As the World celebrates International Women’s Day 2023, We recognize that our lives currently resonate around strong technological integration driven by many ICT innovations. We interface with technology every minute looking at the way we do business, attend classes, talk to our loved ones, make money transactions, or book a medical appointment. Everything is inclined to some digital process. The question here is how inclusive is this change and how is it affecting the daily lives of our women and girls.
According to United Nations, over 37 percent of women do not use the Internet whereas 259 million fewer women have access to the Internet than men, even though they account for nearly half the world’s population. In Africa, particularly Uganda, access to the internet is largely affected by the limited coverage of the internet especially, in rural areas, coupled with a very high cost of the internet compared to other East African Countries. With such a scenario, women are left behind as far as the uptake and use of ICT-based innovations since they are not only financially challenged but lack the basic skills for usage.
While the Government of Uganda through efforts such as the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Program, and many other interventions from different actors, a small percentage of women have been empowered to use ICT gadgets such as smartphones, computers, and mobile applications among others. It should be noted that there is a growing need to have female-centered development initiatives more so in the agriculture sector where 75 percent derive their livelihoods and women as strong primary producers in this sector. Popularizing ICT tools will propel women to move into the bigger agribusiness space.
UNFFE’s deliberate purpose for strengthening women’s involvement and participation in ICT is drawn from Specific Objective 3 of its Strategic Plan 2018-2023 “Institutional development and inclusive value chains.”. In achieving this, we intend to join the rest of the world to celebrate women’s contribution to the agriculture sector through commemoration of the International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day, is a day when we honor women’s immense strength and unique abilities, and falls on March 8 every year and was equally celebrated this year. The 2023 International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated under the global theme; “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. This theme was very essential in emphasizing digital tools and innovations for rural women farmers.
In a situation where women are unable to access affordable Internet services and do not feel safe online, they are unable to develop the necessary digital skills to engage in digital spaces, which diminishes their opportunities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields. By 2050, 75 percent of jobs will be related to STEM areas. Yet today, women hold just 22 percent of positions in artificial intelligence, to name just one.
UNFFE recognizes the role of ICT as a game changer, which is why they have embarked on a 2030 Digitization Agenda through the UNFFEICT4FARMERS Programme (www.unffeict4farmers.org). The program aims at contributing to accelerated uptake of ICT4Agric innovations by various actors especially smallholder farmers in a number of value chains covering crops, animals, and fisheries. This will prepare all farmers for the fourth industrial revolution and in particular bring women into Information, Communication, and Technology as a tool to transform the agricultural sector. UNFFE under this program, over 1.5 million farmers have been profiled, with 45 percent being women. With this initiative, UNFFE is providing, a toll-free call center -0800203009 with over 5 major spoken local languages -Luo, Luganda, Runyakitara, Lusoga, Swahili, and English. There’s also a free online academy where farmers can attend over 20 agricultural-related courses and a marketplace for buying farm inputs and selling farm produce. Through this platform, UNFFE hopes to create more solutions that have a greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality. Without such, more women’s dreams, and aspirations will be shattered.