While developed markets have embraced the information age, Africa still remains an emerging market where the basics of food security and human development makes technology a secondary concern – and women have a huge role in helping the continent to bridge the digital divide.
The is according to Joy-Marie Lawrence, sales director for EOH in the Western Cape, who adds: “The pivotal role that women play in society provides the opportunity for them to bridge the digital divide and engage in ICT as women who are knowledgeable, empowered and technologically proficient. These attributes alone, will address the millennium development goals and will pave the way for gender equality in the ICT sector by providing a platform for women to bridge the digital divide in their communities.”
The African Union has also declared the 2010 – 2020 decade as the African Women decade for women to bridge the technology divide.
“The low penetration of computers in Africa, lack of internet availability as well as lower mobile cellular usage in comparison to first world countries are some of the challenges we face,” says Lawrence. As a continent, Africa may lag the world in terms of technological infrastructure but in some respects it has the opportunity to leap-frog the earlier stages of technological development to address food security and human development concerns.
Lawrence says that there are many barriers that hinder women from accessing and using technology. “Education is a conundrum that affects many social problems that limit women’s access to technology, while it can and should be used to overcome such education limitations. Most women also fulfill multiple roles in society, which severely limits discretionary time dedicated to personal interests, education and development of new skills.”
The younger generation is starting to use social media through the Internet and mobile connectivity, which is a meaningful step in the right direction. “Women are however still limited to being peripheral consumers of technology, and not traditionally seen as developers or creators of technology. United Nations statistics found that two thirds of women in the developing world work in vulnerable jobs as self-employed persons or as unpaid family workers. For this reason, we need to guard against women being actively discouraged or prevented from accessing technology,” warns Lawrence.
There are many avenues that can be pursued in women’s quest for bridging the digital divide in Africa. “At home we need to teach children to embrace technology and interact with it from an early age. As an additional method, it needs to complement existing teaching methods at school. Young women should also be encouraged to pursue further tertiary studies in a range of disciplines that complement technological advancement,” says Lawrence.
There are many angles that can be embarked upon in the workplace as far as career development opportunities go. “Workplace training and mentoring that supports ICT skills development for women are a good place to start. Women also need to actively step up to the plate and become involved in technology design and development. As a result of the growth and development, women will more readily be able to fulfill technical roles and leadership positions,” says Lawrence.
Lawrence says that women form the backbone of society and through the advancement of women in technology and ICT, it will create ripples of opportunity that will permeate through families, uplift communities, transform societies and unite countries to fulfil the potential that Africa shows. “African women need to lead this technological and economic revolution and this is the decade to do it!,” Lawrence says in conclusion.