LEVERAGING ON MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY TO ACHIEVE GEN-
DER EQUALITY GOALS: A KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY HER
EXCELLENCY, THE WIFE OF THE GOVERNOR OF ONDO STATE,
ARABINRIN BETTY ANYANWU-AKEREDOLU AT THE UNITED NA-
TIONS COMMISSION ON STATUS OF WOMEN (UNCWS)
TECH4DEV SIDE EVENT, NEW YORK.
I am most delighted and honoured to give this keynote speech on the very important issue of gender equality which has continued to gain traction the world over in recent years. I want to specially appreciate the organizers of this event for taking up the global challenge posed by the “gender digital di-
vide” especially in developing countries including my country Nigeria.
Before I continue, I will like to read a quote by the Former United Nations Secretary General, Late Kofi Annan, from his statement to the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva:
“The so-called digital divide is actually several gaps in one. There is a technological divide-great gaps
in infrastructure………. There is a gender divide, with women and girls enjoying less access to information technology than men and boys. This can be true of rich and poor countries alike”.
It has been over 18 years since the renowned former UN Secretary General made this assertion and only little progress has been made towards bridging the gender gap in almost every sphere of life including the field of Information and Communication technology (ICT). We can easily identify two distinct but yet intertwined lacunas from the above statement: a gender gap and a digital gap.
The problem of gender inequality in Nigeria, just like every other typically patriarchal African society dates back to decades and centuries. While it cannot be said that gender inequality does not exist in more developed countries like the United States and Canada, patriarchy and gender inequality seem to be very sensitive topics in Africa because they are enshrined in religious beliefs and unfavourable cultural practices. Little wonder African women wallow in negative disparities in health, economy, politics and indeed technology in comparison to their counterparts from developed countries. It is sad to acknowledge that this is the 21st Century and Nigerian women are still considered to be only subordinates to men, and better fit to be home keepers and child bearers.
The digital divide borders around disparities in access to information and communication technology
between people of divergent backgrounds, ethnicity, age or sex. Right from the inception of the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), the urgency to ensure that the benefits of media and new technologies, especially ICT are made available to all have been highlighted. Undoubtedly, some progress have been made in increasing ICT access for all, more still remains to be done in Africa due to
the dynamic nature of ICT as it relates to everyday life including redefining employment and work.
As I have mentioned earlier, this compound “gender digital divide” shows how closely related are gender equality and ICT and the duality of the possibilities of how ICT can be used to solve or worsen the problem of gender inequality. In clearer terms, media and technology can be used to bridge the gender inequality gap, the choice is ours.
How can we then use technology to bridge the gender inequality gap?
Technology in its various forms will continue to redefine our everyday life including job descriptions and employment. The link between technology and gender equality has been established in Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with one of its targets focused on utilizing technology and ICT to achieve women’s and girls’ empowerment.
The work environment today has been redefined by the use of ICT. It has been estimated that 90 percent of future jobs will require ICT skills, and 2 million new jobs will be created in the computer,
mathematical, architectural and engineering fields.
ICT presents a reliable platform for women and girls to change their perspectives. Gender-sensitive
ICT provides technologies from mobile phones to computers for more women and girls and offers them ways to access information. When a girl child receives computer training before she turns 13, she is better positioned to pursue a career in ICT and has a better chance of securing employment.
Nowadays, governments are investing in e-projects in a number of sectors such as online registration for examinations, land purchase, vehicle licence registration and renewal, voter’s registration and banking. This digital trend which will continue in years to come presents an opportunity for equal representation for both men and women but requires a deliberate and conscious effort to provide ICT education for women and girls especially in rural communities.
What we need to do?
First, I must commend the several initiatives and efforts of the United Nations and other organizations working to break gender stereotypes and ensuring that boys and girls are able to compete for jobs on a more equal footing in the future. However, there is yet more to be done, especially in developing countries like Nigeria where gender biases are more predominant.
I commend the “GirlsGoIT” program of the Republic of Moldova that teaches girls digital, IT and entrepreneurial skills and specifically promotes positive role models using video. I also commend the
“Mozilla Clubs” for women and girls in Kenya and South Africa that teach basic coding and digital literacy skills in safe spaces.
I am proud to acknowledge the first Coding Academy in Rwanda: “Born to code” which focuses on training young girls and boys on cyber security and software programming.
It is noteworthy to mention that the pioneer set of the premier Coding Academy enrolled an equal number of male and
female students. Indeed, it can be said that Africa now better understands gender equality and how it can affect sustainable development.
Back home in Nigeria, through my Foundation, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu
Foundation (BAAF), and with support from our partners, we have initiated a program called “Solar and ICT for Girls Naija” which is aimed at mainstreaming gender in the fields of ICT and solar renewable energy. Since 2017, we have trained about 750 young girls from humble backgrounds in rural communities to learn, appreciate and install solar energy in their schools and homes. Our girls have also been trained on basic computer literacy and coding including the use of a number of computer software packages in addition to receiving a free brand new laptop for continuous practice. In a two-week summer bootcamp, our solar girls as they are fondly called were also trained on entrepreneurial skills and engaged in other health promoting activities.
Fast forward to 2019, the impact has been remarkable. Time will not permit me
to give individual testimonies of giant strides each solar girl has made in her
community. Nevertheless, I must mention the efforts of Marvellous Jegede, a 14 years old solar girl from the 2018 edition who got inspired even before the end of the bootcamp as her eyes beamed with excitement and her head with ideas on how to replicate what she had learned in her community. It will interest you to know that few weeks after training, Marvellous successfully installed solar power in her home and is now working on replicating the same in her school. In just two years, our “Solar and ICT 4 Girls
Naija” has gained international recognition with one of the solar girls, Tolu
Ehimosun receiving a nomination in the just concluded Global Energy Award in Iran.
Programs and initiatives such as those described above are exactly what we must invest in if we want to achieve the goal of gender equality. I can
confidently tell you that my solar girls have become more interested in engineering and ICT fields and are prepared to favourably compete with their
male counterparts for work in years to come. We must strive to break stereotypes that suggest that a girl is less intelligent and capable than a boy and hence less likely to pursue STEM subjects that are often perceived as ‘hard’ through school and even beyond.
The importance of breaking such stereotypes at an early age is obvious because such perceptions follow boys and girls alike into adulthood. The less ICT compliant woman of today started out as a
young girl of yesterday, who was made to believe that she was not as smart as other boys her age. She would naturally take a step backward and fail to develop any form of interest in the so-called technical
subjects. If indeed ICT will shape the future of work and employment, we must therefore invest in efforts to teach women of all social classes the skills they will need to take full advantage of technological advances.
Let me conclude with 5 lessons from the Global Fund for Women’s Initiative; IGNITE: Women fueling science and technology. If we must be able to leverage media and technology to achieve the goal
of gender equality, we must:
Get women and girls involved in the global energy revolution
Change the narrative and celebrate women in leadership
Get girls started early
Get everyone involved, and
Find and support change makers.
Finally, no nation can achieve sustainable development in societal frameworks where the roles of women are not considered. Everyone in this hall today has been working to achieve gender equality
one way or the other. We have all done a lot individually and collectively. However, there is much more we can achieve together. We cannot afford to slack or relent. We must continue to champion the
cause of women globally and take good advantage of media and technology to achieve our goal.
The time to act is now.
Thank you for listening.
Arabinrin Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu
Wife of the Governor of Ondo State &
Founder, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu Foundation (BAAF)