What if we get the unconnected in Africa connected?

Sonwabise Mzinyathi, Chair of the South African Women in ICT Forum

SONWABISE MZINYATHI – We have seen how a smartphone with data has changed the world of trading for women in rural areas across the continent. Connectivity has broken down border barriers, enabling women to trade, buy, make deals and get finance regardless of where they are in the world with the click of a button. We therefore cannot slow down our efforts to drive connectivity for women in the rural areas.

For far too long, women have suffered from lower access to markets. Connectivity can change this as it has the potential to level the playing field changing the face of access and trade. According to the GMSA, African women are more likely to start a business more than any other women in the world and access to connectivity would grow our participation in the economy whether through smallholder farming, agricultural output, or goods and services.

Unfortunately we will not realize these opportunities if we do not address structural barriers for women in rural areas. We need to address equal access to operating networks, quality infrastructure, energy, resources and labour saving technology. We also cannot talk about challenges for women in rural areas without acknowledging cultural conflicts that have proven to be additional barriers for women and girls in rural areas such as child marriage, lack of opportunities for education because the education for the boy child is more of a priority than of that of the girl child in some regions within our continent, conflict, abuse and gender-based violence to name a few. Read more….

These barriers are exasperated when women are excluded from leadership, leading to underrepresentation, and a diminished voice, agency and little to no decision-making power.

Of the total rural population across the continent, a large portion of it is made up of women and girls. We will not realise the full potential of women and girls, nor achieve gender equality, at the exclusion of real structural changes in the rural areas, notwithstanding the real challenges of food and hunger, poverty and critical education and health systems.

Policy plays a big part of connecting the unconnected. The lack of sound administrative and managerial capabilities, bureaucratic bottlenecks, political uncertainty, delays in the finalisation of critical policies and instability has stifled the potential progress Africa could make in this area. Admittedly there has also been the challenge of insufficient data to drive informed policy making decisions in Africa. According to the World Bank, Africa generates just 1% of the world’s data meaning many governments across Africa have to make policy essentially blind, which is a topic all on its own.

To be effective, policy change that is going to ensure sustained high growth must be inclusive both in the process of formulation and in its implementation. It should also be underpinned by a growth strategy that drives equity and inclusiveness intended to not leave anyone behind including rural areas across Africa. I must also state that making great policies is only part of the battle. Great policies must also be efficiently and effectively implemented and administered.

And if done right, connectivity can lead to new economic, entrepreneurial and educational opportunities for women and girls in the rural areas creating real prospects for sustainable social and personal change and a more inclusive economic growth, where we begin to close the inequality gap and opportunities for growth and economic participation are shared more equally.

Sonwabise Mzinyathi is Chair of the South African Women in ICT Forum. 

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