We are living in the digital age – that’s a given. Yet much of our gender practices and thinking in the technology space is lagging far behind. Women remain underrepresented in technology industries, and this is particularly so in South Africa.
The unemployment rate of young South Africans (under 25 years old) is sitting just under 70%, which is frightening. This has a lot to do with the lack of access to technology that a majority of our country experiences and this, coupled with the massive gender disparities we see in the business sector in general, does not bode well once we dive into the technology industry (which has long been male-dominated).
It is also often an unspoken belief that a woman is less capable of committing herself completely to a career when she is responsible for far more as a mother and/or a wife. What’s overlooked here is a woman’s entrepreneurial tendencies, and given the chance she is able to deliver the same, if not better, results than her male counterparts.
Women in IT on the decline
According to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, only 13% of SA graduates in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields are women, despite the country being ranked 19th out of 144 countries. In addition to this, the percentage of women in the local IT sector has declined from a level of 40% of professionals in the 1980s to where we now see only 21% of ICT jobs are held by women. With so much to be said about gender equality and women’s value in the workplace today, how is it possible that these numbers continue to decrease?
Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, Minister of communication, believes it is important to encourage young women to consider careers in the ICT sector.
Speaking at the Regional Gender Sensitisation Workshop that was held in partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature earlier this year, Kubayi-Ngubane said “With the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, women empowerment is no longer an option. We need to enact policies that will ensure there is increased and affordable access to Internet connectivity.”
The greatest resource
With these stats in mind, we ask the question, why does South Africa need women in the ICT industry? To simplify it; women are the greatest resource any country has. Providing encouragement and opportunity for girls and women in science and engineering is one the most powerful ways of harnessing this resource for the development of the country. Educate a woman, and you educate the next generation.
A lot of the time women who are working in ICT and doing amazing things, fly under the radar. A great example of these women is, courtesy of the UN Women, Reem El-Dabbagh who is working on developing a web application which provides various online services for survivors of violence in Gaza; or Nandini Chami who is working on policy research and advocacy at the intersection of ICTs, gender equality, and development, at IT for Change, an NGO based in Bengaluru, India. These women are our tech heroes.