Spotlight on the UN’s African Women in Technology Initiative

Spotlight on the UN’s African Women in Technology Initiative

Imagine a world where African women in rural areas could increase their income and agricultural yields, while decreasing the time, effort, and manual labor they devote to farming. We look at African Women in Technology, the United Nations initiative created to establish a global alliance upscaling rural technologies in Africa.

What is UN Women?

UN Women

The United Nations established UN Women to address gender inequality and to educate and empower women all over the world. The initiative’s other main objective is to promote the interests of women worldwide.

UN Women assists UN member nations in setting global standards for gender equality, working with policymakers to establish legislation, policies, services, and programs to benefit women and girls worldwide. UN Women also works to realize the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by focusing on four key strategic priorities:

  • Ensuring all women and girls live free from violence.
  • Establishing and maintaining income security, appropriate work, and economic autonomy for women.
  • Encouraging women to participate in, benefit equally from, and lead governance systems.
  • Helping women and girls exercise greater influence and autonomy in building sustainable peace and resilience while ensuring that women benefit equally from humanitarian action in response to conflicts and natural disasters.

Gender equality is a basic human right. Its achievement has monumental socio-economic implications. Empowering women and girls fuels thriving economies, encouraging growth and productivity.

From East to West, gender inequality exists in every society. Women face gender wage gaps, lack of appropriate work, and occupational segregation. Women all over the world suffer discrimination and violence. Even in so-called developed nations, women are underrepresented in economic and political decision-making processes.

For several decades, the United Nations has sought to address gender inequality through several programs and actions. The UN enacted landmark agreements to protect women’s rights, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Acting.

The United Nations created UN Women in 2010. The creation of this organization represents a historic step in empowering women around the globe.

What are the main aims of the African Women in Technology (AWIT) initiative?

AWIT has established a global alliance with the aim of improving agricultural technologies for African women. AWIT will collect and collate data, connect organizations, and help participants exchange ideas and develop best practices. In addition, AWIT will connect rural technology innovators with investors, researchers, industrialists, distributors, and community mobilizers. The initiative will drive programs and approaches to accelerate the advancement of agricultural tech in Africa, particularly for women farmers.

The overarching goal of AWIT is to provide rural African women with technologies that boost agricultural yield, food security, and income, while at the same decreasing food waste, labor input, and time—and thereby economically empower these women. Through real-time monitoring of progress, organizers hope to support women’s agricultural engagement, while improving time use within households.

black woman in tech

Women account for more than half of all agricultural workers in Eastern and Southern Africa, and about 43% of such workers in developing countries worldwide. Yet research shows that the productivity gap between male and female farmers persists. For instance, women farmers are up to 25% less productive than their male counterparts in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Why is this so? It’s not because women are less capable than men. Rather, women farmers typically have less access to purchased technological inputs, such as high-yielding seed varieties and fertilizer. Similarly, women generally do not have equal access to financial resources in rural households and have limited information, input, and influence in household decisions.

Women’s access to agricultural tools and machinery tends to be significantly lower as well. Poor access to land, less education, and greater childcare responsibilities also mean female farmers consistently underperform when compared to males.

However, if women had the same access to productive agricultural inputs as men, women farmers, their families, and their communities would benefit enormously. Analysts estimate that providing women with the same productive inputs as their male counterparts could bring between 100 and 150 million people out of food poverty.

For example, at a 2014 UN Sharefair event in Kenya, exhibitors showcased rural technologies, including a solar-powered, portable water pump capable of irrigating one acre of land in six to 12 hours. The pump is also easy to transport and therefore represents an opportunity for women-led cooperatives or women entrepreneurs to develop an irrigation service business.

Women are underrepresented globally in all aspects of tech, particularly in terms of developing and implementing agricultural technology. But the truth is, new technologies can transform the roles of women in African farming communities and the agricultural industry itself.

Besides greater access to technology, women farmers also require support and information. Research shows that women farmers tend to rely more heavily on social networks. Here, they can learn about new agricultural technologies and interact with other women in agriculture. It is in this way that today’s students could become tomorrow’s mentors, passing on their knowledge and inspiring future generations of women farmers to adopt new technologies and increase productivity.

About the Author

Joanna RileyJoanna (Jo) Riley is an entrepreneur, investor, and advocate in technology, and is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Censia. Jo has a highly experienced background in building and scaling companies, which she attributes to her deep passion for people and building technologies that allow people to be their best selves. She brings her wide knowledge of the industry to better transform the way enterprise companies hire talent. You can connect with Joanna Riley at @joannakiddriley on Twitter or on Linkedin. Read her full bio here.