ACCRA, GHANA - Women from across Africa are meeting at the annual Women in Tech Africa Week, hoping to bring more women into the tech industry and combat inequalities in technology use and access, especially for economic empowerment.
Francesca Opoku remembers having to physically send workers to deliver messages or documents when she started her small social enterprise in Ghana 10 years ago. Today, she works to keep up with fast-developing technology to grow her business that produces natural beauty products. She also trains women she works with in financial literacy, such as using simple mobile technology to manage their money.
"As a small African business, as you are growing and as you aspire to grow globally and your tentacles are widening, the world is just going techy," Opoku said. "Business in the world is going techy. It's especially relevant in small business. It's the best way to make what you are doing known out there."
She was at the launch of Women In Tech Africa in Accra, with events in six other countries including Germany, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Opoku said she wants to learn more about how she can use technology to make her business grow and to ensure she is not left behind in the technology divide.
Across Africa, this divide means women are 13% less likely to own a mobile phone and 41% less likely to use mobile internet than men.
Women In Tech Africa founder
Ethel Cofie, founder of Women In Tech Africa, an NGO that started in 2015, said addressing this gap is crucial. Her network of 5,000 women across 30 African countries is pushing the conversation about women in technology and leadership.
"There is a huge gender gap, and that is part of the conversation," Cofie said. "When we are out here showing the world we actually exist, are doing things, what it does is, it provides avenues for us to support other women. One of the things Women in Tech has done is work with the Ghanaian Beauticians Association and Ghana traders associations. Even though these women are not necessarily as educated, they also need to be able to use tech to build their businesses."
Cofie says the digital gap between men and women in Africa is a consequence of poverty and economic disparities. Men usually have higher incomes, and better access to mobile phones and internet data.
Increasing digital access starts with education. At the G-7 summit this year, members pledged to work with developing countries to promote inclusion, equity and access for girls and women to quality education, including Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Faiza Adam, a network engineer, started Girly Tech this year to inspire underprivileged Ghanaian girls into STEM careers. She's training young girls in web development, programming and robotics in Accra.
"Imagine where girls don't embrace tech, then in five years to come, we have only males who are in the tech space — there is no diversity," Adam said. "So, in the decision making, they tend to use the male, male, male ideas instead of female. So, when we have inclusion, or there is diversity — I bring my idea, and the guy also brings his idea from the male perspective — we come together and solve societal problems."
Cofie and Adam both say more women in tech will mean more problems solved in their own communities. But Cofie adds that half the battles — like the gender divide — could be overcome with the right policies in place.