Africa’s economy isn’t exploiting its growth potential. Between 2021 and 2022, GDP growth fell from 4.8 per cent to 3.8 per cent, and projections for this year suggest they won’t make up the difference. While a myriad of factors (from climate change to global pandemics) contribute to these losses, one cause often goes unacknowledged: African states have neglected their largest untapped resource—women.
Gender inequality can be traced to cultural beliefs which hinder women’s inclusion socially, politically, and economically. For Africa to truly advance, gender inequality must be eradicated in all of its forms, from equal access to education to economic opportunities like resources, funding, mentorship, and training.
Technology is the engine of economic expansion. Technological progress does not just affect productivity directly but also bootstraps science by giving it more powerful tools. Despite the effort by tech companies to keep up with the rapid growth of the labour market, women are still sorely underrepresented in technology roles.
But African countries have to start somewhere. Advancements in technology create new opportunities for women to participate and contribute to the nation’s economic progress. According to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), tackling the global gender gap would boost the global GDP by $12 million by 2025. African leaders need to prioritise investment in digital skills, entrepreneurship training, and mentorship for African women to boost their social and economic impact.
Ensuring that women learn digital skills would promote their cross-representation and achievement, challenge gender stereotypes, cultivate leadership skills, and positively impact their communities. These benefits have pushed more women toward the tech field, sparking innovation and businesses such as Healthtracka, a successful female-led tech business in Toronto created by Ifeoluwa Dare-Johnson, a beneficiary of the business accelerator program funded by First Check Africa. Such opportunities and access to technology must be expanded in African countries.
An International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 2020 and United Nations Women report stated only about 17 per cent of women are less likely to access the internet than men, and yet the majority of those who lack access to the internet are female. The African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy sets a goal to ensure digital inclusion for every African by 2030. To achieve this, constant efforts must be made to help African women and girls participate in the digital economy and foster a technologically enabling environment.
African Leaders should ensure women have equal opportunities and access to technology resources and platforms. Although the number of women in STEM programs has increased from 8 per cent in 1970 to about 27 per cent in 2023, there is still a long way to go. There is a need to prioritise investment in STEM education for women and girls, as well as digital literacy programs. By ensuring equal access to STEM programs, we can begin to empower women with the knowledge and abilities necessary to succeed in the digital economy. Public funds like the Universal Service and Access Funds (USAFs) are mechanisms that can be used to improve the digital gender gap.
Through local and international collaboration, African countries can establish digital platforms designed to narrow the gender digital divide. One great example of such collaboration is the Ingressive for Good 1000 Women in Design Scholarships which aims at bridging the gender gap in the design sector. Gathering best practices, exchanging knowledge, and learning from successful initiatives in other parts of the world can enhance the progress of more innovative solutions tailored towards solving the issue of gender stereotypes in Africa.
Increasing financial incentives and support, equipping females with the required tech skills, such as workshops, mentorship, and tech activities at a very early age would help boost their self-confidence and also promote economic independence and inclusion. This digital upskilling would help empower women, especially in STEM, and direct them toward future job skill requirements in their area of interest.
Using technology as a tool to close the gender inequality gap would not just benefit women and girls, but would also advance Africa in all spheres. The gender disparity significantly impacts continental wealth overall, and leaders must take significant strides to bridge that divide and improve Africa’s economic performance.