Women and ICT policy making processes

Over the last 40 years, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen a great increase in population. Generally speaking, Africa has the second highest population in the world. Currently the continent is populated by 1,246,504,865 billion occupants, about 16.6% of the global population. Nearly half of this population are women and yet only 23.6% of National Parliamentary seats in Sub- Saharan Africa are held by women leaving about 76.4% for men. In most countries on the continent, women are still unable to be a part of decision making processes even some as simple as voting/ electing local community leaders or decision making in a home. This is due to a number of factors including; limiting cultural beliefs including in-grained traditional gender roles, limited or no knowledge and awareness of their rights and responsibilities as citizens and many other reasons. 

As a result, all sectors continue to be deprived of realistic solutions to everyday challenges that affect all citizens but especially women and other marginalized groups. The ICT sector has become a vital one as ICTs and in particular the internet is a cross cutting innovation. The governance of the internet and its exploration are relatively new concepts to many parts of the world and in particular to Africa. As a result, these concepts have not fully been appreciated, so much so that the inclusion in imperative processes that make up these concepts have exhibited some serious gaps. One of these vital components is the gender aspect in decision making processes. Whether we are talking about inclusion in numbers, content, or formation of working frameworks, gender is often a missing yet vital component. 

In what would have seemed like an extended discussion from the Gender internet governance exchange (Gigx) to the African School on internet governance (AfriSIG) and finally to the African Internet Governance Forum(AfIGF) in 2016, on the State of Internet governance on the continent, there seemed to be indications that Africa is sidelined at the global Internet Governance negotiating table. This perhaps among many reasons is because of the lack of proper representation both in numbers and experience. Such a space as the AfIGF offers an opportunity for Africa to be present and a part of discussions at a global stage and in a borderless space, on the potential for digital solutions to the challenges that affect the continent. It allows for stakeholders to contribute to addressing Africa’s needs and share the continent’s experiences including those that accommodate and embrace the complex diversities in our different spheres of life. However, even such a critical space and discussions still lack a gender component. 

In a press release on women’s day observance in March 2006, former UN secretary General, Kofi Annan stated that “Women’s role in decision making is central to the progress of human kind”. He further noted, a fact that still stands true in 2017, that more than 10 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), there was still far to go in ensuring that half of the world's population took up its rightful place in the world's decision-making.  Even though, the international community is finally beginning to understand that women are every bit if not often affected as any man, by the challenges facing humanity in the twenty first century including those in virtual space, there are still huge obvious gaps in decision influencing processes in these spaces.  He pointed out strongly that “it is right and, indeed, necessary that women should be engaged in decision making in every area” including internet Governance, with equal strength and in equal numbers. 

On the same occasion, the undersecretary General for Communication and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor pointed out that equal representation also meant the impact of women as senior leaders and the way they generated change by presenting visionary and pragmatic solutions to challenges. In this case, when discussing the internet and devising solutions to address issues like affordability or accessibility among others, women should be consulted considering existing evidence in research findings that indicate, they are at a greater disadvantage in this digital age. They should be consulted because a lot of what exists in the reality of our lives is beginning to have life in virtual spaces. Development sectors, both public and private are transitioning and beginning to favor e-sector models and technology to enable efficiency. A great chunk of the world population is left out of these transitions if solutions to challenges facing driving innovations behind these transitions do not accommodate their views or tailor-made solution ns by them and for them.

As we come closer to the 6th African internet Governance Forum 2017, we should rethink some of the consultation dialogues designed to share experiences and address challenges in the ICT - innovation sector. We should consider that the African continent has the youngest population in the world (youth) and the second largest population in the world, half of whom are women. It is for this major reasons that we should cater for these populations in our discussions at such forums especially considering that the impacts of this evolving sector will affect them the most and ultimately create even more gaps and shortcomings in systems designed to encourage progress and development in all facets of our lives. 

Article by,

Susan Atim 

Program Assistant, Information Sharing and Networking.

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