DigitALL: Gender Equality in Technology and Innovation
With technological development and innovation increasing at an unprecedented rate, new opportunities, and challenges are being presented to the world. However, not everyone automatically benefits from these changes and some people face the brunt of the challenges. Women and girls continue to struggle to catch up to the changes and associated benefits.
When innovation and technology are mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is digital technology. Digital technology involves electronic resources, tools, systems, and devices which make the storage, generation, or processing of data possible. These encompass the internet and mobile technologies, digital networks, services, applications, and content; virtual and augmented reality; connected devices and environments; old and new systems of media, information, and communication; artificial intelligence including machine learning such as data analytics, robotics, and automated systems and lastly, biometrics and biotechnology.
Benefits of Digital Technology and Innovation for Women
Digital literacy and access to innovation and technology are essential skills for employability. They also provide new economic opportunities as up to 90% of jobs now have a digital component. This means that digitally literate women can have better access to life-changing information and entrepreneurship opportunities.
Access to innovation and technology means women and girls can have the opportunity to overcome challenges they may have in the physical world. This is because digital access increases their civic engagement, raises awareness of their rights, and helps expand their sense of self in the world.
Another key benefit to digital adoption and use is that women and girls will have fewer barriers to workforce participation as they will be able to compete for job opportunities with their male counterparts.
Gender disparities in Technology and Innovation
Despite the benefits of the adoption of digital technology and innovation, clear geographic, economic, and social gaps persist when access is considered such as those related to gender. The digital world is a stark replication of gender inequality in the physical world. It is believed that more than 50% of the women in the world are offline (International Telecommunications Union), particularly in developing countries which have an internet penetration rate of 41% for women compared to 53% for men. Up to 393 million adult women in developing countries do not own mobile phones and are 8% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. This is around 23% for Sub-Saharan Africa. Women in sub-Saharan Africa are 23% less likely to own a mobile phone.
For girls, those between the ages of 15 and 19 are less likely to have used the internet in the last 12 months, along with lower mobile phone ownership. Comparatively, 46% of boys use the internet on their phones as opposed to 27% of girls.
According to the World Bank:
Policy and government-level changes to bridge the gender technology gap
1. Understanding the phenomeon
To bridge the gender divide gap, there is a need to understand the reasons why these gender gaps persist. One major barrier is lesser access of women and girls – access to data, devices, and networks than boys. Low infrastructure levels, network quality, and coverage also affect women and girls more.
Furthermore, women most of the time earn between 30 to 50% less than men, are less financially independent, and have less disposable income to spend on mobile or internet services. Some of these women even have their access to mobile phones and the internet restricted or monitored by men. Particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls who live in rural areas experience serious gaps in infrastructure and network coverage.
2. Social norms and gender inequality
Another reason is social norms and gender inequality. Several communities perceive the internet as a risk to traditional social order and view it as a risk for women and girls. Research has however shown that when social barriers are removed, more women and girls can become frequent and active users of the internet.
3. Inequality in education
The third reason is inequality in education. When access to digital technology is not regular, women and girls can’t develop digital literacy by becoming familiar with digital platforms, devices, and services.
4. Lack of gender sensitive technology
Lastly, the lack of digital products and services designed for women and girls also hampers their digital literacy. This makes them more vulnerable to online risks such as abuse, data privacy issues, and cyberbullying than men and boys.
Solutions for gender equity in access to technology
Access to digital literacy
There should be digital literacy training for fathers, mothers, and other family members so that the value of digital adoption for girls is better understood. It will give them the chance to support girls to be online safely and remove the notion that the internet is a dangerous and unsafe place.
Creation of government policies
National governments and policymakers will also have to ensure that gender laws are used when any legal frameworks for online safeguarding, security, and data privacy are considered. Protection has to be ensured for both genders.
Collaboration between gender organisations and government
Women and girls’ organisations also need to work hand in hand with the governments and policymakers to come up with these frameworks so that the voices of girls are heard. They need to be included in decisions that concern them.
Creation and design of a technology-integrated education system
Education policies should focus on digital skills for girls as well as boys. Training for these skills should be added to the formal school curricula from the primary school level to ensure that these skills are built over time and at an early age.
Collaboration with internet and mobile companies
Collaboration with the private sector such as mobile operators and network providers can also help to support the development of digital literacy for girls especially those that live in very remote places or are out of school.
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The SaGG Foundation (Sponsor a Gambian Girl) is a girl’s education movement, with aim of championing the cause for girl child education in The Gambia. Education is a basic human right; our vision is to advocate and champion for girls' education.