Bridging the Gender Digital Divide in Africa

May 3, 2024 | Informational, News

The “Bridging the Gender Digital Divide” webinar, hosted by the Africa Union (AU) and Africa Renewal, addressed the pressing issue of reducing the digital gender gap in Africa. Chido Mpemba, the African Union Youth Envoy, the youngest diplomat and senior official in the African Union Chairperson’s Cabinet, moderated the webinar. The panel consisted of diverse experts, each bringing a unique perspective in and around the digital space. The keynote speakers were Mbali Hongwane, the founder and CEO of Pink Codrs Africa; Ruth Mtuwa, the co-founder of DroneX Technologies; and Dr Emmanuel Manasseh, the acting director for the International Telecommunications Union in Africa.  

Key speakers emphasised government policies, digital skills development, and investment in infrastructure. The webinar, brought together experts and stakeholders to discuss strategies for reducing the digital gender gap in Africa and the challenges women face in the technological space. Here are some highlights from the webinar:

Government policies and framework

Key to focus is the crucial role of government frameworks in creating inclusive, diverse, and transformational policies. Emmanuel Manasseh said, “To increase the representation of women in technological sectors, governments must create policies, backed by data, to ensure that more girls are taking STEM courses in schools all over Africa.” 

The gender digital divide remains a pressing issue in the world’s less developed countries. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), internet access globally is 65% for women versus 70% for men. This gap is especially widened in Africa, with 32% of women accessing internet use, compared to 42% of men, indicating a 10% divide. In Africa, the disparity in digital access is particularly concerning, given the overall low internet and digital technology adoption levels. This underscores the urgent need for targeted interventions to ensure digital inclusion for all.

 Mbali Hlongwane, the Founder and CEO of Pink Codrs Africa, which has mentored over 500 young girls with the necessary digital skills in South Africa, highlighted the importance of encouraging the early development of technological skills in African youth, particularly women. “Preparing young women for digital transformation starts with equipping young African women with the tech skills needed in the technological spaces.” 

Barriers to the digital world

During the webinar, some key challenges were discussed, including the lack of accessibility to technological platforms, the lack of proper digital infrastructure in most African countries, the high cost of internet access, limited access to information, and the influence of cultures and perspectives towards women’s education in Africa. “For women to overcome these barriers in the digital space, we must work towards providing these digital platforms, come up with a holistic and inclusive approach, and take up steadfast leadership roles as women to empower young girls”, said Ruth Mtuwa, the co-founder of DroneX.  

Skills for the future

A major focus of the webinar was developing digital skills for the future. As a developing continent, Africa’s role in digital development will have to scale up to create digital literacy, which will produce competent digital professionals capable of driving innovation and economic growth. 

Africa’s youthful population is a significant asset, with over 60% of the continent’s population under 25. However, despite this demographic advantage, there is a pressing need to improve digital literacy rates among young people. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), only 6 per cent of children and young people in low-income countries have internet access compared to 87 per cent in high-income countries. This disparity underscores the importance of investing in digital education and training programs to equip Africa’s youth with the skills they need to succeed in the digital space.  

“According to the World Economic Forum, 50% of employees will need to be reskilled by 2025,” said Mbali Hlongwe, highlighting the importance of time consciousness in creating an ideal digital environment for young African women.  

Women Leaders in Digitalisation

The panellists emphasised the crucial role of governments and the private sector in reducing the gaps in the digital space. Policies should encourage women to assume leadership roles in the digital sector. This will ensure digital inclusivity is not limited to words on paper but is implemented on the ground. Furthermore, it will encourage more young women to pursue careers in the digital sphere. 

Investment in Digital Spaces 

The webinar also discussed government and private sector investments. Chido Mpemba underscored the importance of targeting young girls, providing them with high-quality training, and further investing in them. It underscores the importance of mentoring young girls to prepare them for positions within the digital sector in Africa.  

Ruth Mtuwa stated , “Young women must also have the digital literacy and skills to occupy these positions so that they are not merely given these opportunities simply because they are women, but because they are qualified and highly skilled”.  

Conclusion  

Bridging the gender digital divide in Africa requires concerted efforts from governments, the private sector, and civil society. This includes creating inclusive policies, investing in digital literacy and training programs, and empowering women to take leadership roles in the digital sector. 

Collaboratiive efforts such as  iPRIS aims to bridge the digital divide by boosting the capacities of African telecommunications regulatory authorities through peer-to-peer learning.  The regulators participating in the project include National Regulatory Authorities and Regional Regulatory Organisations across sub-Saharan Africa.iPRIS is implemented by SPIDER (the Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions), the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS), and the Luxembourg Regulatory Institute (ILR). In collaboration with the African Regional Regulatory Organisations, the implementers support the participating National Regulatory Authorities to achieve their strategic change initiatives.

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The NRAs represented include The Gambia’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), Mauritius’ Information and Communications Technology Authority (ICTA), Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), and Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).

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