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.
Also known as sexual equality, gender equality is the state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender, including economic participation and decision-making. It entails the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the 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.
Effects of inequality on the society
Economically, 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.
On the health and life expectancy on the society, 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.
Despite an increase in awareness about these issues, progress on this front continues to stagger. In 2017, the world search on Google’s engine search had several millions of people 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, about 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 over 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 in 2019 given the incessant efforts of ensuring women and girls have access to technology and play a role in developing technological tools are part of creating it.
Technology as a catalyst towards equality
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 which enables them to look after their families. This contributes to economic growth. 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 despite this being enshrined in the laws across the continent. Information and communication technologies are important tools for advancing gender equality and facilitating women and girl's empowerment.
Becoming technologically skilled can play a major role in enabling women and girls to get jobs, become competitive in the job market and enable them to pull themselves out of poverty. It is clear that if this group is ignored in efforts to make technology accessible to all Africans, problems such as economic dependency, will continue to be perpetuated.
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.
Technology as a tool for advocacy
In Zambia, Information Communication Technology (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 to mobilise 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’s 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 mobilised on social media 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 their 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.