Dr. Jenfan Muswere, the Minister of Information Communication Technology (ICT), Postal and Courier Services has emphasised the need for stakeholders to work together to bridge the global gender digital divide.
He made the call yesterday on the International Girls in ICT Day 2021 commemoration, a day that Zimbabwe as a member country of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has celebrated since 2013. The event was organised by ICT stakeholders with NetOne as the leading institution in partnership with sector players like Econet, Africom, Dandemutande, TelOne, and PowerTel, to name a few.
The International Girls in ICT Day was established by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations Agency for Telecommunications, with the aim to create a global environment that empowers and encourages young girls and women to consider careers in the growing field of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
“Today, ITU and its member countries celebrated the 10th anniversary of this day, a day set aside to bring attention and awareness to the global gender digital divide. For the second year running, we commemorate this day virtually in the wake of the deadly Coronavirus Pandemic. Things being equal, we would have gathered in our numbers at a rural school somewhere to ensure that young women and girls who come from marginalised communities also get involved in this movement.
“However, Covid-19 happened, we are here, using ICTs to commemorate this day with the hope to reach as many women and girls as possible. To us as a sector, this is exciting. It is an opportunity to enhance our innovation and systems, now that the world solely depends on ICTs to remain relevant and operational,” Minister Muswere said.
As the world continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, collaboration among ICT players to improve our ICT infrastructure including data centres, fibre optic infrastructure, and mobile network towers is required to ensure that society remains connected and functional. It is fair to say that, ICTs have increasingly become critical and literally the only solution for business and all other sectors to remain afloat in the midst of the pandemic.
The Government of Zimbabwe, through the Ministry of ICT, is making huge investments in developing long-term ICT solutions and technologies that will act as a buffer in future disasters or occurrences of such disruptive nature. The minister said such disruptions present opportunities for young people, across all divides to stand up and wear their innovative hats in order to partner with the Government in coming up with various home-grown ICT solutions to current and future problems. Such innovations will not only provide much-needed employment for other young people across the country but also provide solutions for the country’s economic sustenance.
He urged girls and young women to equally participate in innovation programs as their male counterparts as well as to take up careers in the exciting and rewarding world of ICTs.
“By grabbing the vast opportunities in the ICT sector, women and girls would not only empower themselves but also contribute to the country’s economic development. It is my belief that this commemoration and other efforts made within the sector will result in many more girls and young women becoming innovators, engineers, network engineers, and other high-ranking positions in this field. I further encourage the girls again, to take full advantage of these opportunities to establish their businesses in the future.”
Dr. Gift Machengete, the Director-General of the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, speaking on the same occasion, said the day provides the needed platform to prop up the girl child and encourage her effective participation in the digital economy so as to close the gender digital divide.
He said the event resonated well with the central theme of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 of “Leaving No One Behind” and also supports the vision of the man who invented the World Wide Web himself, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who in 1997 remarked that; “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability and even gender is an essential aspect.”
To put the day’s commemorations into perspective, Dr. Machengete shared interesting statistics.
He alluded to the 2017 national survey on ICT Access and Use by Education Institutions, which revealed that from ECD A to polytechnic colleges; 59.9% of male students had access to a computer against 40.1% of female students.
Globally, according to Equals Global Partnerships, a global initiative of the ITU aimed at developing initiatives to bridge the gender digital divide, 200 million fewer women than men own a mobile phone and 250 million fewer women than men use the Internet.
The digital gender divide is more pronounced when it comes to women as creators of technology. While 88% of all ICT patents are invented by men, only 2% of patents are invented by females. The remaining 10% are developed by teams of both sexes. Further studies indicate that in the USA and UK, only 5% of tech start-ups are owned by women and only 5% of women are in a technology leadership role.
The ICT guru said such statistics are a reminder to governments and the private sector that women and girls continue to fall behind in opportunities to effectively access and use ICTs to improve their livelihoods. If not addressed, he said the digital gender divide can lead to gender inequalities in many other areas, including inequalities in labour markets and the financial inclusion of women. Furthermore, digitally excluded women and girls are likely to be excluded from attractive and lucrative employment opportunities, because they lack digital literacy, which is one of the most demanded skills in the digital age.
Dr. Machengete said initiatives such as the Girls in ICT Day will go a long way in putting women and girls in their rightful position which is at par with their male counterparts.
“However, this will only materialise when campaigns to prop up female participation in ICTs are done throughout the year and not as a once-off event. I am pleased to say POTRAZ, as the ICT regulator is running a number of projects aimed at promoting inclusivity and closing the gender digital divide. These include the Innovation Drive, where female participation in ICT application development is encouraged, and the Community Information Centre (CIC) project where ICT access and use by women and girls in marginalized areas is promoted.
“However, all being said, in as much as we prop up the girl child to be at par with the boy child, let us be wary of neglecting the boy child, let us not lose sight of the boy child, lest we will end up having the boy child needing to be assisted as well to rise up and be at par with the girl child. We must therefore strive to create and maintain a balance of power and influence between the sexes. This is such a delicate balancing act as we risk tilting the scales against the boy child and creating dichotomies of imbalances, which will end up destroying society as we know it. We have witnessed this in some developed countries where women are now more powerful and influential than men albeit with catastrophic consequences, especially to marriage life.”
He hammered on the need to bring both the boy and girl child up to speed in terms of their emancipation and empowerment.
“Leaving the boy child behind would be disastrous. Remember girls and young women will be mothers to the boy child, they will be grandmothers to the boy child. Neglecting the boy child would be forsaking humanity,” Dr. Machengete added.