As the world over marked another International Women’s Day on March 8, Kenyan women were treated to a plethora of well-meaning messages and quotes lauding their importance and relevance.
However, this will ensue in the midst of the growing adversity of a seemingly illusive political and economic landscape endowed with delayed promises and heart-breaking realities.
The theme of International Women’s Day 2023 focuses on Innovation and technology for gender equality and is happening concurrently with the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. The UN figures indicate that women in tech makes up only 22 per cent of the world.
Kenya just like many other sub Saharan countries is nursing the after-effects of an unprecedented prolonged drought, coupled by a high cost of living and an accelerated inflation rate of 9.2 per cent.
These realities make it challenging for women to fully celebrate. In addition to exacerbated existing inequalities, post-Covid poverty, unemployment and deeply entrenched racial divides, life has simply conspired against women, so it appears.
Feminists working at the intersections of the digital divide and social justice are keenly aware of the ensuing challenges in the digital space. They are making their views known at the ongoing meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York organised by the Commission on Status of Women.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres noted that promoting women’s full contribution to technology is not an act of charity or favour to women but a win for all.
Guterres noted with concern that the progress in women’s rights seems to be losing traction.
“Gender equality is 300 years away. Let’s push back against misogyny! Women and girls will not be silenced,” the UN boss stated.
Speaking at the New York summit Memory Kachambwa the Executive Director at the African women’s Development and communication Network (FEMNET) reiterated that access is a luxury for many women and girls in rural African areas.
“While it is important to spotlight the gains women have made, it is quintessential to also highlight their relived realities and struggles in the digital era,” said Kachambwa.
“We need to have critical conversations that interrogate achievements in gender equality. Government leaders need to use gender data in their analysis and must be intentional about investing in gender equality solutions,” stated Kachambwa.
Sima Bahous the Executive Director of the UN Women said, “We must close the gender digital divide. Every member of society, especially the most marginalised, must have equal access to digital skills and services.”
Take the case of agriculture for example, where in Kenya, the Ministry of Agriculture figures shows the sector is under the control of women at 68 per cent who make up rural farmers. Digital inclusion would so much support women farmers boost their productivity and hence ability to feed families and the nation.
According to Venter Mwongera, an advocacy advisor at the African Biodiversity Foundation, digital technologies can improve the livelihoods of women farmers and increase their access to information and markets.
In the context of seed saving, for example, Mwongera said digital technologies can help women farmers to exchange and access information about indigenous seeds and their conservation. In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of digital technologies in agriculture in Africa.
“For instance, mobile phones have been used to connect farmers with markets and to access weather information,” said Mwongera.
In 2020, Dr Akiwumi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank noted that digital platforms such as social media and WhatsApp groups have also been used to share information about agricultural practices and to connect farmers with buyers.
However, the adoption of digital technologies in agriculture has been uneven, with women farmers being left behind.
Away from the digital space more than 18.8 million Kenyans remain at risk of acute hunger. A significant fraction of this are women residing in arid and semi-arid lands counties. They include Kilifi, Mandera, Marsabit, Samburu, Turkana, Wajir, Isiolo, Kitui and Kajiado.
The sharp rise of the cost of living leaves a bitter sweet reality for women to discern in a day they are meant to be jubilant.
However, if the government makes good on its short-term promises and sends food, scales up cash transfers, and provide supplementary feeding the most impoverished persons, then women may have something to smile about.
That notwithstanding, best long-term strategy would be for the government to enact policies and support programmes that reduce the insistent gender gap in digital access that continue to keep women from unlocking technology’s full potential.
Women underrepresentation in Science, Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) is also a cause for concern.
As we mark this important day for women, let us pose for a moment and reflect on what Kenya and the world would look like if women got their rightful place in the adigital space.
[Henry Neondo a communications expert also contributed to this story]