fields, as revealed by the World Bank.
This prevailing disparity comes at a price – particularly for a developing continent that can ill afford it. The UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report underlines the economic cost in the starkest of terms: “Excluding women from the digital world has shaved $1 trillion from the gross domestic product (GDP) of low- and middle-income countries in the last decade. Without action, this loss will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2025.”
While the DigitALL theme stretches worldwide, it is particularly pertinent within Africa, given the challenges that are part and parcel of our socio-economic landscape, not least of which include access and affordability (including the prohibitive cost of data) and the well-documented shortage of digital skills and low levels of literacy.
Given the patriarchal and racial structures that still preside across the continent, these walls are generally far higher for women – specifically women of colour – than they are for men.
These inherent biases and socio-cultural norms restrain women’s ability to benefit from the opportunities inherent in digital transformation.
Girls in rural areas lack role models – they are not exposed to women, who look like them, having successful careers or running businesses in the digital arena.
This lack of exposure limits their dreams, as they do not yet realise what is possible and what they might be capable of.
This is not to say that there hasn’t been any progress or effort made to close this gap. On the contrary; strides have been made, particularly over the past few years.
On the issue of broadening internet access, the government has laid out their plans – and the resources – to tackle it.
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced that a further R3 billion had been allocated for the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies to fast-track the connection of almost six million sites to high-speed internet by 2025/26 at this year’s Budget Speech – underpinning President Ramaphosa’s promise at the State of the Nation Address (SONA) to bring the country closer to affordable, high-quality internet access, while simultaneously bringing down the cost of data.
Yet while plans are being made to create an infrastructure that will increase internet access, evidence shows that education is the key to closing the gender digital gap.
When it comes to cultivating a growing pool of women in technology, pockets of promising initiatives exist, such as Girlcode, which is on a mission to create a network of women who are highly skilled in software development and leadership skills, as well as WomHub, an incubator and accelerator for females in STEM.
Momentum Metropolitan, through its Corporate Social Investment (CSI) programme, invests in initiatives that support young people in gaining skills and employment in the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector, which involves partnerships with organisations such as WeThinkCode, Life Choices Academy, Explore AI Academy and Deviare.
Our programmes cover subjects and skills such as coding and robotics, cyber security, data science and more. In all programmes, we are intentional about having at least 50% female representation, while for areas that particularly affect women, such as cyber security, we insist on 100% female participation.
But even with this progress, we still need to see more action from all stakeholders.
We need more programmes that encourage more young women to pursue careers in STEM fields as well as role models and mentors in this space, who can open up their minds to the world of possibility that lies ahead.
The private sector can play a leading role by investing in digital skills training for women, promoting talented women, and partnering with organisations that support female access and education in the sector. This should also not be a once-off or a box-tick exercise; it needs to become part of our very DNA.
As former Ecosystem Manager at The Silicon Cape Initiative Tumi Meyatswe once said, it is high time we move on from the ‘trend’ of providing black women with opportunities in order to fill quotas or as PR stunts, as opposed to humanizing the processes and removing gender bias altogether.
So while the kind of action that sets out to achieve true digital gender equality is perhaps not as eye-catching as a hot pink brand campaign, it’s very much critical to a woman’s journey to success.
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