How digital platforms hasten women’s economic empowerment

A Pan-African networking platform was launched in the country at the recently concluded Global Gender Summit.

The platform — ‘The 50 Million African Women Speak (50MAWS)’ is basically a web and mobile-based application that is set to boost business activities, as it aims at connecting 50 million African women in business. Its main motive is to economically empower millions of women in Africa to start, grow, and scale up businesses by providing a one-stop-shop for their specific information needs.

 

For years, women’s economic participation has been on the low, and this resulted into unrealised talents and ambitions of women that would otherwise have been a vital source of economic growth.

 

This is why the realisation of this network is such a milestone, for it translates to sustenance of women’s economic empowerment.

 

Through this portal, women will be able to access training on entrepreneurial skills, acquire abilities on how to create and nurture business opportunities online, and they will also have access to a network of female entrepreneurs, among other gains.

Technology has a strong levelling effect for women in business. 

Sarah Tuyishime, a businesswoman, says such platforms, among other digital innovations, are yet to change the narrative when it comes to women’s economic participation.

She notes that a lack of resources, limited skills and a narrow access to finance, have always been the biggest stumbling blocks for women, adding that with proper use of technology, women will have a chance to explore their economic potential.

“Women in business mostly have a chance to make use of ICT; such platforms enable them to nurture and scale up their business dealings. But for this to happen, we need to keep pace with the fast and ever evolving technological and digital transformations,” she says.

Why women’s economic empowerment matters

An article published by Forbes expresses Danielle Kayembe’s views — a futurist and author of the white paper ‘The Silent Rise of the Female-Driven Economy’, that there is a huge, untapped potential in the market for women-centred innovation (WCI), (products and services that are not just marketed to women, but created by them too).

Kayembe notes that women designers and entrepreneurs have an innate ability to understand the pain points and aspirations of female consumers, thus, drive new types of innovation, disruption, and brand loyalty. Or as Kayembe puts it, “Every woman, by virtue of her lived experience, is now a walking hub of multi-million dollar business ideas.”

The author writes that the tendency of today’s investors to overlook and underfund female entrepreneurs may well be changing.

Kayembe, therefore, predicts that as the most successful female-founded companies reach liquidity (IPO’s or acquisitions), “a new ecosystem will form.” Namely, female investors will launch their own funds, invest in companies that sell products and services they are familiar with, and actively seek out women-led companies to support. Instead of having to depend entirely on the current venture capital network, they will create their own, comprised of WCI-friendly investors and companies.

Digital platforms have the ability to change the narrative for women’s economic empowerment. / Net photos 

Daniel Izabayo, a programme’s manager, notes that women’s economic empowerment is fundamental in regards to realising women’s rights and gender equality.

It is, therefore, important to makes use of the various innovations — which is technology in this case — to empower women economically, for this will subsequently enable the closure of gender gaps that still exist in the workforce, he says.

“When women join the workforce, this is a bonus to society because it obviously translates into economic growth. Their active involvement increases productivity and also boosts economic diversification,” he adds.

Using ICT to open more doors

Angelos Munezero, Communication Services Specialist at Ministry of ICT and Innovations, says women’s economic participation through digital platforms has increased. 

He notes that ICT has played a big role as a crosscutting tool for access to information, financial services, healthcare services, public services, among other amenities.

“We now have digital platforms that are selling women’s specific products online, the good thing is that these platforms are in Kinyarwanda — this is done to make sure that they are able to use them. Most of these platforms also have USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) solutions that run on phone features and this has massively increased women’s economic participation,” he says.

Considering ICT as an enabler in today’s society, Munezero says women are not left behind. 

Women’s economic empowerment is fundamental in realising women’s rights and gender equality.  /Net photo

“Nowadays, women are buying and selling using digital platforms, this empowers them to access finances. Digital platforms also allow them to raise their voice when they face violence and get help promptly, this has increased women’s involvement as well,” he notes.

In terms of governance, Munezero says that digital platforms are helping women to contribute to the development of the country, by sharing ideas of what can be done to achieve the country’s desired transformation.

He discloses that certain programmes that are set by the Ministry are purposely designed to ensure that both men and women are incorporated in the digital age. 

“The ‘Digital Ambassadors Program’ that aims at providing basic digital literacy to our citizens across the country, ensures equal participation of both women and men towards a digital economy,” Munezero adds.

Lucy Schalkwijk, the founder and chair of Career Women’s Network Kigali, is of the view that the best way to leverage digital platforms to improve women’s economic participation is to specifically design such digital platforms with this end in mind. 

That is; are they user friendly and appealing to the targeted group of women? Do they address their specific needs? Are the targeted users involved and represented in the design team, those testing the software, those leading the project? She says.

Schalkwijk says that women are already using existing digital platforms and social media for their benefit, and it is observed that such technologies can have a strong levelling effect. 

“To reach even greater benefits (and steer away from all the negative side effects affecting women) persuasive technologies should be designed for good, and, if they aim to support women (or at least abide by the principle of “do no harm”, they should use “women-centred design” or WCD,” she highlights.

Why is digitalisation important in driving women’s economic empowerment?

Women can use digital platforms to leverage their rights, needs and businesses. We have seen some women platforms like ‘Girl Effect’ and leaders like Lucy Mbabazi who have championed digital payment systems. These are areas that women can take over. Technology has no gender, and it is not restrained by cultural, political or religious influences which have for long held women back. Therefore, women need to look at technology as an ally in their endeavours to uplift their rights and empower the young ones through technological innovations. 

Roxanne Mudenge, Head of marketing - Samples Rw

This platform is important because it can help address the current gender gaps that exist in the workforce and the entrepreneurial space as well. This is possible because then women can find ways of  developing networks, or even have access to female role models who have made it in their respective fields of interest.

Lovence Mutoni, Pharmacist

Digitalisation offers a diversity of opportunities for female empowerment, this is because women, through this platform, have an equal opportunity to participate in the labour market, for they can easily access the information needed by sidestepping some of the traditional and cultural barriers.

Jamil Sentamu, Businessman

If women are to realise their full potential, they should embrace the digital age, especially when it comes to empowering themselves economically. Digital platforms have the ability to enable them access new markets, interact with customers, and also have easy access to mentoring, among other opportunities.

Ferguson Wasswa, Sales manager

dmbabazi@newtimesrwanda.com

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