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Executive Reflections: September 2021

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

These days it’s hard to have a business conversation, even a personal one, without referencing technology and how it’s either enabling or disrupting our lives. Digital technology solutions are increasingly immersing us all into a reality of virtual engagement.

As early as 2012, when the seeds of what is now Womanomics Africa were germinating it was evident that technology would play a significant role in driving and catalysing women’s participation in the “Africa Rising” narrative. Many of our discussions were centred around how to effectively leverage technology to facilitate connections and make practical the ideal of a unified, harmonised, commercial Africa.

The progress made in successfully ratifying and activating the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) also directs an undeniable focus on leveraging (inclusive) technology to realising integrated value chains and scaling up the movement of goods and people

Notably multinational organisations have optimised technology to strengthen their local and global networks streamlining supply chains, communication and logistics.

The reality, however, is that while technology adoption is moving along at a record rate, less developed and developing countries are lagging. The significant disruptions made visible where local and global value chains were impacted as a consequence of the Covid-19 highlighted the reality and impact of the "digital divide" on the continent.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), about 40% of the world's population has no access to the internet. Most of them live in Africa. And while sub-Saharan Africa is the fastest-growing region in terms of internet connectivity, with a compound annual growth rate of 4.6%, 900 million Africans are still not connected to the internet, and nearly 300 million live further than 50km from a fibre or cable broadband connection.

With a mission to connect an already compromised demographic, women, we have kept abreast of the implications of the gender digital divide (GDD) which reflects inequalities in digital connection due to gender. According to researched statistics:

  • Fewer women are connected to the internet or own mobile phones, compared to men. As reported in the 2020 GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report, Sub-Saharan Africa has the second widest digital gap gender next to South Asia, and progress remains relatively unchanged.

  • Only 27% of women in Africa have access to the internet and only 15% of them can afford to use it. That means women are much less likely to benefit from digital services. As cited by USAID, mobile and internet access and use follow broader social patterns that echo the deep social and cultural exclusion of women; that is, women and girls in all their diversity are disadvantaged in their access and use of technology because of underlying social conditions.

We have had our own fair share of experiences that corroborate the findings above and lessons learnt over the last few months having launched our version of an enabling technology solution in the form of the Womanomics Africa Virtual Campus. Our Campus represents the first step in a journey to curate a metaverse for the primary purpose of supporting, promoting and accelerating women’s meaningful economic participation with a particular focus on intra-Africa trade.

We are proud that UN Women Southern Africa came on board as one of the initial partners, with the Campus being the official platform to host Generation Equality Forum activations in East and Southern Africa. As we worked together to curate content and ensure that activations (in the form of events and experiences) were accessed widely across a broad spectrum of stakeholders, we debunked the notion that women are not ready to leverage cutting edge technology, leading the use of gaming technology for interaction and relationship building. We also obtained insights as to why women still remain on the digital transformation periphery highlighting the following 3 key challenges:

  • Availability of relevant support infrastructure, specifically adequate network coverage to ensure a stable connection.

  • Access to affordable devices and data.

  • Adequate skills and confidence (and the patience to acquire these) to use the platform.

In today’s interconnected world and as Covid-19 increases countries’ reliance on digital services, economies will struggle to develop and grow if GDD challenges are not addressed. Nationally and continentally, it will require some bold moves and commitments to achieve this.

As active members of the Technology and innovation for Gender Equality Action Coalition under Generation Equality, we are playing our role in accelerating change by 2026, changing the status quo and look forward to continuing our journey of collaboration successfully achieving a gender-diverse digital reset.

We have activated a great platform, that has already demonstrated it's potential to leapfrog women’s economic participation across the continent. To fully optimise its use and value relies on continued collaboration, resources and commitment across the entire technology value chain. We've taken this bold and invite you to journey with us to support the development new networks and benchmarks to transform innovation ecosystems. Join us on the Campus!

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