Building inclusive innovation and technology ecosystems must be at the heart of efforts to support the economic, social, and political development of women and girls in Africa, a ministerial meeting heard last week.
The 67th pre-Commission on the Status of Women in Africa (Pre-CSW67) ministerial consultations noted that technology and innovation have proved a positive disruptor in Africa, accelerating progress in terms of financial inclusion, creating new jobs, improving access to healthcare, providing information on agricultural practices, and opening virtual spaces for citizens to engage on governance concerns.
The CSW67 was convened by the African Union Commission in partnership with UN Women, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the UNDP.
Delegates noted that while technology and innovation are being hailed as crucial means to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, the statistics on access, beneficiaries and who influences their development are pointing to disparities between and among the sexes.
According to the ITU, in Africa, women account for only 24% of the population using the internet, while men account for 35% of users. Thus, delegates stressed that ensuring that these technological developments do not widen the digital gender divides was crucial.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the ministerial segment of the consultations, Prudence Ngwenya, acting director, African Union Commission – Women, Gender and Youth Directorate called for the common Africa position to be translated into implementable actions and mainstreamed into the work that governments are doing towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.
“Empowering women and girls through the provision of meaningful access to the internet and innovative technologies could undoubtedly provide them with opportunities to start businesses, and to access education, health, social as well as financial services,” Ngwenya said.
Addressing the pre-CSW Expert Consultations participants, Maxime Houinato, UN Women Regional Director for East and Southern Africa called for efforts to be made to ensure that the interests of African women and girls shape the values and principles that underlie governance of technology and innovation.
“CSW 67 provides an opportunity for Africa to influence the global discourse on digital cooperation, to ensure that technology and innovation can accelerate economic growth, while fairly distributing the benefits to African women and girls as well as reshaping sociocultural norms to create a more equal and just world for them,” Houinato said.
Contributing to the opening session, Edlam Yemeru, ECA’s acting director Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Division, said: “We know digital technologies offer huge opportunities to transform the lives of people. At the same time, we know that the risk of women being left behind is significant. We need to make sure that women and girls have equal access to technology.”