Bridging the Technology Divide for the Advancement of Girls and Women in Africa
Table of Contents
Unprecedented rapid changes in Information Communications Technology (ICT) and social interaction worldwide are creating opportunities for social and economic improvement in people’s lives. This trend is an essential element of development, especially as it relates to the advancement of girls and women.Kuriyan, R, Innovation and Social Change for Girls and Women: Bridging the Gender and Technology Divide (2012, p4). http://www.intel.com/content/dam/www/public/us/en/documents/white-papers/bridging-gender-and-technology-divide-paper.pdf (accessed 17 September 2012) However, there are global disparities in the distribution of and access to technology, leading to the perpetuation of unequal development outcomes. The disparity is most evident in Africa where in 2010 only 9.6 out of every one hundred people used the Internet versus 21 percent across the rest of the developing world.International Telecommunication Union, The World in 2010 (2010, p4). http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/material/FactsFigures2010.pdf (accessed 17 September 2012) Therefore, it is particularly important to examine the gendered technology divide as interplay between entrenched social norms and behaviours and ICT access, rather than as a cause and effect relationship.
Technology, Gender and Development
Preconditions for harnessing the benefits that come with technology include literacy and/or education, access to technological devices, time and financial resources, as well as dependable and sustainable infrastructure.Gillwald A., Milek A, and Stork, C., Towards Evidence-based ICT and Policy Regulation: Gender Assessment of ICT Access and Usage in Africa, Volume One 2010 Policy Paper (2010, p4). http://www.ictworks.org/sites/default/files/uploaded_pics/2009/Gender_Paper_Sept_2010.pdf (accessed 16 September 2012) Girls and women in Africa, particularly in rural areas have limited or no education and experience time poverty and other disadvantages due to their social roles as unpaid workers and care-givers. This social stratification of roles results in gendered inequality, which also manifests in girls and women’s limited access to technology: about 25 percent of women in Africa have access to the Internet.Kuriyan, R, Innovation and Social Change for Girls and Women: Bridging the Gender and Technology Divide (2012, p1). http://www.intel.com/content/dam/www/public/us/en/documents/white-papers/bridging-gender-and-technology-divide-paper.pdf (accessed 17 September 2012)
Girls’ Education and Access to Technology
Girls’ access to education alone is not enough to bridge the gendered digital divide. As highlighted by the Forum for African Women Educationalist (FAWE), where girls have access to education, there is a noticeable dearth in the numbers who take and or succeed in science, mathematics and technology (SMT).FAWE, online. http://www.fawe.org/activities/interventions/SMT/index.php (accessed 16 September 2012) Contributing factors include cultural and social expectations that discourage girls from pursing masculine subjects and transmission of these same inequality inducing ideas within the education system. Through concerted efforts like FAWE’s SMT Model, the trend is reversing and more African girls and young women are taking SMT subjects, entering professions in ICT and building support networks. One example of network building for women ICT professionals in Zambia is the Asikana Network.
Established in January 2012, Asikana Network is a non-profit organisation which seeks to empower young women by equipping them with ICT skills and supporting them in ICT professions.
The three co-founders of Asikana Network, Ella Mbewe, Regina Mtonga and Chisenga Muyoya are developers who seek to level the playing field for women. They will achieve this through the Network’s current activities that include organising networking events and elevating the status of women in ICT professions.
Initially focusing their work in Lusaka, the Network’s target population comprises:
- Girls in high school
- Young women in tertiary education
- Female ICT professionals
The Network is also broadening its reach beyond Zambia ’s borders by embarking on a project to identify and connect women’s technology organisations and initiatives across Africa. This effort contributes to the bridging of the gendered digital divide in development.