In an exploration of the role of women in Africa’s rapidly evolving tech ecosystem, the Africa Investment Forum 2023 brought the spotlight to the challenges and opportunities women in the technology sector bring.
Highlighting a stark digital gender divide, recent discussions at the Africa Investment Forum brought attention to the fact that African women are 40 percent less likely to be connected to the internet. Liz McAreavey, CEO of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, underscored the multifaceted challenges faced by women in the business landscape. McAreavey shed light on the existing barriers that hinder women’s entrepreneurial endeavours, citing a poignant example of a panellist who needed a male partner to secure funding for a business manufacturing venture in Nigeria. McAreavey emphasized the critical need to address this gender disparity, as women often encounter difficulties in scaling businesses and accessing funding solely due to their gender. The prevailing mindset that categorizes women’s businesses as mere hobbies or passion projects, rather than scalable enterprises, further exacerbates the issue.
McAreavey articulated a compelling vision for change, emphasizing that improving women’s access to the internet is not only about connectivity but also about unlocking a realm of education, innovation, and inspiration. By bridging the digital gap, women gain access to a wealth of knowledge that can reshape their perspectives and aspirations. The CEO stressed the need for a fundamental shift in mindset to recognize and respect women as powerful contributors to business innovation, driven by determination. McAreavey concluded that without adequate support and financial resources, the full potential of women entrepreneurs in Africa remains stifled, calling for a concerted effort to dismantle barriers and foster an environment conducive to their success.
Adnane Ben Halim, Vice President in charge of public relations at Huawei, further addressed the digital gender gap in Africa, shedding light on the cultural challenges that have historically constrained women’s ability to develop businesses.
Traditionally, cultural norms confined women to household responsibilities, limiting their mobility. However, Halim highlighted the transformative impact of digital tools, illustrating the case of East Africa where online payment systems, such as EMPECA, facilitated progress in women’s entrepreneurship.
From Huawei’s perspective, Halim emphasised the commitment to supporting connectivity for all, advocating for equality of opportunities across genders and regions. He cited Huawei’s involvement in initiatives like “Women in Africa,” where 10 entrepreneurs were selected from a pool of 6,000 women in Africa.
Femi Adeagbo, of Comnavic, delved into the multifaceted role of women in Nigeria’s societal fabric and the impact of social media on their trajectories. Acknowledging the notable achievements of women in governance, politics, and business, Adeagbo emphasized the inherent strengths women bring to the table, including multitasking skills and maternal instincts.
However, he also addressed the challenges some women face, entering the workspace with the anticipation of discrimination, leading to a proactive and assertive approach. Adeagbo scrutinised the evolving landscape of the social media economy, highlighting the rise of influencers and the shift in societal norms, with behaviours considered unconventional a few decades ago becoming normalised.
He expressed concern over the potential consequences, especially the objectification of women, as some capitalise on provocative content for financial gains.
Adeagbo underscored the urgency of integrating technology education into the curriculum from a foundational level to equip the younger generation with the tools needed to navigate this evolving digital landscape.
In contemplating potential solutions, Adeagbo proposed a comprehensive approach to technology engagement in education, emphasising the need to question and reshape curricula to align with the demands of the digital era. He cautioned against the normalisation of objectification through technology and predicted that, without intervention, women may face displacement by artificial intelligence in the future.
In his concluding remarks, Alemeyhu emphasised the transformative power of technological advances, extending beyond AI hype to revolutionize even traditional industries. Alemeyhu urged Africa to position itself as an early adopter, capitalising on the absence of legacy infrastructure to fully embrace innovations in fields ranging from mobile technology to broader industries.
Halim underscored a critical bottleneck hindering digital deployment—mentalities. He emphasised that the resistance to digital transformation often stems from ingrained habits and comfort zones. Halim stressed the importance of securing support from the highest levels of organisations to drive strategic implementation and overcome mental barriers for successful digital adoption at both enterprise and national levels.
In her final remarks, McAreavey highlighted two pivotal points. Firstly, she championed the concept of smart cities, advocating for investments in urban efficiency to enhance public services, manage congestion, and ensure disaster response readiness. Secondly, McAreavey emphasised the indispensable role of skills and training in embracing technology, emphasising the need for continuous upskilling and reskilling across generations to harness the full potential of digital advancements and contribute to improved lives.