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Gender Disparities In The ICT Sector; A Threat To Women’s Livelihoods

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By Tendai  Makaripe

OVER the years, the Zimbabwean Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector has gone through a positive metamorphosis that has seen it becoming an instrumental driver of various economic sectors.

Because of this, government, through the National Development Strategy (NDS1) has vowed to make efforts to move the economy towards developing the sector.

This is meant to improve Zimbabwe’s international ranking on Country and Product Complexity which as of 2018 was 109 out of 133 countries.

The economic complexity of a country is connected to the complexity of the products that it exports.

The Product Complexity Index ranks the diversity and sophistication of the productive know-how required to produce a product.

While government efforts in advancing ICT sector are commendable, there is an elephant in the room that needs redress.

Gender disparities within the ICT sector in as far as employment is concerned leave a lot to be desired.

Researches by various information systems experts like Samuel Musungwini, and Tinashe Gwendolyn Zhou and human resources analyst, Linnet Musungwini have shown that women are less represented in ICT jobs as compared to men despite them constituting 54 percent of the population.

The International Telecommunication Union’s Resolution 70 highlights the central role that ICTs can play in the advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment but its provisions are far from being implemented in the Zimbabwean context.

This presents a challenge.

Analysts have noted that many ICT related job offers dominate the country’s job landscape but unfortunately, the bulk of these positions seem to be the preserve of men.

This is not unique to Zimbabwe.

Studies by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in 2018 showed the existence of gender divides in the digital labour market characterised by low women participation particularly in high-quality jobs and top management positions.

Information systems analyst Tinashe Zhou said there is a qualitative and quantitative imbalance in the supply of skilled labour.

“Women still participate less in the ICT sector and ICT specialist occupations than men, but their share in employment is increasing in most countries. Despite expanding ICT job opportunities, there has been a decrease in the proportion of girls entering ICT studies and pursuing ICT careers,” he said.

With the fourth industrial revolution and servicification taking shape, opportunities in the ICT sector are opening up for women but their presence is still minimal which affects their source of income and ultimately their livelihoods.

“I am a holder of a Bachelor of Commerce Honours in Information Systems completed in 2015 but I have had little luck with employment,” said Josephine Musiiwa from Marondera.

“I am struggling to make ends meet, doing menial jobs yet I am a graduate,” she added.

Human resources expert Linnet Musungwini said with the shrinking job markets in other sectors, ICT as the anchor of many development fronts presents tremendous job opportunities for all including women but getting the jobs is a challenge affecting their livelihoods.

“With the evolution and revolution happening in ICT like Cloud computing, Big Data, Ubiquitous computing and the Internet of Things, among other transformations, Information Technology related jobs are predicted to constitute a very big chunk of the job market in the not-so-distant future.

“The United Nations Development Programme opines that around 90 percent of jobs will soon require ICT skills. But for women to seize these opportunities equally as men and be able to meaningfully contribute to their personal, family, and national development, there is a need to understand the challenges faced by women in pursuing a career in ICT from school, through university, and in their work and progression in ICT companies,” she said.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for all matters related to ICT technologies, ICTs are tools through which gender equality and women’s empowerment can be advanced.

However, a myriad of challenges are affecting the girl child’s entrance into the ICT sector.

Zimbabwe is a highly patriarchal society and this poses a threat to women’s interests and advancement into the ICT sector.

In this male-dominated society, women most likely encounter cultural pressures and stereotypes that discourage them from developing the skills needed to develop the ICT workforce.

Social worker Lisa Samupita said gender stereotypes are created within families with ICT careers being given a gender label.

“Preconceived ideas of how women and men use technology remain unchanged with technology being viewed as a “boys’ toy”. With time, these stereotypes can influence their choices over time, reducing their confidence and interest in ICT and turning them away from ICT as an occupation,” she said.

The employment process needs to be revolutionised so that it is done through gender objective lenses as compared to employing gender stereotypical views.

Further to this, the recruitment and progression processes emphasise the possession of technical skills on top of academic questions.

Those with soft skills, particularly girls and women are left out to consider other career options. Some, like Amanda Dirorimwe, have settled for teaching computer science to high school students.

“It is tough out there. The competition for employment is stiff, especially for women. I applied to various banks in the country but during the interviews they made it clear that theoretical knowledge alone is not enough, asking for more practical skills outside the qualification. Few ladies have those,” she bemoaned.

These factors among others are affecting women’s desire to be employed in the ICT sector and it is something that government and other stakeholders should look into.

The challenge of building a social model based on gender equality should for now go hand in hand with targeted efforts to expand women’s access to and use of ICTs as a way to democratise information, communications and the participation of women in the generation of knowledge.

Clearworld Cleaners Chief executive officer Lancelot Mupanga said women are challenging gender stereotypes about ICTs and are demanding the right to participate in ICT employment, research and development.

“They should be given a chance to prove themselves rather than excluding them based on societal stereotypes. Women are also using ICT to build awareness and as recent events have shown so vividly joining with others to reshape history,” he said.

Executive Director of UN-Women and United Nations Under-Secretary-General Michelle Bachelet concurred with Mupanga in her address during the fifty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women where she said

“Women must be encouraged to gain equal access to ICT training and education as well as the new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities generated by these technologies.”

Zimbabwe should move towards implementing advice from outgoing SADC executive secretary Stergomena Lawrence who said: “It is important to strengthen women empowerment in the ICT sector by developing national and regional initiatives that foster participation of women and girls in the ICT sector.”