The Symposium began with remarks from A4AI’s Head of Africa, Onica N. Makwakwa, and Nnenna Nwakanma, Chief Web Advocate at the Web Foundation. Nnenna discussed how the vision for technology is that it should be used for overall good and be for everyone, but she pointed out that the technology we have today is not doing this.
#TechWomenAfrica Share Your Journey
Siphokazi Feke, CEO and Founder of Brainave Medical Group, stated that people would be unable to provide the entire range of healthcare services required without the internet. When there is connectivity, communities and medical teams can manage crises and cooperate with colleagues across Africa. She also noted how the internet enables businesses to scale up by allowing them to operate in multiple countries.
Launch of A4AI and Web Foundation Report Costs of Exclusion
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former executive director of UN Women and founder of the Umlambo Foundation, launched the latest A4AI and Web Foundation report Costs of Exclusion. Phumzile emphasised that the internet enables women to create businesses, foster connections, and build skills and knowledge. However, for many women, the internet and digital connectivity remain out of reach. This report calculates the economic cost of this digital inequality in 32 low and middle-income countries and finds that the consequences are enormous. Phumzile highlighted key findings of the report that showed over the past decade, the digital gender gap has cost low and lower-middle income countries an estimated USD $1 trillion in lost gross domestic product (GDP). She went on to state that in “2015 the world agreed on 17 ambitious global goals to build a better future. Whether on health, climate or the economy, we will not meet these goals until we tackle gender inequality. And we will not achieve gender equality until we eliminate this digital gap that keeps so many women offline and away from the opportunities the internet provides.”
Claiming the Tech
Mandisa Khanyile, Founding Director of Rise-Up Against GBV shared how women in South Africa used the internet to mobilize a movement that resulted in 32 synchronized marches across the country to demand strategic intervention from the government to end the scourge of violence.
The Women’s Right Network
Muthoni Muriithi, Senior Gender Policy Manager, began her presentation with videos from five members of the women’s online rights (WRO) network, in which each spoke about women’s rights issues online in their respective countries. Muthoni went on to explain that it’s critical to understand not just the data surrounding the digital gender gap but also how people use the internet because data alone doesn’t always help us grasp the nuances of people’s online experiences.
According to research conducted by the WRO network, women are more concerned about privacy than men and are often much more aware of the dangers one can face online. Muthoni also stated that many times women are unable to find content online that is relevant to them or in the language they speak, limiting the ability of rural women and marginalised communities to connect.
Fireside Chat: Claiming Space, Moving Barriers, Advancing Online Gender Equality
Neema Iyer, Founder of Pollicy, Bulanda Nkhowani, Programme Officer at Paradigm, Amel Fahmy, Co-Founder of HarassMap and Managing Director at Tadwein, and Patricia Nyasuna, Program Officer Gender and ICT at WOUGNET participated in the fireside chat. Muthoni Muriithi, Senior Gender Policy Manager, moderated this session.
Neema emphasised that platforms are not designed with the African woman user in mind, and as a result, “we must reimagine what a digital future can look like, because if we don’t decide what we want, others will”. Finally Neema stated that “we must reimagine a feminist African digital future”. Bulanda presented findings from the Paradigm Initiative, which revealed that more than half of all women and girls have been harassed online in Nigeria, and despite this law enforcement does not take cyberbullying and harassment seriously. As a result, there is a lack of reporting of online violence, indicating the need for more support and recognition for victims of online gender-based violence. Amel discussed HarassMap, a website that allows women to report street harassment and generates a map that shows all reported cases and where they occurred. She went on to discuss her recent research on female-led online businesses, which revealed that many women started an online business during the pandemic but were not given the skills necessary to successfully manage all aspects of the business. Finally, Patricia discussed how access alone is insufficient, and that women require online agency and capacity and that working with policymakers to understand and implement online gender policy is critical to building this capacity.
In this session, one of the Symposium participants, Ruth Kodam, shared how she has been helping women to get information online about reproductive health and how the impact of this work has gone beyond their national borders of Ghana to include women globally. She calls on midwives to come online and help close the information gap regarding maternity so as to stem off related mortalities.
A4AI’s Head of Africa Onica Makwakwa, closed off day one with the powerful statement that “we must work to dismantle the structures that have put us in a position of disadvantage online. We have to commit to challenging the systemic drivers that keep women offline.”