This post is by Emily Musil Church, Ph.D.
Much digital ink has been spilled on the cultural impact of technology. People have been, ahem, atwitter about the use of social media in the so-named “Arab spring”. Technology companies now have their eyes on the African continent as the next big market. Young people are key to Africa’s technology revolution. With 70 per cent of the population under 30, the U.N. has called Africa the world’s youngest continent. In order to reach this young population, African governments are developing strategies to not only reach potential voters, but also to train young people to use technology in ways that will boost the economy.
But what does all of this mean for women in Africa?
By almost all accounts, access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) greatly benefits women. Whether they are in urban or rural environments, new technologies offer vast health, educational and economic benefits. Yet women are still vastly underrepresented in ICT initiatives. Most technology programs target male-dominated industries or rely on networks that don’t include many women. Anyone interested in African development and women’s empowerment should work to ensure that the technology gender gap closes.
Despite this imbalance, African women have already been at the forefront of finding ways to develop revolutionary uses of technology. Juliana Rotich is the Executive Director of Ushahidi, an organization she co-founded with other young Kenyan residents during the unrest after the 2008 elections in that country. Ushahidi has now grown into a massively successful global tech company and social activism interactive site. Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) has an effective pan-African coalition that unites thirty-six African organizations from across the continent working for women’s rights and empowerment. The WAAW Foundation (Working to Advance African Women) is an NGO based in Nigeria that recognizes,
Female Education and Science and Technology Innovation are the two most crucial components to poverty alleviation and rapid development in Africa.
Rural areas have bigger obstacles in terms of access, but ICTs are poised to make significant improvements to the lives of women in these regions as well. The Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) works to promote digital literacy, use ICTs to fight violence against women, and support women’s organizations throughout the country in their development of ICT access. Some organizations are using technology to target key women’s issues with specific campaigns. Ghana’s MoTech gives women updated maternal health information with their “Mobile Midwife” project. Access to mobile phones can supply critical economic information, such as local market prices, health information for livestock, and weather patterns for farmers.
As technology companies gear up for a push into Africa, they shouldn’t miss the tremendous opportunities for women and the continent as a whole that ICTs can offer, and the innovation that women can bring to them.
Further reading: For an in-depth analysis of this topic, I recommend African Women and ICTs, edited by Ineke Buskins and Anne Webb. It’s a collection of seventeen essays written by academics and activists who have done extensive work and research across the continent.
Emily Musil Church is a professor of African history and women’s and gender studies at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Los Angeles, writing a human rights book and working with the UCLA Center for the Study of Women for the 2011-2012 academic year.