By Ifeoma Okonji
In West Africa, women are disadvantaged in a lot of things, including acquisition of knowledge, access to healthcare, business and entrepreneurship opportunities and use of digital technology. While women represent more than half of the global population, they are still under-represented in the digital sector, especially in developing countries of Africa, such as Nigeria.
The International Telecommunication Union reports that the gender digital divide has widened – evident in number of women accessing the internet, which is 12 per cent fewer than men. When compared to males, women are four times less likely to use digital skills for their day-to-day activities. Similarly, a lot of females refrain from going into technology-inclined fields, compared to the large number of men. Such facts emphasise the digital gap between males and females and project the reasons this gap should be bridged.
As humans, a lot of our everyday activities revolve around digital technology, including business transactions, learning and access to finance. Sadly, women are in the minority at all levels of the technology sector. Malala Fund reported in 2018 that almost one billion girls around the world lack digital skills. According to eskills4girls, this digital divide is even more pronounced at the management levels where women account for only 21 per cent of managers.
There smacks of lack of diversity in the field of technology, as it is largely male-dominated. This lack has led to the under-representation of female needs in digital technology and the erroneous assumption that only males should explore a career in technology.
With this situation, encouraging females to go into Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics-related disciplines has become increasingly important to promote diversity in the field of technology and promote access to equal opportunities regardless of gender.
Nowadays, knowledge of digital technology has numerous benefits for personal as well as professional development of not only individuals, but also businesses and organisations. These benefits transcend the promotion of equal opportunities for both gender, access to digital skills is also of economic significance. The World Economic Forum states that basic digital skills can significantly improve the economic situation and participation of women, as it will encourage entrepreneurship.
Acquisition of digital skills can also give women access to better and improved financial services and enable them make informed financial decisions.
Digital skills are also useful for accessing better healthcare systems and a healthy life. They can open up opportunities to access education virtually.
Digital skills are useful to female business owners to enable them stay ahead of competition and exploit opportunities such as in e-commerce. Likewise, women in agriculture can access more advanced agricultural techniques.
Generally, access to digital skills and its implementation make life easier.
Gender inequality has been a subject of discourse in recent times, and proactive steps are being taken by governments and private organisations to bridge the gap.
Gender digital gap is identified as one of the many aspects of gender inequality. Non-governmental organisations have been at the forefront of encouraging digital education for females, especially. Notable among them are the activities of Women Economic and Leadership Transformation Initiative, delivered through the WELTI Academy.
WELTI has included digital skills training as a core feature in the academy’s scheme of work.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, digital skills are a combination of technical knowledge, attitudes, working methods and cross-cutting competencies. The prospects in acquiring digital skills are enormous, including information technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, graphics design, 3D printing, animations, virtual reality, programming and coding. It also includes other basic skills as using computer applications and programs, creating content among others. WELTI, like others, has recognised the digital exclusion of women and targets digital inclusion of women through the academy.
The gender digital gap is a challenge to gender equality the world over. However, efforts by NGOs would go a long way in bridging this gender divide and contribute immensely towards attaining gender equality and inclusion as regards access to digital skills.