With the growing impact of AI, the intersection of gender and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is at the center of shaping various societal operations and the affiliated gender dynamics. As we delve into the digital age, understanding the multifaceted implications of this convergence on gender equality, economic opportunities, and social empowerment is crucial. This blog post explores the opportunities presented by AI and the acquisition of affiliated digital skills to Africa’s women while highlighting the challenges that lie ahead.
The Gendered Gap in Digital Skills
As much as digital skills are becoming synonymous with essential life skills in this era, the persistence of the gender gap in access and proficiency of digitization continues. Historically, women have faced barriers in accessing their education and technology, a factor perpetuating the cycle of exclusion. As of 2018, the World Economic Forum, in its Global Gender Gap Report, indicated that only 28% of AI professionals globally were female compared to 78% who were male, which shows a significant gap. Arguably, the status quo remains since other reports also emphasize this gap to date. The lacuna in women’s access to technology, skills training, and participation in the labor market in Africa is significant. Bridging this gender gap in digital skills is essential in achieving gender equality since it will likely empower women to participate fully in the digital economy and civic engagement. Artificial intelligence can potentially revolutionize industries but exacerbate existing gender biases. AI tools, trained on biased data, may perpetuate inequalities and stereotypes. Addressing biases in AI systems is crucial for a more equitable and inclusive society.
AI’s Role in Labor Empowerment: Equipping Women with Digital Skills
Breaking down the barriers to economic and social empowerment against women posed by AI and surmounting the identified and prospective challenges can only be achieved by equipping women with digital skills. Initiatives should prioritize developing and implementing a comprehensive curriculum covering a broad spectrum of digital competencies, from fundamental digital literacy to sophisticated AI understanding. These curricula should be integrated into educational institutions at all levels, ensuring that women have access to skill development opportunities from a young age.
Furthermore, ensuring access to opportunities for skilling and reskilling is critical. These opportunities may be availed to African women through a variety of outlets. Online platforms and e-learning modules can give women with families or professional responsibilities more freedom. In-person workshops and courses can be provided via community centers, vocational training institutes, and partnerships with technology businesses. Mentorship programs and women-focused networking events can also encourage the exchange of knowledge and experiences, allowing women to learn from industry leaders and their peers.
However, the road to empowering women with digital skills in Africa has its fair share of challenges. Digital accessibility is still a significant barrier, especially in rural and underdeveloped areas where dependable internet connectivity may be unavailable. Investments in digital infrastructure and innovative solutions to bridge the digital divide are required to address this challenge. Sociocultural considerations can also hamper women’s engagement in digital skilling efforts. Gender preconceptions, biases, and norms may hinder women from pursuing professions in technology-related fields. Effective policies should seek to dispel these stereotypes and foster an environment where women feel empowered to explore and excel in digital realms. On the other hand, teaching digital skills to African women opens them to a world of possibilities. Women’s potential as entrepreneurs, inventors, and leaders in the digital economy can be realized by providing them with digital capabilities; as a result, economic growth, job creation, and overall development benefit.
Preparing for an Equitable Future
Skilling women in Africa for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in digital skills and AI requires a holistic approach. By implementing policies that address barriers, foster education, encourage participation, and promote inclusivity, African nations can harness the potential of their female workforce to drive innovation, economic growth, and social development in the digital age. We can pave the road for a more fair, equal, and inclusive future by tackling the gender data gap and aggressively working to close the existing digital skills barrier. Collaborative efforts among stakeholders such as affiliated government entities, academia, the corporate sector, and civil society are better placed to build an environment where AI technologies are developed and deployed with ethics and inclusivity at the forefront.
The intersection of AI and gender is quite a complex landscape that presents challenges and promises vast opportunities in the future. Disparities in AI have the likelihood of perpetuating gender inequalities and the potential to drive gender-inclusive advancements to immense levels. We can prepare the path for a future in which AI technologies contribute to a more equitable and just society by tackling the gender data gap, fostering diversity in the AI profession, and utilizing AI for gender equality. We must be alert, collaborative, and devoted to building AI systems that reflect the complex and dynamic character of gender as we negotiate this treacherous territory.
 ‘Report: Where Are the Women? Mapping the Gender Job Gap in Ai’ (The Alan Turing Institute)https://www.turing.ac.uk/news/publications/report-where-are-women-mapping-gender-job-gap-ai accessed 10 August 2023
 ‘Reader: Global Gender Gap Report 2018’ (World Economic Forum) https://www.weforum.org/reports/reader-global-gender-gap-report-2018/in-full/assessing-gender-gaps-in-artificial-intelligence/ accessed 10 August 2023
 ‘UNESCO and Women in Africa Join Forces to Promote Women’s Digital Skills and Entrepreneurship across the Continent’ (UNESCO.org) https://www.unesco.org/en/articles/unesco-and-women-africa-join-forces-promote-womens-digital-skills-and-entrepreneurship-across accessed 10 August 2023
 (Bridging the digital gender divide – oecd.org – OECD) https://www.oecd.org/digital/bridging-the-digital-gender-divide.pdf accessed 10 August 2023