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Gender inequality in ICT is unknown quantity in Africa

Gender inequality within Africa’s ICT industry is exacerbated by the issue of low-level sex-disaggregate ICT data, which means the gender gap is not measured or recognised.

ITWeb reported this week that the continent has among the lowest levels of gender-specific data globally, according to the Sex-Disaggregated ICT Data in Africa report released by Equals Research Coalition.

The coalition is co-founded by the International Telecommunications Union and partners, and is comprised of stakeholders committed to promoting digital gender equality.

The publication quotes from the report, which states there is a need for better data collection across the continent, as many African countries currently lack surveys to collect sex-disaggregated ICT data.

The research points out that one-fifth of all African countries with data cannot construct a time series of sex-disaggregated ICT data for any indicator, “limiting the ability to track changes in digital access, skills, or leadership over time”.

However, there are numerous market research studies that emphasise factors that contribute to the ongoing problem of gender inequality and/or under-representation within ICT.

In August last year, ITWeb Africa reported that according to research compiled for the South African Institute of International Affairs (among others): “Studies show that in specific female-dominated industries, technology will reduce jobs. The other misgiving in Africa is that the 4IR, like its antecedents, will further entrench gender inequalities. This is based on the observation that most women are unlikely to benefit from technological advances, as they do not possess the skills to compete in the emerging knowledge economy.”

Melissa Jantjies, Business Solutions Manager: Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence for SAS in South Africa, is quoted as saying: “Another concern lies in automation in productive sectors in Africa, where women’s employment is particularly at risk.”

Jantjies believes that to achieve the approximated 40-year reduction in time towards true gender equality and inclusive economic transformation, there needs to be far more collective focus from governments, educational institutions and private sectors on twin goals.

“The first must be on collaborative special programmes aimed at encouraging more young girls and women to pursue their education and career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Women have a vital role to play in leadership – in all tiers of society – and in contributing to development and socio-economic transformation of Africa’s economies. Yet, they are still significantly under-represented in higher education in STEM,” says Jantjies.

FinTech challenge

In early 2021, ITWeb Africa reported that according to market research in the form of the Payment System Design and the Financial Inclusion Gender Gap report, low-end phones and lack of payment interoperability exclude more women than men in terms of access to finance systems, despite widespread payment technology.

According to the research, women are 20% more likely than men to own smartphones in low- and middle-income countries.

“We recommend updating the principles to support low-end devices with a principle that states: All primary functions should be accessible to users with inexpensive basic/feature phones − typically enabled through USSD interfaces on such devices,” the report stated.

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