The paper investigates how African women’s digital potential could be unlocked. The study was prompted on the ground that many African women, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds and members of indigenous and racial minorities, are still cut off from the benefits world’s growing digital interconnectedness. Utilizing available documentary evidence and cases drawn from other countries in Africa, the paper found that the challenges responsible for the digital disparities are under-representation, limited access to money, a lack of technical skills, and discriminatory legal and cultural standards. However, the study also found that several opportunities abound to cushion the effects of the challenges. In this regard, the paper proffers several recommendations, including encouraging gender-sensitive technology curricula for girls at all levels of school in Africa and including women who are active participants in the digital economy in the discussion of digital policies.
The economic ramifications of digital technology have reached more than half of the developing world’s population in recent decades. Hence, it is not just righteous to support female digital entrepreneurs; doing so is also smart business. The female economy is the largest rising market in the world, according to McKinsey, and it has the potential to boost the global GDP by $12 trillion by 2025. At the community, national, and continental levels, investing in digital literacy and entrepreneurial education for largest rising market in the world, according to McKinsey, and it has the potential to boost the global GDP by $12 trillion by 2025. At the community, national, and continental levels, investing in digital literacy and entrepreneurial education for African women is an investment in social impact and economic progress. However, Tetteh (2023) asserts that many women, particularly those from poor communities, and indigenous and ethnic minorities, remain disconnected from an increasingly interconnected globe. In the same vein, The World Bank’s vice president for Eastern and Southern Africa, Victoria Kwakwa, cited in Otialo (2023) submits that by 2030, over 230 million jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa would demand digital abilities, but that African women’s low levels of digital skill prevent them from taking advantage of these chances.
As the expanding digital gender gap worsens socioeconomic inequality, overcoming the digital divide provides unprecedented opportunities for growth. Therefore, investing in women’s economic empowerment increases economic growth while decreasing poverty. No doubt, providing Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) skills training to the underprivileged, particularly women in Africa, can lead to greater leveraging of digital technology opportunities like the rest of the globe. This can lead to Africa becoming a leader in the adoption of new creative technology that can bring solutions to some of the continent’s difficulties. As a result, the purpose of this study is to propose measures that will increase African women’s employability and competitiveness in the global workforce. The article unlocks women’s potential and recommends ways to develop long-term projects and businesses to improve the economic well-being of African women.
To achieve the objectives, the paper is divided into sections.
Section one explores digital opportunities for African women.
Section two reviews challenges faced by African women’s digital skill acquisition.
Section three deals with options for overcoming the challenges and the final section is the conclusion.
Digital Opportunities for African Women
It has been recognized by African Union (2019) that the 53 million African girls and young women who are not in school can address their daily struggles and aspirations with the use of ICTs. By fostering their creativity and boosting their entrepreneurial abilities through a problem-solving approach, the digital revolution presents a chance to empower girls and young women, positioning the latter at the center of the community of innovators. ICTs also change how marginalized groups study and enable them to take advantage of both online and offline learning resources. It was also agreed that utilizing ICTs in education will significantly aid in reaching Goal 17 of Aspiration 6 of Agenda 2063, which aims to remove all obstacles to high-quality social, health, and educational services for women and girls.
Similarly, Sirimanne (2023) identifies three key opportunities that digitalization offers to women. For starters, it has fewer entrance barriers than traditional brick-and-mortar enterprises. This means that women entrepreneurs can start their enterprises at a lesser cost and without the requirement for a physical storefront, which can be a considerable benefit. Yvette Uwimpaye, a young Rwandan businesswoman, recognized the inconvenience that individuals experienced while shopping at multiple markets. To address this problem, she created Murukali, a streamlined online shopping platform that saves both time and money. She was able to launch the platform that is revolutionizing Rwanda’s shopping experience for as little as $1,155 in start-up fees. Again, that it may help female business owners connect with clients throughout the globe. Women company owners can make use of this worldwide reach to build their consumer bases and penetrate new markets. Birame Sock, a Senegalese businessperson who founded Kwely, an online B2B wholesale platform for goods created in Africa, has seized this chance. The online marketplace allows customers access to distinctive, high-quality products created in Africa that adhere to global standards. Thirdly, it provides some freedom with regard to working hours and location. Digital technologies can considerably aid female entrepreneurs who may have caregiving duties or mobility issues. Several other initiatives according to Sirimanne (2023) are underway to unlock women’s digital potential.
These initiatives are:
The E-Trade for Women initiative of UNCTAD: This encourages women entrepreneurs in developing nations to participate in the creation of pertinent and successful policies to solve the challenges that women confront. Additionally, it encourages more women to pursue digital entrepreneurship. More than 40 developing countries’ owners of over 200 women-owned digital firms have now been contacted by the project and (b) A cooperative project between the ITU, EIF, and EQUALS Global Partnership, titled “Tech as a Driver of Women’s Economic Opportunity”. This aims at improving the digital ecosystem and developing the digital skills of women in LDCs. The Talking Tech series includes discussions between girls and young women in technology in support of Girls in ICT 2020-2022 and the EQUALS Global Partnership. According to UNESCO’s recent Artificial Intelligence Needs Assessment Survey in Africa, as cited in UNESCONews (2021), there are encouraging signs of AI innovation and development all over the Continent, from community-run AI classes on the weekends to the creation of private sector and government-driven innovation hubs.
In response to this demand, UNESCO and the Women in Africa Initiative (WIA) are collaborating with public and private sector partners to create a vast open online course to boost African women’s digital entrepreneurship and digital literacy in the field of AI. Also, Microsoft and Tech4Dev, a non-profit social enterprise, have collaborated on the Women Techsters Initiative to train girls and women in Nigeria and across Africa in coding and deep tech skills, with the goal of bridging the digital and technology divide and ensuring equal access to opportunities across the continent. The Women Techsters initiative, which is aimed at girls and women aged 16 to 40 in 54 African countries, was launched in a virtual roundtable sponsored by Microsoft Philanthropies and Tech4Dev (Thisday, 2023).
Women and Challenges of Digital Skill Acquisition in Africa
Despite great advances in digitalization in recent years, women continue to face major impediments to accessing digital entrepreneurial possibilities and financial services (Skrynova, 2023). These problems are frequently complicated, encompassing a number of difficulties such as under-representation, limited access to money, a lack of technical skills, and discriminatory legal and cultural standards. According to an International Finance Corporation (IFC) report cited in Skrynova, (2023), there is a $1.5 trillion credit gap for women entrepreneurs globally, with only 16% of women entrepreneurs in poor countries able to obtain the capital they need to grow their enterprises. Similarly, Otiato, (2023) identified that the key obstacles to meaningful connectivity for women and girls are inadequate infrastructure, a lack of digital literacy for the internet and information communication technologies, and gender-related constraints on access to and control over resources. Reiterating the ugly situation, The World Bank cited Otialo (2023) claims that Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the biggest gender gaps in digitalization in the entire world, particularly on mobile internet, where over 190 million women are offline. Women are less likely to be online for a variety of reasons, including the high cost of devices and data plans, low levels of literacy, and a lack of digital competence.
Overcoming the Challenges
Gender disparities especially in digital entrepreneurship and financial inclusion are complicated issues that necessitate a diverse solution. It is very important to have a look at strategies that can be employed to address these concerns and who the key stakeholders are for successful implementation. In this regard, Skrynova, (2023), avers that emphasis must shift from finding generic solutions to addressing the specific needs of distinct communities. One method is through education. Women have greater challenges as they advance in their schooling, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, forcing many to pursue informal objectives. As a result, women have fewer income-generating opportunities and are more likely than males to endure unemployment, informal employment, or lower-paying positions. Education, on the other hand, serves as an enlightenment tool, demonstrating how providing access to resources and training programmes may improve women’s participation in economic activities. To encourage African women’s digital entrepreneurship and digital literacy in the field of artificial intelligence, for instance, the Women in Africa Initiative (WIA) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) collaborated to offer online courses in 2021. In light of the aforementioned, otiato (2023) suggests encouraging women to pursue careers in science and ICT, educating people about the digital gender gap, and advocating for legislation and regulations to safeguard women and girls. Supporting the foregoing, African Union (2019) argues that Since teachers are one of the important components in integrating ICT into education, implementing a gender-responsive teacher education programme is equally crucial. Education systems should ensure that students are adequately equipped to lead the digital revolution in education and are completely aware of the differences between men and women in the educational ecosystem. To fulfil his or her function as a change agent in education, he or she must be equipped with the essential skills in ICT and gender. This is consistent with the third strategic aim of the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16–25), which calls for enhancing the ICT skills of educational managers and administrators.
Again, it is crucial to include women who are active participants in the digital economy in the discussion of policy. Otherwise, only men will determine how women communicate, work, educate, operate businesses, administer healthcare and educate unless women have more women in leadership positions. Such women leadership positions can help other women create policies that are relevant to their needs and effective in addressing the unique problems that women face. Furthermore, it is challenging for women entrepreneurs to function in the digital sphere in many African countries where internet connection is excessively expensive. Governments must support laws that encourage more competition in the telecommunications industry and work with private sector partners to increase broadband access in unserved areas. African Union also suggested a strategic partnership between the commercial sector, civil society, and the government to scale up the various efforts already in place to draw more out-of-school girls into ICTs or STEM. There are a lot of ongoing efforts, but the majority of them are siloed. The need for partners to work together for impact in the process of reintegrating out-of-school girls has been emphasized. Moreso, in order to close the digital divide in Africa, Onyedika-Ugoeze (2023) suggests that it is important to embrace and support equity in digital innovation. In order to accomplish this, gender-sensitive technology curricula for girls at all levels of education in Africa are required, since they will foster young girls’ interest in innovations.
African women stand to benefit from the digital revolution, so Africa must make every effort to ensure that African women benefit immensely. It must put tactical measures into place that will aid the coordinated efforts in producing the desired result. All of the major participants in the African digital business must therefore be prepared. Policymakers and private sector participants in Africa’s digital domain must demonstrate a commitment to enhancing the standards for regional data use and cross-border data flows, as well as fostering stakeholder dialogue, in order to allow digital transformation. Therefore, Africa needs to take advantage of this special opportunity to truly become the next frontier of the digital revolution.
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