In this year's International Women's Day, we celebrate the theme of "DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality," which emphasizes the role of technology and innovation in promoting gender equality and addressing the health and developmental needs of women and girls.
In recent years, there has been a deliberate and appropriate shift from capacity building to decision-making, where women are increasingly taking leadership roles and making decisions that impact their lives and communities. However, women and girls continue to face barriers to accessing technology and innovation, which limits their opportunities for leadership and decision-making.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital technology in promoting gender equality, particularly in the areas of health and education. The most recent draft statistics from the South African Households survey points to the disproportionate amoutn of girl children who were forced to stay out of school due to "domestic responsibilities". This divide is compounded by a lack of equitable access to technology and (in this instance) thus education. It also presents significant boundaries to accessing health services and other essential resources.
Digital technology has also played a crucial role in promoting gender equality in the workplace. It has democratised the workplace by allowing employees to work remotely and flexibly, which has enabled them to balance their work and family responsibilities more effectively. Digital technology has also facilitated the sharing of knowledge and skills, enabling more women to take on leadership roles and make decisions that impact their organizations and communities.
One way in which the theme of "DigitALL" is relevant in Africa is that it highlights the role of innovative technology in expanding access to resources and opportunities for women and girls. For instance, with the rise of mobile technology and internet connectivity, women in remote or underserved areas can now access critical health information, financial services, and educational resources, which were previously unavailable to them. This has significant implications for women's empowerment and their ability to make informed decisions about their lives and futures.
One such example is the Mama Money mobile money platform, which enables women in South Africa and other African countries to send and receive money using their mobile phones, without the need for a bank account. This has empowered many women who previously relied on informal and often unsafe means of transferring money, such as sending cash with friends or family members.
Moreover, the Mama Money platform has enabled women to participate in the formal economy by facilitating payments for goods and services, receiving salaries, and accessing credit. This, in turn, has improved their economic well-being and given them greater control over their finances.
In the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), the Mama Money platform is an example of how innovative technology can be leveraged to promote gender equality and financial inclusion for women. By using mobile technology and digital platforms, women in underserved areas can access financial services that were previously out of reach, thus enabling them to participate more fully in the economy and improve their livelihoods.
A public health example is an organization like the Praekelt Foundation who have been using mobile technology to deliver essential health information to women and girls. Through their MomConnect program, pregnant women and new mothers can receive crucial health information and support via SMS and WhatsApp, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status. This has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it has provided a safe and accessible way for women to access health resources and information.
This year's International Women's Day theme of "DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality" highlights the crucial role that technology and innovation play in promoting gender equality and meeting the health and developmental needs of women and girls.
As we continue to navigate the hangover challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and work towards a more equitable future, it is essential that we prioritize digital technology as a tool for advancing gender equality and empowering all.
This is how we #GrowZA