Gender inclusion for women crosses all spectrums of human existence. For decades, civil society groups have advocated inclusion for more women in the workplace. Initially viewed as chatterboxes, their demands were swept under the rug until more women stepped forward to advocate for the vital role they could uphold in decision-making processes and the exercise of power. More African women are now occupying positions from which the men were often chosen and have gained influence through hard work, dedication, activism and culture.
While women are pushing past the biases of systemic inequality to occupy notable positions in society and the workplace, the gender gap is still huge, especially in digital inclusion. Since the turn of the millennium, digital evolution and the increase in innovation have driven global economic growth. And despite this growth, African women remain digitally underserved, especially North African women.
According to Statistics, 34% of the African female population had online access by 2022, compared to 45% of males. But currently only about 20% of women have access to the internet in North Africa. Women who did not have access to digital training at school, especially the older generation, found it challenging to adapt to digitalisation. That has further limited their productivity and impact, making it difficult to get business loans from banks. Again, the sub-region has low female participation in entrepreneurship and employment in the workforce despite a desire to work. One in two Moroccan women between the ages of 15 and 24 is unemployed. These statistics must change to secure the future of the regional economy.
Some of these issues facing women in North Africa were recently highlighted in a webinar co-hosted by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Morocco (AFEM), commemorating of the 2023 International Women’s Day (IWD). “We ignore how fast North Africa is ageing. By 2050, the majority of the population in North Africa will be aged 64 and over,” says Elena Bardasi, Senior Economist at the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group. “Countries such as Morocco and Tunisia are aging faster than other countries. This means that women’s contributions to these economies are critical. Not only for their empowerment, but also for the well-being of the countries.”
Leila Doukkali, president of AFEM also noted that “two thirds of Moroccan women work in the informal sector due to family responsibilities and the need to be autonomous. They have small businesses and have no access to digital training. This digital exclusion makes it difficult for us to access and locate them, so we can’t really help or account for them.”
According to United Nations (UN) women, women make up just 22 percent of artificial intelligence workers worldwide. To counter this threat, UN Women and the United Nations have chosen International Women’s Day (IWD) as the theme this year. DigitALL: innovation and technology for gender equality, to emphasize the need for digital equality and access for the underserved female gender.
Zuzana Brixiova Schwidrowski, who also commented on the webinar, underlined the significant gender gap between women and men in digital access and internet use across Africa. Schwidrowski is the director of the North Africa office at UNECA. She highlighted the growing need for women to combine digital skills – soft skills – with their existing technical skills for better results. “Technical skills are important, but must be combined with soft skills. Many entrepreneurs have found that they become more productive, successful and profitable with the right combination of technical and soft skills,” said Schwidrowski. Access to digital tools would increase the socio-economic participation of more women in North Africa and on the continent. Governments and stakeholders across the African continent should seize the opportunity to bridge the gender imbalance in digital access.