I was recently privileged to be at a stakeholders conference of startups in the South South and South East. The first thing I noticed, to my amazement, was not just the beautiful ambience of Oluaka Academy, the venue of the event, but that we were only 2 ladies present at the conference. This may not be significant in itself except when you take into cognisance that there were over 20 men gathered. Even more interesting was that most of the guys present were tech hub managers, developers and programmers while the other lady and myself were what i would term ‘tech support’. The first question on my mind was, where are all the female stakeholders in the start-up and tech community and why aren’t they here? No one at the venue could really answer my question. I however made sure I pointed this out during the session where we were able to make some contributions.
The move right now is for technology to become the new oil in the Niger Delta and for entrepreneurs in the South East to leverage on technology. In this vein, a lot of effort is being made to position the region for opportunities that abound through digital technologies. It is also imperative that we do not forget about including women and girls in the mix especially when decisions are being taken. The tech space is notoriously known to be male dominated. Research has also shown that there is already in existence a huge digital gender divide that exists not just in Nigeria but in Africa. The Web Foundation in its recently concluded Women Rights Online (WRO) report showed that women are about 50% less likely to be connected than men in the same age group with similar levels of education and household income. What we need now are concrete steps to get more women involved as the digital revolution sweeps through Nigeria.
Here are reasons why we need more women in tech as major stakeholders-
To empower more women economically – In Nigeria, there is a lot of focus being paid on start-ups and leveraging on technology for business and empowerment. Digital technologies open up new opportunities for entrepreneurs, enhance access to financial services and credit, broaden job search prospects, or even create new forms of flexible, home-based work. More men than women are exploiting technology and the Internet to enhance their economic opportunities. Fewer women than men are currently using the Internet to sell their products and services or to look for a job. We therefore need more female stakeholders in the tech and start-up ecosystem in the South-South and in Nigeria, to ensure more women take advantage of the opportunity the digital age brings to create ICT enabled businesses.
To encourage more girls to learn STEM courses – We need at the basic level STEM education- science, math for our girls at a very young age. From available research, education and cost are key factors affecting the ability of women to come online or to participate in the digital revolution. Women with a secondary school education are more likely to be interested in technology than those in primary schools.
We therefore need more digital literacy skills taught from the primary school level upwards. Girls should be encouraged to learn STEM courses and taught how to code. We also need more female mentors who have succeeded in these areas to make girls understand that technology related courses are not just for the men.
To bridge the digital gender divide – Over four billion people are still not unconnected to the Internet and most are in the developing world. According to research by the Web foundation, women are about 50% less likely to be connected than men in the same group with similar levels of education and household income. Those who are urban, male, young and well-educated are connecting at rates one would expect in much wealthier countries, while the poorest women with little schooling are largely shut out of the World Wide Web. Only when we have more women on the decision making table representing the interest of other women can this be changed.
To help formulate inclusive policies – Women need to be involved in making ICT policies so that technology policy is particularly designed to tackle and overcome gender, education and income barriers that exist today. We need gender disaggregated data and focused policies and programmes to enable women get connected, bridged differences in digital skills that exist today and to design services, apps and content that women find relevant.
To generate content that matter to women – More women are discouraged from coming online because there is a lack of content that matter to them. According to a UNESCO the third major challenge facing women in developing countries after poverty and violence is access to information.
The WRO report says that only about 21% of female Internet users are seeking information online in important areas such as health, legal rights or public transport. ICTs can help women solve this challenge when we have more women involved in technology helping to develop solutions or pushing for ICT solutions that bring content that matter to women online. Services like mobile money, e-government, agricultural market information, mobile learning and health are critical to make the Internet more useful to and more widely used by women.
Women need to be more involved in design and planning. Funding and incentives for tech entrepreneurs should also ensure that funds are specifically set aside for projects led or managed by women.
To help protect women’s rights online – Women’s offline rights also need to be respected online. Due to a culture of patriarchy in Africa, women are harassed more often online than their male counterparts. It goes without being said that when we have more women involved in technology and technology policy, there will be more tendency for women’s right online to be protected
Adaora Okoli is the founder and publisher of TechcultureNG