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Women in ICT

Written by Stephanie Mkalama

I was recently reflecting on Kenya’s vision 2030, and one of the key pillars the government of Kenya hopes to use to achieve this vision is the economic pillar, which has business process off-shoring and information technology enable services in it among other ‘sub-pillars’, if I may call them that. In this grand vision, they are establishing Konza City, which will be Kenya’s Silicon Valley. The vision is ambitious, and aims to propel Kenya to middle-income country status.

It’s no surprise that the government sees ICT as the obvious engine for this growth: We have one of the most successful mobile money systems in the developing world, 36.1 million mobile subscribers and 47% of the Kenyan population is online.

However, women, who constitute more than half of the population, continue to lag behind in their use of technology, meaning there are an increasing number of missed opportunities for them to benefit from Kenya’s development.

At the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) launch of the digital gender gap audit score card for Kenya the country’s score was overall 30 percent, with its worst deficits being internet access and women’s empowerment and digital skills and education. This is a worrying factor, if I daresay, and being in the ICT field myself, this doesn’t auger well with me. In this fast – paced world, and ICT gradually becoming the core of any development in a country, women cannot afford to lag behind in ICT. If we are to be involved in key – decision making process, we also need to be abreast of the core factors that drive change in an economy and the world at large.

But for this to happen we need to start changing our mind-set; change begins from within before it can be seen from without. Creating an empowering environment for women to venture into ICT careers as professionals requires that families deconstruct gender stereotypes and roles in society. They need to support girls and women to make informed choices about their careers in ICT – careers that do not perpetuate so called ‘sex-appropriate roles’. Gender bias, sex role socialization and general discrimination against women are so entrenched in Kenyan society that individuals (men and women, including policy makers, leaders, and students) think discrimination of women in society in general and in work places in particular is ‘natural’.

Engendering the policy environment in important sectors like education and labour, and in workplaces and general socialization, is one of the strategies of shifting people’s thinking and reducing gender discrimination in the ICT sector, thereby making it more attractive to women who contemplate entering the sector as professionals.

The Kenya government, and relevant ministries such as education, gender, youth, planning, finance and communication, need to put in place policy and legal frameworks that will empower young girls from an early age to change their mind-set about careers and employment and allow for freedom of choice. Without this only a minority of women will be in a position to draw upon their families, their motivation and their determination to counter gender discrimination and participate in all sectors toward the development of the country.

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