The importance of investing in ICT for gender empowerment has many facets. Growing the ICT sector in Africa is essential for developing businesses, to ensure equitable access to technology-enabled services, and for advancing gender equality. Supporting more women to access ICT and STEM careers has many social and economic benefits, and ICT interventions can be used as an effective way increase business and career success for women. Technology has also emerged as a powerful tool in the fight against GBV, and investing in technology can go a long way towards changing the status quo.
Using technology to address gender-based violence
Gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the most common human rights violations in the world, with the United Nations (UN) reporting that an estimated one in three women experiences GBV at least once in her lifetime.
In South Africa, where patriarchal culture and dire social inequity prevail, the dynamic is particularly severe. Around one third of girls in South Africa experience sexual abuse during their lifetime, and a 2021 report released by Statistics South Africa, “Crimes against women in South Africa: an analysis of the phenomenon of GBV and femicide”, shows that one in five women (21%) had experienced physical violence by a partner. These statistics are widely regarded as understated due to a “culture of silence” that prevents survivors from reporting GBV.
How helplines and data can be used to end GBV
A helpline for survivors of domestic violence and GBV, which was set up by Vodacom, received more than 120 000 calls during the first three weeks of Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. Using data gathered by the Social Policy Network (SPN) and the group SA Women Fight Back made it possible for Vodacom to identify socioeconomic and geographic patterns to GBV, expanding their understanding of the scourge.
Vodacom’s Bright Sky app was launched in 2020 to combat GBV with features such as risk-assessments, practical advice, questionnaires, information to educate users about different forms of abuse, and access to available support.. The app uses geolocation to direct users to support services they can access.
Gillion Bosman, chairperson of the Standing Committee on Social Development and Petitions Committee in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, has argued that the geographic information system (GIS) technology used to fight Covid-19 should be used to fight GBV in much the same way.
Tech-based solutions supporting GBV survivors
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Microsoft South Africa partnered with non-profit organisations like 1000 Women Trust and the TEARS Foundation to launch the Safe@Home Hackathon, which served to develop technology-based solutions to support victims of GBV, as well as vulnerable women and children in distress.
In developing these solutions, participants were requested to consider the fact that many victims still use third- or fourth-generation phones that have become obsolete and do not necessarily have access to applications like WhatsApp or other one-touch SOS tools or applications.
Technology provides a golden opportunity to improve online protection against this “shadow pandemic”, mitigate GBV risks and enhance responses to it, with a vast number of use cases to prove it.
How technology can support women in business
From enhancing the effectiveness of entrepreneurship networks, to supporting women in agriculture, to improving financial systems, ICT can be used to empower women and create economic success. A growing body of research supports the design of policies and programmes.
How tech supports women in agriculture
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 publication explains how can technology can be used to assist rural women in agriculture.
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. The programme also includes an app that connects women farmers to suppliers and larger enterprises, provides networking and business resources, and keeps them up to date with farming information across Africa.
This thesis focused on how ICT- supported Formal Women business Networks contribute to developing women entrepreneurs. Three network cases in Kenya and South Africa were studied. The structures and workings of eFWBNs were studied, as well as the benefits derived for members, and how ICTs are leveraged. Findings showed that the members of the entrepreneurial organisations need to apply more agency to establish relationships and use the resources in the networks effectively. Leaders of the eFWBNs also need to work at how they are meeting member’s needs.
For practitioners and governments, understanding eFWBNs can help establish policies that contribute more effectively to the success of women entrepreneurs.
Source details: Ajumobi, D. 2018. Exploring ICT-supported Formal Women Business Networks (eFWBNs) the case of Kenya and South Africa. University of Cape Town.
This 2019 report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation outlines some of the measures the G7 intend to take to narrow the gender gap in finance, including supporting African governments, central banks and financial institutions as they set out to build more inclusive, sustainable and responsible digital financial systems.