Gender equality through innovation and technology: the pathway to a sustainable future for Nigerian women and girls
Image source: Business Day
Technology has enabled people to live comfortable lives, from providing access to roads, trains, and aircraft for convenient travel to facilitating communication from anywhere in the world. Thanks to technology, women and girls from all walks of life can now access various resources, enhancing their quality of life and allowing them to take advantage of opportunities that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Furthermore, global economies depend heavily on the increased involvement of women and girls in digital innovation and technology, as well as in STEM fields as students and professionals. In addition, the digital age offers an unparalleled opportunity to eradicate all disparity and inequality, from gender-responsive digital learning to tech-facilitated sexual and reproductive healthcare for women. Unfortunately, however, the gender digital divide still exists.
Every year, the United Nations observes International Women’s Day. This year’s theme honors and celebrates the women and girls championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education. This auspicious event investigates the impact of the digital gender gap on growing economic and social inequalities. It also recognizes the importance of protecting women’s and girls’ rights in digital spaces and addressing online facilitated gender-based violence.
According to UNESCO, by 2050, 75% of jobs worldwide will be in STEM fields. However, women hold only 22% of positions in artificial intelligence, over 50% of women in Nigeria do not have internet access, and women are 20% less likely than men to own a smartphone, further widening the digital gap. The highlighted digital gender gap results in women being notably missing from Nigeria’s tech ecosystem, which limits their job opportunities, makes them unaware of national and global happenings, increases their vulnerability to various forms of violence, and makes it difficult for them to know when and if they are being violated, as well as the appropriate steps to take when such an ordeal occurs.
Furthermore, if women cannot access the Internet or feel unsafe online, they will be unable to develop the necessary digital skills to engage in digital spaces, which limits their opportunities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Poverty, cultural bias against girl-child education, limited legal frameworks addressing the challenges of women in technology, and limited financial investment and mentorship for women in technology are some of the challenges women face in accessing the digital space. In addition, cyberbullying, cultural constraints, and stereotypes contribute to women’s inability to thrive in technological fields and spaces.
The digital divide needs to be closed to provide new generations of women and girls with equal access to digital opportunities and the increasing digital workspace. Some of the. countries that are already working towards bridging this gap are highlighted below.
Togo has made significant strides in digital technologies, including establishing a regulatory framework for developing electronic communications, cybersecurity, and data protection. For example, the nation has established an organization to oversee online communications, a national cybersecurity agency, and an organization to safeguard personal data. It has also adopted several measures to address the particular needs of women and girls in technological innovation, such as a program to provide laptops for top-performing female students, financial aid for girls’ education, and women-only information centers.
There are government programs in India like the Digital India Program, national scholarship schemes, and an online campaign called “STEM Stars” that celebrate women who have made careers for themselves in science and technology.
Canada continues to make investments in technology and innovation that reflect the diversity of its population, such as through the provision of affordable and accessible childcare services and support for women-owned businesses, as well as through equal pay for equal work. The country also establishes solid relationships with organizations working for women’s rights worldwide. In addition to using indigenous-led strategies to address gender-based violence more broadly, the nation is working on legislation to address online violence.
According to the most recent United Nations Human Development Report, Singapore is the seventh most gender-equal country globally. It has strong digital connectivity, and about 40% of its technology professionals are women, which is significantly higher than the global average of 28%. Through collaborations with the community, academia, and industry, including the Singapore Women in Tech movement, which offers networking and mentoring, the government seeks out and supports female talent in that field. In addition, the government passed a law requiring social media services to limit Singaporean users’ exposure to harmful content and give users the tools to manage their safety.
Hence, it is pertinent that the Nigerian government replicate some of these initiatives and develop strategies and policies to realize a sustainable future for women and girls in technology. These policies could ensure equal access for women and girls to digital technologies, such as affordable Internet and digital devices and digital education, which is critical for a sustainable future. Also, utilizing data and technology to address gender disparities in economic opportunities, such as access to education, training, and employment, is vital to ensuring a sustainable future for women and girls in tech. In addition, the removal of entry barriers and increasing access to training and education, promoting digital literacy and skills development among women and girls through digital literacy programs and technology integration in education, and utilizing technology to combat gender-based violence and discrimination against women and girls by creating digital tools and platforms that assist and provide access to justice are essential steps needed to achieve gender equality.
Hence, a gender-responsive approach to innovation, technology, and digital education would help Nigerian women and girls understand their rights and the importance of being part of a tech-driven society to increase women’s participation and representation in the technology sector. In addition, it will be much easier to address social, economic, and cultural barriers for women and girls if they are included in digital technology, which will have a ripple effect and spur the growth of digital technology and innovations. It is critical to dispel the myth that women cannot be introduced to technology in their homes and at different levels of their academic education. An excellent way to accomplish this is to engage with girls of all ages and demographics to inspire them to pursue careers in STEM fields. When girls are comfortable with STEM subjects at a young age, it will influence their decisions to pursue careers in technology or build tech-enabled businesses in future.
Several companies and non-governmental organizations are already undertaking this mission, which, with the support of the government and international organizations, would have a positive impact. Clean Technology Hub, for instance, works to promote the growth of the clean technology industry and the empowerment of women and girls in Nigeria by providing training and mentoring to young women and girls and advocating for policies supporting clean energy and gender mainstreaming. The hub also hires female employees with little or no STEM background, facilitates opportunities for upskilling and technical skilling them through internal and external training, courses, and workshops, and places them in roles that expose them to and provide access to industry networks and technological expertise.
In conclusion, creating an enabling environment for more women and girls to enter the tech space results in more creative solutions and more significant potential for innovations that meet the needs of women and promote gender equality. Their exclusion, on the other hand, comes at a high price.
Onyekachi Chukwu is an associate, environment and climate action at Clean Technology Hub.