Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is a vital driver of sustainability as it addresses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 5 (SDG5).
According to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), 30 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s STEM researchers are women. Meanwhile globally, women account for more than half (53%) of bachelor’s and master’s degree graduates and 43% of PhD graduates. However, only 28% of researchers in all fields are women. Of those in higher education, only 30% move into STEM-related fields. The gender digital gap, especially in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) areas, persists today. By not bridging this gap education gains and progress for women will continue to be disproportionately under-represented.
On 22 April 2021, the world celebrated International Girls in ICT Day under the theme: ‘Connected Girls, Creating Brighter Futures’. This day is set aside by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to build awareness about the gender digital divide, support technology education and skills training, and encourage more girls to actively pursue careers in STEM.
What is the digital divide?
The digital divide, or technology gap, according to Plan International, it is the difference between groups with access to technology and the internet and those without.
Girls and women often have less access to technology and the internet compared to boys and men, particularly in developing countries. In addition, stereotypes around technology being ‘for boys’ and fear of being discriminated against stop girls from using digital tools.
What is the impact of the gender digital divide?
Women in developing countries lack access to digital technology especially in the time of COVID-19 where ICT have been invaluable.
Without equal access to technology and the internet, girls and women are not able to equally participate in the digital societies. SANBio interviewed a group of women and girls who are making strides in ICT and breaking barriers and smashing stereotypes and this is what they had to say:
Zulaykha Bibi Amreena Doobory, an Electronics with Computer Science graduate from University of Mauritius. Zulaykha works as a Software Analyst and is also an Executive Engineering Representative - University of Mauritius IET OnCampus.
“Technology empowers and crushes patriarchal hierarchies. .Girls in technology are seen masculine and therefore less desirable. This has shoved girls away from the ICT sector making it a male dominated one.. “COVID 19 however has had the societal pyramid tilted. Half the population and a significant amount of the workforce being segregated from this sector.”
Tlamelo Makati, a Mechatronics Engineering Graduate from Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). Tlamelo is working as a research lead for an Agritech start-up in Botswana.
“The lack of access to the internet and reliable Wi-Fi, especially in rural areas is responsible for the gender digital gap. Improvement in the provision of free internet access and the construction of tech centers in rural areas can help reduce the gender digital gap. COVID-19 has affected the youth, especially women, their worry is always their next meal and not what the world is doing in terms of technological advancements.”
“Technology is a tool that can provide amazing opportunities for girls, especially in Africa. One of my goals in life is to help bridge the gender divide in tech by inspiring girls and helping girls access these tools more freely. I am a member of Girl Up Blantyre and I recently became involved in facilitating counselling career sessions, not only that, but I am also a Southern African Diplomat for the Embrace..”
To read more comments on the gender digital divide from young Africans, please visit our Facebook page.
SANBio inspires the girl-child to pursue careers in STEM through our FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme,
19% of the participants in season 1 & 2 were in the health and biotechnology sector. Through our Student Ambassador programme, we promote student engagement, involvement and participation in biosciences related programmes in the region.