Photograph — The Women Technology Empowerment Centre

Gender inclusion for women cuts across all spectrums of human existence. For decades, civil society groups stood to call for inclusivity for more women in the workplace. At first, they were considered babblers, and their demands swept under the carpets until more women excelled to make a case for the critical role they could champion in decision-making processes and the wielding of power. More African women now occupy positions from which the men were often chosen and have gained influence through hard work, dedication, activism and culture.

Although women are pushing past the biases of systemic inequality to hold notable positions in society and at the workplace, the gender gap is still vast- particularly in digital inclusion. Since the millennium began, digital evolution and innovation increase has driven global economic growth. And despite this growth, African women remain digitally underserved- particularly North African women. 

According to Statista, 34% of the African female population had online access in 2022, compared to 45% of men. But currently, only about 20% of women have access to the internet in North Africa. Women who did not have access to digital training while in school, particularly the older generation, have found it challenging to adapt to digitisation. That has further limited their productivity and impact, making it difficult to raise business loans from banks. Again, the sub-region has low female participation in entrepreneurship and employment in the labour force despite the desire to work. One in two Morrocan women aged between 15-24 is unemployed. These statistics have to change to safeguard the future of the regional economy.

Some of these problems affecting women in North Africa were recently highlighted in a webinar jointly organised by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Morocco (AFEM), in commemoration of the International Women’s Day (IWD) 2023. “We are disregarding how fast North Africa is ageing. By 2050, the majority of the population in North Africa will be people age 64 and over,” said Elena Bardasi, Senior Economist at the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group. “Countries like Morocco and Tunisia are ageing faster than other countries. This means the contributions of women to these economies are critical. Not just for their empowerment but also for the well-being of the countries.”

Also commenting, Leila Doukkali, President of AFEM noted that “two-thirds of Moroccan women work in the informal sector due to family responsibilities and the need to be autonomous. They have small businesses and lack access to digital training. This digital exclusion makes it difficult for us to access and locate them so we cannot really help them or account for them.” 

According to the United Nations (UN) Women, women account for only 22 per cent of artificial intelligence workers globally. To address this menace, the UN Women and the United Nations have themed this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality, to emphasise the need for digital equality and access for the underserved female gender.

Also commenting at the webinar, Zuzana Brixiova Schwidrowski underscored the significant gender gap between women and men in digital access and internet use across Africa. Schwidrowski is the Director of the North Africa Office at UNECA. She highlighted the growing need for women to combine digital skills- soft skills- with their existing technical skills for better outcomes. “Technical skills are important but need to be in combination with soft skills. Many entrepreneurs have found that they become more productive, successful and profitable through the right combination of technical and soft skills,” Schwidrowski said. Access to digital tools would increase the socio-economic participation of more women in North Africa and on the continent. Governments and stakeholders across the African continent need to rise to the occasion to bridge gender imbalance in terms of digital access.

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