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African women being left out of 4IR

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Women are less likely to own a cellphone than men; and that is without the China-Trump trade war, which the US president is mounting to protect the hiding Apple is getting from its Chinese competitor, Huawei

Only one in 10 organisations says they have the technical skills they need to succeed, with the biggest shortages of IT skills in software engineering, cyber security, mobile computing, cloud computing, social networking and analytics. File Picture: Andreas Gebert/ Reuters

It is not as if anyone goes out of their way to marginalise women from the digital age and its phenomenal socio-economic benefits, but we do.

This month is Women’s Month, thanks to the historic march on August 9, 1956, to protest against the draconian pass laws.

Having just celebrated Women’s Day on August 9, it is curious that sub-Saharan women are denied access to the primary source of access to the internet amid the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR): a cellphone; due to unaffordability (especially of data), low skills levels, lack of security and irrelevance of information on the internet.

In its 2019 Mobile Gender Gap Report, GSMA estimates that more than 250 million more women in low-and-middle-income countries own a cellphone than they did in 2014 – an increase of 80%. This is only 62% of women in South Asia and 69% in sub-Saharan Africa.

Women are less likely to own a cellphone than men; and that is without the China-Trump trade war, which the US president is mounting to protect the hiding Apple is getting from its Chinese competitor, Huawei.

Lest we forget, Huawei sold 59.91 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year, according to the International Data Corporation.

This 50.3% year-on-year increase happened despite Washington’s trade tantrums. By making what the IDC termed “well-rounded portfolio targeting all segments from low to high”, meaning affordable high-end phones, Huawei has overtaken Apple and is eyeing Samsung’s No1 spot.

Why would women, who constitute most of the world population and carry a disproportionately higher responsibility in raising and protecting families, be unable to afford the golden key to success in the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence? Why would only 83% of South African women (87% men) own a cellphone and 54% (63% men) have access to the internet?

Agnes Odhiambo of Human Rights Watch, who told DW anecdotally of a woman in her village who “was given the option of buying a mobile phone or buying a goat to invest for her family”.

It is a no-brainer for Irene Lourenco Paulino, 21, of Mozambique – where less than half of all women own a smartphone and one in 10 go online. Irene would like to “download books, but the data is far too expensive”. How about Aissata Fall, a married Senegalese woman hardly ever online, because if she were to receive “angry messages or photos, it can lead to problems with a jealous husband”?

They are among 200 million African women who are kept out of the internet revolution – involuntarily or by choice, a tough one at that.

These women reaped no rewards of our lauded gender-balanced parliamentary representation, boastfully among the world’s highest. Our exorbitant data costs cut them out of telemedicine, e-education and e-commerce. It is not the chitchat on social media African women crave; but a shot at a dignified life – and a living.

Our fight against poverty, ignorance and disease remains misogynistic. Imbibe that, our tenaciously patriarchal hearts.

Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business; a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs