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Feature: Digital gender gap fuels cyber abuse

Local News
Chiedza Mugabe Sanyamandwe

According to the latest data from the United Nations, 34% of Africa’s female population had online access, compared to 45% of their male counterparts.

The proportion of women using the internet globally is 48%, compared to 58% of men. In relative terms, this means that the global internet user gap is 17%.

In a digital world solely dominated by men, women and girls have been on the receiving end of cyber harassment, revenge porn, blackmail and other cybercrimes that mainly target women.

Some women are particularly prone to cyber abuse, such as women’s rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, public figures and politicians.

Speaking at a women’s conference on International Women’s Day organised by Alpha Media Holdings, Zimbabwe Independent editor Faith Zaba said the gender gap in the digital world emerged from the social stereotype that women cannot thrive in technology and this has left women exposed to online abuse among other cybercrimes.

“Most kids who spend time with computers are likely to develop an interest in computer studies. Since more boys than girls spend time on computers, they are more likely to be interested in pursuing a career in tech. So, allowing girls equal access to computer systems can help nurture their interest to pursue a career in computers,” Zaba said.

Zimbabwe Independent editor Faith Zaba speaking at a women’s conference on International Women’s Day organised by Alpha Media Holdings

“Sometimes, parents can become unconsciously biased. For instance, a parent can send a son to a summer camp to learn to code. But the same parent sends a daughter to a different summer camp. These girls might feel intimidated in a computer class full of boys who learn to code at a young age. So, parents should take care not to be unconsciously biased against their daughters.”

According to the UN, only one in three positions in the technology sector is occupied by women.

This only goes to highlight the digital gender gap in our societies. Women have been left out in digital innovations and we continue to ignore the negative effects of the exclusion of women in the digital field and the economy at large.

Data from the UN also showed that the inclusion of women and girls in the digital world could potentially prevent a loss of US$1,5 trillion by 2025 in low and middle-income countries.

Zaba added that women should not be intimidated by the number of men in the tech industries.

She emphasised the need to educate women who aspire to break into the tech industry so that they can also work in tech companies and counter cyber abuse by men and fellow women.

“A career in tech starts with education. If you want to pursue a career in tech, it’s always good to choose subjects in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]. Remember, many women have made it in the tech field, which means you can as well. Don’t feel intimidated by classes filled with men. While it may seem like a lot, those classes need you there. There are so many ways to explore STEM subjects whether through traditional classes, self-guided learning, bootcamps, and more. There is no need to feel limited in how you make it to the top,” Zaba said.

“Results of a survey carried out on 22 000 firms globally, showed that firms with 30% female leadership were associated with a 6% net profit margin. Studies show that diversity is good for business. Team diversity in terms of gender, race, and age is likely to accelerate innovation. Each group can help bring in more ideas concerning problems faced by specific demographics.”

Women can be outstanding in the tech industry as shown by Henrica Makulu who became the first female data scientist in Zimbabwe despite a life marred with difficulties. According to the Boston Consulting Group, only 15% to 22% of data science professionals are women.

Makulu said her achievements were fuelled by her love for digitalisation despite growing up in an environment that despises the participation of women in technology.

“Throughout university, I faced challenges. I failed all my mechanics courses and ended up repeating a year due to the difficulty of the degree as well as financial constraints. A four-year degree took me five years. One thing I realised though was every time people asked me what I was studying, answering ‘applied mathematics’ always left them wowed. Those moments started making me feel like maybe what I was doing was right.” Makulu said.

Another woman excelling in the technological and digital field is Chiedza Mugabe Sanyamandwe, a well-established radiographer.

Radiography is the use of radiation, sound energy and magnetism to produce internal images of the human body in order to diagnose and treat pathology.

Through her passion in harnessing technology in healthcare, Sanyamandwe established the Muneni Medical Ultrasound which provides ultrasound services, 3D pregnancy ultrasound, abdomen ultrasound, musculoskeletal ultrasound and pelvis ultrasound.

Said Sanyamandwe: “The Muneni Ultrasound was founded with the aim of giving quality exclusive healthcare services, bringing high resolution and latest technologies to the everyday Zimbabwean. We have an automated and online booking system. We send videos  and images directly to patients’ phones. Our  future plan is exploring and embracing AI [artificial intelligence] to ensure faster image acquisition and interpretation.”

Technology and digitalisation can be used to emancipate women. Although Women’s access to mobile phones and mobile internet continues to increase across low- and middle-income countries, the gap is still visible and more should be done to include women in digitalisation.

In 2022, there were 259 million more men than women using the internet. About 83% of women now own a mobile phone in low- and middle-income countries, and 58% use mobile internet, enabling 18% of gender-based violence (GBV) survivors and other women and girls unprecedented access to digital tools and platforms where they can access and share information, and seek assistance and support from professionals and peers.

Women and girls at risk of GBV are using online and smartphone-based applications to feel safer in public and domestic spaces. GBV and women’s rights advocates and women activists are using online tools to campaign, lobby and mobilise for gender equality and for action against GBV.

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