How to invest in ICT for Gender Empowerment

Why support ICT for gender empowerment?

There are a few facets of ICT and gender empowerment that are worth exploring.

Women make up more than 50% of the world’s population, and also represent 70% of the world’s poorest. According to the United Nations, women who have access to information and communication technologies (ICT) are better able to access education, jobs, and healthcare services, as well as financial services. Mobile and internet technology can ensure that African women become more financially independent – this on a continent in which almost 25% fewer women than men have access to the internet, with the gender gap standing at as much as 45% in regions like sub-Saharan Africa. However, these advancements can only occur with meaningful access to ICT, which depends on factors like affordability, skills, security and more. Women’s economic empowerment is a key focal area in the Sustainable Development Goals – SDG Goal 5 sets out to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls – and ICT is a tool that can accelerate women’s progress. This tool needs to be accessible to women to advance gender equality, particularly on the African continent.

When it comes to education, women and girls are increasingly encouraged to acquire STEM and ICT skills, which will afford them access to better-paid jobs. However, many girls and women lack guidance or mentorship in this regard. In a future in which 90% of the available jobs will require ICT skills, girls cannot afford to fall at the first hurdle. Schooling is important, but it is perhaps even more important for girls to see themselves represented by high-profile women in STEM and ICT careers. Gender stereotyping sees fewer girls pursuing STEM subjects – a challenge that can be overcome with the right strategies.

Furthermore, supporting women who are interested in working in ICT makes good economic sense – there is evidence to support the idea the gender diversity in the workplace reaps rewards like improved company performance and greater innovative capability. In societies that discourage women from playing a major role in the workplace, the benefits are less clearly realised. This is unfortunate because companies that favour gender and other diversity tend to be better run, more open to ideas, and more inclined to nurture talent. According to the UN’s International Labour Organization, companies that employ women (particularly in management positions) report significant profit increases, while countries that employ more women achieve better economic growth (nearly three quarters of companies surveyed reported profit increases of between five and 20 percent). “Companies should look at gender balance as a bottom-line issue, not just a human resources issue,” says Deborah France-Massin, who heads the ILO’s employers’ activity bureau.

The ICT sector can play a key role in empowering women economically by creating business and employment opportunities and developing ICT-based tools that address women’s needs or are run by women (like literacy programmes, business planning courses, e-commerce initiatives and more). However, government needs to prioritise infrastructure, mobile technology, and similar enablers to create an ICT ecosystem that can deliver sustained benefits to women.

Examples of interventions

Women in Agriculture

Vodacom launches Women Farmers Programme to transform small-scale agri sectors

In 2019, Vodacom launched the Women Farmers Programme in partnership with UN Women and South African Women in Farming (SAWIF). The programme aims to transform the face of the smallholder agricultural segment in South Africa and equip women from underprivileged backgrounds with the digital skills they need to participate meaningfully in the mainstream economy.

Technologies for Rural Women in Africa

Women account for 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, and more than 50% of the agricultural workforce in most of the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region. This 2016 publications explains how can technology can be used to assist rural women in agriculture.

Gender and financial inclusion

This 2016 analysis of the financial inclusion of women in the SADC region shows that the gender gap prevails even in countries with the highest financial inclusion. South Africa is the only country with a positive gender gap, that is, women being more financially included than men – mainly driven by women receiving social grants through SASSA cards.

Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence is an acknowledged scourge in South Africa. Although technology cannot end violence against women, it can provide us with tools to fight gender-based violence in a number of ways, from crowdsourcing data and wearable tech to hackathons, social media awareness and connecting rural women.

Safe@Home Hackathon uses tech to address gender-based violence
Microsoft South Africa and NPO partners 1000 Women Trust and the TEARS Foundation launched the Safe@Home Hackathon to help create and develop technology-based solutions to help survivors of gender-based violence as well as vulnerable women and children. The hackathon ran from 22 September to 19 October.

Building Community Hackathons tackles gender-based violence
A virtual hackathon to find solutions to prevent and combat gender-based violence was held from 3-11 October 2020.

A data-led approach to fighting gender-based violence

GIS mapping technology used to fight Covid-19 should be used to fight gender-based violence, argues social development standing committee chairperson Gillion Bosman.

Girls and Women in STEM

TechnoGirl promotes STEM careers

In 2005, the Department of Education and UNICEF established the TechnoGirl mentorship programme for high-school girls between 15 and 18, from disadvantaged communities across all nine provinces of South Africa, who are doing well academically. In terms of this programme, they are offered mentorship in STEM subjects and receive university or college scholarships. TechnoGirl promotes STEM careers and helps to break down gender stereotypes.

Teaching girls in townships and rural areas about STEM and ICT

The Future of the African Daughter (FOTAD) project aims to change the lives of girls aged 12 to 19 years in townships and rural areas by providing maths, science, ICT and life skills. The project is run by ICT-Works a 100% black-women-owned and managed company.

Enterprise Development and Entrepreneurship

4Good Programme South Africa promotes the development of women innovators

This programme promotes women innovators in South Africa, giving them the knowledge, skills and expertise they need to grow, sustain and scale their businesses. It provides them with a better understanding of technology and the digital realm, enabling them to disrupt local markets using innovation and strategy.

Recommended Resources

  • A 2020 outlook on women in ICT in South Africa

    This article offers solutions to the challenge of getting more women into the ICT sector, including counter-stereotyping societal normal, upskilling and reskilling, role modelling, de-biasing societal structures, changing behavioural design, and changing the narrative and images associated with toys and sports to design models and classrooms.

  • Reshaping the future: Women, girls and tech for development

    This 2018 article by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women, explains why gender equality is intrinsic to the success of every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), and why technology and ICTs are at the heart of realising women’s and girls’ empowerment.

  • Bridging the digital gender divide

    This comprehensive report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) finds that hurdles to access, affordability, lack of education and inherent biases and socio-cultural norms prevent girls and women from benefiting fully from technology. However, it is contended that co-ordinated policy action can narrow the digital gender gap.

  • Women and men in ICT: a chance for better work-life balance

    Only 17% of the eight million ICT specialists in the European Union are women, adding to the perception that ICT jobs are reserved for men, despite the fact that statistics indicate that women in tech jobs are more educated than men. This research note draws attention to some of the challenges faced by women in ICT in the European Union.

  • Tackling gender-based violence with technology

    This report presents case studies of seven technology-based solutions to gender-based violence developed and implemented within different contexts in Africa, Asia and Latin America.