Gender inequality is an issue that does not only affect women. It has a dire impact on the entire population and continues to remain deeply entrenched in many African societies.
Gender equality, which is also known as sexual equality, is the state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender, including economic participation and decision-making. It pushes the agenda that all human beings are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles, and prejudices; where the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It has ripple effects on the different aspects of society;
Economic Effects: it presents a huge loss of human potential. When women are not given the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in the society with their potential untapped, it creates a hindrance to economic growth.
Health Effects: it impedes long term growth and efficiency due to reduced working lives and lower productivity levels. Inequality is posing a threat to the society, as equality improves societal health and education outcomes.
Technology Effects: Despite an increase in awareness about these issues, progress on this front continues to stagger. In 2017, the world search on Google’s search engine had about millions searching for the meaning of women’s rights and gender equality. Despite this high search on Google, it was realised that fewer women have little access to technology. According to Intel’s report on Women and the Web, nearly 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet, and the gender gap soars to nearly 45 percent in regions like sub-Saharan Africa. Today, there are 200 million more women than men who do not have a mobile phone, which continues to widen the gender gap and access to technology. It is quite unbelievable that such gaps exist, given the incessant efforts of ensuring women and girls have access to technology and play a role in creating and developing technological tools.
Technology as a catalyst towards equality and a tool for advocacy
The question still lies unanswered: what role does technology have in aiding the fight for gender equality and women’s rights?
Digital technologies give women a means to improve their livelihoods. Some digital technology tools give women the flexibility to earn income online, as well as look after their families, boosting economic growth in the process. It can transform women’s lives in a myriad of ways especially in Africa where many women have limited opportunities to earn their own income. Many women and girls still do not have equal opportunities in spite of civil right laws across the continent. Information and communication technologies are important tools for advancing gender equality and facilitating women and girl’s empowerment.
Technology will enable women to get jobs in the competitive job market and enable them to pull themselves out of poverty. In an era of entrepreneurship, technology can be useful for female entrepreneurs in starting and growing their businesses especially in today’s virtual market thereby enabling them to earn an income. Studies have shown that something as simple as owning a mobile phone can help promote a business through online advertisements.
In Zambia, ICT has been used in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV). Organisations combating violence against women have used social media to help raise awareness and educate the public about GBV. Access to social media is a particularly effective way to reach youth and mobilise them on a grassroots level in campaigns against GBV.
ICT can aid grassroots women’s movements to organise public actions and reach out across borders for international support. Thanks to the power of the Internet, and the emergence of social media, women across the world have been able to connect and push for their rights such as the #MeToo agenda and women marches. In 2015, we witnessed how technology facilitated an international mobilisation around Boko Haram’s kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria. Across the continent, women’s groups on social media worked through the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to campaign for the release of the schoolgirls.
As an advocacy tool, ICT can help empower African women to demand reforms that will bridge the gap between their legal rights and its enforcement. It gives women the opportunity to communicate their needs in their own ways, in real time and on a massive scale. The use of social media through pseudonym aids in offering anonymity, which is important when speaking out on sensitive issues that might endanger a woman’s life or safety.
Without access to ICT, women are at greater risk of being left behind as agents of change and leaders in a rapidly changing global society. It is imperative that women, as well as men at all social levels and in all countries, can access and use technology.
Girls and women must be supported in becoming technologically competitive and they must gain proper understanding of how to use it safely and effectively. With Africa’s growing youth population and increasing competition for jobs and other opportunities, addressing these issues is imperative in any effort to promote women’s security, employability and financial independence.
By: Maame Darkwaa Twum Barima
Women’s Rights Advocate and Communications Specialist.