The month of March is set aside, annually, to celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture and society. And every year, BellaNaija joins the rest of the world in celebrating women and projecting their works across every field, sector, country and continent.
It is remarkable that today’s celebration comes right after we wrapped up the BellaNaija and UN Women’s Women in Politics and Governance Campaign focused on fostering women’s active participation in politics and governance. If there’s one major lesson learned from the campaign, it is that we cannot have an equal world unless there is a fair representation of women at all levels and sectors.
Fair representation means more than just having a balance of genders in places of leadership and power. Fair representation and inclusivity mean having all kinds of women in places of leadership – the young, old, those living with disability, the educated and even the not-so-educated, those in urban areas and those in the rural areas. Until all women, regardless of their status are included and represented, we cannot have a progressive and balanced world.
This year’s theme, DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality, is spot on at this time. This day recognises and celebrates the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education. This day also calls for introspection and answers to difficult questions: is the world of technology and innovation gender inclusive and balanced?
Globally, women hold 26.7% of tech-related jobs, according to Women in Tech Statistics. Gender inequality, discrimination, and sexual harassment in male-dominated environments are factors limiting women’s involvement in tech. To have a fair representation and gender inclusivity in tech, creating a safe space for women to thrive and bloom is important.
The consequences of a lack of gender balance are dire. The percentage of women in tech-related careers has decreased globally over the last two years. In Nigeria, women make up approximately a fifth of the total number of people working in the information and communication technology sector, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Female enrollment in technology and engineering courses in Nigerian higher institutions is also lower than men’s. This means that while we may have more men shaping the technology being developed, women may become relegated to being passive users.
Sima Bahous, UN Women’s Executive Director, said in her IWD opening speech, “A new kind of poverty now confronts the world, one that excludes women and girls in devastating ways – that of digital poverty. The digital divide has become the new face of gender inequality, which has become compounded by the pushback against women and girls, that we see in the world today.”
We need a world where women lead the innovations developed globally, and make up at least 50% of tech-related jobs.
Innovation and technology for gender equality mean using tech to promote the cause of women worldwide and locally and help eradicate digital poverty. It means involving more women in tech spaces so they can create solutions and innovations tailored to address women’s specific needs, making more women digitally aware and technology-savvy, and providing more tools to help women navigate the world of tech and innovation.
Achieving gender parity in tech begins with small steps. Culturally, we must teach girls that STEM is not for boys only. As you buy your son a gadget, buy one for your daughter too; it is important to provide a level playing ground for both genders. Early-stage, girl-focused interventions that nurture their interest in tech through adolescence and early adulthood are critical in closing this gap. We must also learn to mitigate or eradicate our bias. “Women are not built for tech” is a myth we must let go of.
As a tech company, it is important to optimise your sourcing process. Look at the company you have built, would you say there is a fair representation of both genders? What will you do about it moving forward?
As a country, it is time to aim for gender-inclusive policies. We must deliberately and strategically create activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
It is also time to go rural. While it is great, easier and perhaps cheaper to innovate around urbanity, we cannot achieve a digitALL if women in rural areas and underserved communities are left out or behind.
Technology and innovation are huge catalysts for the growth and development of our country. But this growth and development cannot be achieved without women. DigitALL means everyone.
Happy International Women’s Day.