This year’s International Women’s Day is marked under the theme DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for gender equality. Innovation and technology or digital transformation provides new avenues (leapfrog opportunities) for the economic transformation of women. The internet, mobile phones and digital financial services gives women the possibility to earn additional income, increase their employment opportunities and access knowledge and general information.
However, hurdles to access and affordability, lack of education and skills, technological illiteracy as well as inherent gender biases and negative socio-cultural norms effectively curtail women’s and girls’ ability to benefit from opportunities offered by the digital transformation.
According to a 2018 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report on Bridging the Digital Gender Divide, 327 million fewer women than men have a smartphone and can access the internet. According to the report in Africa, women are 34% less likely than men to own a smartphone. In Kenya, the great majority who have access to the internet do so via their phones. The GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report for 2019 found that Kenyan women are 23% less likely than men to own a smartphone and 39% less likely than men to access the internet. The biggest hurdle to women’s ownership of smartphones in Kenya is affordability of the handsets. The cheapest smartphone handset in Kenya retails for about 5000KES or 40USD. This is out of reach of many women. Women headed households account for 30% of households living below the monetary poverty line compared to 26 percent of those headed by men according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2018 Economic Survey. The relatively higher incidence of poverty among women compared to men is underpinned by socio-cultural norms governing gender roles, ownership of and control over familial property etc.
Fewer girls than boys are enrolled in Institutions of Higher Learning. Female students made up 40% of all the students enrolled in Universities compared to 60% male students during the 2020/21 academic year according to statistics from statista.com. Further, girl’s enrollment in disciplines relevant to the digital transformation (ICT & STEM subjects) is lower than that of boys. The World Bank estimates that only 30% of ICT graduates in Eastern and Southern Africa are Women. This boils over to the underrepresentation of women in technology design and governance. Negative socio-cultural norms surrounding education of girls versus boys as well as gender roles in society contribute to this situation.
Women on average spend 2.6 more time than men on unpaid care and domestic work according to the OECD 2018 report. This restricts the time they can spend in paid work or to upskill themselves using online tutorial videos and freely available information.
While digital transformation offer “leapfrog” opportunities for the empowerment of women, this will only succeed if the “analogue” work of actions that raise awareness, challenge gender stereotypes and negative socio-cultural norms, attitudes and behaviours and enabling greater female political participation and representation continues full speed. It is the case that for digital transformation to yield for us gender equality, it is imperative that we remain “analogue”