Opening the Tech Sector to Africa’s Women

Originally Published by Palesa Libe on Project Syndicate

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Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

The benefits of empowering women to participate in the digital economy are obvious. The key to success will be initiatives to teach digital literacy and expand access to Internet-enabled devices, as well as efforts to boost the confidence of women and girls, who have long been discouraged from competing against their male peers.

From Women in Tech conferences to Girls Who Code programs, initiatives aimed at enabling girls and women to enter the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) have proliferated in recent years.

But change has been slow to arrive: while the percentage of women in the labor force has gradually increased, it remains significantly lower in the tech sector. Given that sector’s central role in driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, this amounts to a major drain on economies’ potential.

The problem is particularly pronounced in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the overall female labor-force participation rate has reached 61%, yet women constitute only 30% of professionals in the tech industry.

More fundamentally, although Internet usage in Africa is growing at the world’s fastest rate, the digital gender gap has widened since 2013. A quarter fewer women than men use the Internet.

In today’s digital economy, women’s relative lack of connectivity undermines their capacity to reach their economic potential. Even women with their own “analog” businesses, such as dressmakers or hairdressers, suffer when they cannot advertise online, let alone use technological tools to monitor, measure, and optimize their operations.

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