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Africa's Digital Revolution is Leaving Women Behind: Closing the Digital Gender Gap

Africa’s digital revolution is gathering strength, buoyed by the continent’s success as the world’s pioneer in mobile money. In 2019, African technology start-ups, especially in Fintech (financial technology), raised a record level of venture capital – close to half a billion dollars.

The continent has registered some of the world’s fastest internet penetration and usage rates and has increased the volume of cashless transactions and the extent of financial inclusion. However, digitalisation is not happening at uniform pace or scale and women are the missing face of Africa’s digital revolution.

There is ample evidence of a widening digital gender gap in sub-Saharan Africa, with only 18% of women with access to the internet compared with 25% of men, according to the International Telecommunication Union. Similarly, women’s participation is low in Africa’s digital industry as end-users and as developers – women form a mere 30% of content creators, coders and entrepreneurs.

In contrast, women’s presence is evident in the informal economy which constitutes between 60% and 80% of Africa’s total economic activity. According to the International Labour Organization, about 84% of female non-agricultural workers in sub-Saharan Africa work in the informal economy compared with 63% of male non-agricultural workers.

African women are also the majority in the uneducated and poor segments of the population, held back by a combination of forces that deprive them of equitable access to knowledge, skills and economic opportunities. Women are disproportionately affected and doubly exposed – they have a dominant role in food production but limited access to digital technology and the critical climate information services that would  boost their adaptive capacity.

The obvious beginning to addressing this challenge lies in education and economic empowerment for women. They constitute over 50% of the population, they are proven managers, resourceful entrepreneurs and reliable in repaying business loans yet they are somehow marginalised. Africa’s women and youth must all be ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and they are the force that will ensure momentum for Africa’s transformation.

In the same vein, Africa’s green agenda should focus on the people at the forefront of climate change, providing policy and investment support to women in particular.

Women are already active players in clean energy, food production, and ecosystem restoration and protection projects. These are areas that have the potential to generate $320bn across sub-Saharan Africa every year by 2030, according to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former World Bank Managing Director.

Women should also be active players in the digitalisation that is disrupting entire industries and societies even as it opens up new avenues for value creation and livelihoods. Similarly, we need to disrupt our thinking to bridge the digital gender gap and tap into women’s transformative potential.

This means revising policies and redirecting investments while reconfiguring digital tools and solutions to serve the excluded majority first, instead of last. Doing so will yield tremendous socio-economic dividends by providing women with new opportunities beyond access and connectivity.

Digital commerce, for example, is a natural progression for women who are already so active in retail and wholesale trading and distribution, especially in a context of increased regional integration.

Women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change and overall environmental degradation; therefore, their needs must be addressed to ensure effective and equitable Green actions.

Women also bring new perspectives and innovations in identifying and implementing solutions especially in the digitization space. Therefore, all action needs to ensure that women and men are both engaged in decision-making processes, development and use of green and digital technologies, and benefit from the outcomes.


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