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NIWIIT conference seeks urgent action to bridge gender digital divide in Nigeria

. Statistics released by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), indicate that there are 250 million fewer women online than men; a gap that remains largest in the world’s least developed countries like Nigeria

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NIWIIT 2021 Conference
R-l: Lead Speaker, Amina Sambo-Magaji; Chairman, Conferences Committee of NCS, Mr. Rex Abitogun; Keynote Speaker: Cecilia Akintomide; President of NIWIIT: Bamidele Bayo-Osibo; Director, Al-muhibbah Foundation, Bauchi State, Hajia Ladi Ibrahim Thomas and Dr. Aderonke Bello

Experts drawn from Information Technology (IT), investment sectors; the academic and civic society organizations, present at the Nigerian Women In Information Technology (NIWIIT) sixth (6th) National Conference and Seventh (7th) Annual General Meeting (AGM on June 2 & 3, 2021 have called for collective actions to bridge the existing gender digital divide in the country.

NIWIIT 2021 Conference

Group photograph at NIWIIT Conference 2021

The speakers unanimously agreed that gender digital divide connotes gender imbalance in terms of access to and participation in the digital world. Such imbalances, skewed mostly against women and girls in the society, are disparity in the access to the internet and to ICTs; imbalance in ICT literacy rates; lower presence of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers as applicants, students, faculty management; and more men than women participating and holding decision-making positions in ICT policy forums and government bodies.

Participants at the conference held at National Centre for Women Development (NCWD) in Abuja, believe that the extent of this gender digital divide is an alarming indicator of a lack of inclusiveness, undermining human development and economic efficiency and must be addressed.

Statistics released by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), indicate that there are 250 million fewer women online than men; a gap that remains largest in the world’s least developed countries like Nigeria.

For these reasons, NIWIIT, at its national conference emphasized the need for digital inclusion which implied deliberate efforts in organizing activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged have access to and use of ICTs.

… I am very proud to identity with NIWIIT on this event – H.E Dr. Aishatu Bala Muhammed

NIWIIT 2021 Conference

Director, Al-muhibbah Foundation, Bauchi State, Hajia Ladi Ibrahim Thomas, representing First Lady of Bauchi State

Her Excellency, Hajia (Dr.) Aishatu Bala Muhammed, the First Lady of Bauchi State and Founder, Al-Muhibbah Foundation, in her message as the Distinguished invitee, described the conference as very laudable, particularly, as it provides avenue for discussion on how  close the gap between Women and Men in the ICT world.

The special guest, speaking through the Director, Al-muhibbah Foundation, Bauchi State, Hajia Ladi Ibrahim Thomas, said, “I am very proud to identify with this event which aligns with my goals of uplifting women at all levels.

“That is why I am focused on creating platforms to enable women to compete with the rest of the women, globally.

“I want to say a very big thank you to your association for providing your girls and women with this opportunity to access digital literacy”.

… Increase action towards having more women with careers in ICT – Cecilia Akintomide

NIWIIT 2021 Conference

Keynote Speaker: Cecilia Akintomide

In her keynote presentation, an Africa, Development Finance and Corporate Governance Expert, Cecilia Akintomide, recalls that in the past 14 months, ICT without a doubt has been widely recognized as a game changer, adding that without ICT, the whole world, developed and not so developed alike, would have experienced greater depths of suffering, food insecurity and economic decline, than what was experienced in the height of the covid lockdown.

Making reference to the conference theme, she said that digital inclusion is the ability of individuals and groups to access and use ICT, and harness the economic, growth and development benefits.

“A review of the statistics very quickly reflects the importance as well as the huge inequalities that we need to arrest and reverse, in this regard.

“First, we need to recall that digital inclusion is of great economic relevance. For example, in the US, an increase in 15 million broadband lines can result in increased GDP growth of USD50million”, the keynote speaker said.

Akintomide is an Independent Director SWAgCo Ltd, Non-Executive Director Ondo State Development and Investment, Promotion Agency, said that from a gender perspective, Plan International found that if 600 million women were to be connected to the internet in developing countries, it will add up to USD18billion to the GDP of about 144 developing countries.  In addition, it is noteworthy that in Nigeria, ICT constitutes 15% of the GDP, and the third largest contributor to the GDP.

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“A deeper dive reveals that in addition to the digital divide, there is a digital gender divide, giving a gender dimension to the related economic, social and development inequalities.  In this connection, the OECD has found that there are 327 million less women than men that have access to smartphones and can access the internet.

“In northern Nigeria, Equal Access International (EAI) observed that around 60% of the female population is not able to access the internet, 55% of men do not want their wives to access the internet and 61% of men do not want their daughters to access the internet.

The foregoing statistics, according to the former Vice President/Secretary General, Africa Development Bank Group (AfDB), are a direct call to action for NIWIIT.

“As you consider how to harness opportunities of digital inclusion through a gender lens, I will encourage that you consider it first from the perspective of narrowing or eliminating the digital gender divide gap, by increasing the number of women with smart devices, connected to the internet, and maximizing the benefits of that access; and second, that you leverage digital inclusion to narrow the gender gap, and finally, accelerate the pace at which the gender gap is being reduced.

“Specific areas of focus and action that NIWIIT and its members are best equipped to address include:

i) Increase action towards having more women with careers in ICT.

ii) Encourage research and develop applications that address challenges limiting women such as distance learning for children or women; virtual or tele healthcare delivery, child nurturing, startups, financing and business planning.

iii) Eliminate the digital gender divide in agriculture.  According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, women constitute 75% of the farming population as either farm managers and suppliers of labor.  If we can ensure that the digital divide gender gap is closed in the agriculture sector, we would have achieved a major boost for food security, financial security and poverty eradication in Nigeria.  Furthermore, if we can draw attention to the plight of women in agriculture in order to find solutions to their peculiar challenges, this would ultimately have a positive bottom line effect in the agriculture sector”, she said, among other recommendations.

…ICT has revolutionized the way we live and do business – Dr. Asabe Vilitia Bashir

Women in Technology Nigeria

DG of NCWD, Dr. Asabe Vilitia Bashir

On her part, the Director General, National Women Development (NCWD), Abuja, Dr. Asabe Vilitia Bashir, said that the conference aligns with the mandate of the Centre as training and economic empowerment of women are critical to the realization of the mission, “as our focus is to improve the lives of women, especially those in the rural areas through sustainable development programs, so they can become productive and self-reliant.

“It is important to note that information & communication technology (ICT), vocational & entrepreneurial skills development are imperative in enhancing the economic status of women, while the role of research is critical, as key target groups and data concerning women are sought and analyzed for intervention.

The DG emphasized that the importance of partnership geared towards empowering women and girls, who form more than 50% of the nation’s population cannot be overemphasized.

In her words: “ICT has revolutionized the way we live and do business, the effect of which is most significant during this period of COVID-19 Pandemic where physical contact is restricted, yet ICT tools and technology have been able to ensure communication, collaboration and business activities continue effortlessly. Let me emphasize that there is no sector of the economy where ICT knowledge is not needed today.

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She recalled that the Centre and NIWIIT had collaborated to commemorate the International Day in ICT, an event designed to create a global awareness for the need to empower and encourage girls and young women to consider careers in the field of ICT; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Dr. Bashir added that with NIWIIT’s continuous support, they can jointly achieve and improve the living standards and productivity of Nigerian women and girls through ICT.

“Statistically, it has been proven that women remain under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Parents and educators can help curb this trend and close the gender gap by encouraging young girls to pursue STEM at an early stage”, she reiterated.

…ICT can also allow grassroots women’s movements to organize public actions – Amina Sambo-Magaji

Amina Sambo-Magaji, PhD

Lead Speaker: Amina Sambo-Magaji, PhD

Meanwhile, the Lead Speaker, Amina Sambo-Magaji, PhD, in a presentation culled from the Conference theme: ‘Promoting Digital Inclusion: Harnessing Opportunities with A Gender Lens’ said that opportunities for women in the digital space are enormous.

Deciphering the causes of gender digital divide, she said that science and technology disciplines are domains that women and girls find intimidating and alienating.

“Women tend to see the ICT sector as a realm that is unfriendly and dominated by men. In developing nations like Nigeria, where people are raised in a culture highly dominated by role differentiations, the women are often reminded of their natural roles as wives and mothers and that these are the only places where they can fit in and perform,” he said.

Sambo-Magaji, said that the effect is that women tend to shy away from other roles they can comfortably fit into. “This stereotype thereby strengthens the patriarchal worldview amongst most Africans that women are not expected to participate in decision-making processes.

“ICT can also allow grassroots women’s movements to organize public actions and reach out across borders to mobilise international support. Thanks to the internet. It gives women the opportunity to communicate their needs in their own ways, in real time and on a massive scale, anonymity and comfort”, she explained.

She however, said that with initiatives by government agencies, associations like NIWIIT, these challenges can be addressed.

“The most important determinant of a country’s competitiveness is its human capital and talent –skills, education and productivity of its workforce.

She said that women need to be committed to the use and access to ICT in order to demystify the general notion that ICT is a field exclusively reserved for men.

Sambo-Magaji added that engendering ICT policies in Nigeria will secure the benefits of the information age for girls and women, suggesting an improvement to education to raise awareness about technology and tech careers and counteract negative perceptions.

The lead speaker, also encouraged Nigerian women to free themselves from the forces that subjugate them in the wider society and in the world of the ICTs, which are powerful instruments for creating and reinforcing their image.

… Harnessing Digital Technologies will generate $100 billion and create 15 million new jobs in ten years – Prof. Sodiya

NIWIIT 2021 Conference

Chairman, Conferences Committee of NCS, Mr. Rex Abitogun, representing President of NCS.

In his goodwill message, the President, Nigeria Computer Society, Professor Adesina Sodiya, thanked NIWIIT Executive for being in the vanguard of Computer Science and Information Technology Education and practice in the country.

He said that NIWIIT has been neoteric and innovative in the promotion of gender-based IT Education and development.

Sodiya, speaking through a representative; the Chairman, Conferences Committee of NCS, Mr. Rex Abitogun, described the conference as intriguing, valuable, and impactful.

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“It is my firm belief that Nigeria will be better if we could tap from women’s general endowment to strengthen and accelerate digital inclusion.

“However, to foster favorable conditions for nurturing and strengthening a digital economy, there is a critical need to digitally transform our institutions to become effective regulators in an age of disruptive technologies.

“And for digital technologies to impact economic development, applicable policies must be in place to remove the obstacles preventing emerging economies like Nigeria from fully engaging in the digital economy and maximizing the benefits while minimizing the risks. We also need to promote and encourage female science education, particularly Information Technology.

He expressed confidence that with the recommendations and critical solutions from the keynote speaker and other participants, effective regulations that promote a digital economy will be analyzed.

“The essential consideration for all these efforts is the importance of well-thought-out and well-implemented ICT policies for Nigeria. Government policies must always consider stakeholders’ inputs to harness digital technologies for promoting a digital economy effectively.

“So, establishing effective regulatory mechanisms that involve all relevant stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities can considerably contribute to properly identifying challenges, finding solutions, and ensuring digital technology sustainability. Then, Our vision of Harnessing Digital Technologies will generate $100 billion and create 15 million new jobs in ten years will be a viable reality”, the NCS President said.

…We carefully selected theme for this year’s Conference – Bamidele Bayo-Osibo

NIWIIT 2021 Conference

President of NIWIIT: Bamidele Bayo-Osibo

Earlier in her welcome speech, the President of NIWIIT, Bamidele Bayo-Osibo, said that the 4th National Executive Council (NEC) of the association choose the theme: ‘Promoting Digital Inclusion: Harnessing Opportunities with a Gender Lens’, to emphasis that the today’s society is characterized by change and uncertainty hence the study of Information Technology (IT), in all its forms, is at the core.

While reflecting on NIWIIT as the premium association of women engaged in the study, teaching, industry and governmental application of all aspects of Information Technology, the President said that diverse members engage with the essential technology issues of the present society.

NIWIIT 2021 Conference

DG of NCWD, Dr. Asabe Vilitia Bashir in a group photograph with the NEC of NIWIIT at the 2021 conference held in Abuja on June 2nd & 3rd

Continuing, she said, “As such, our combined knowledge shapes the next generation, it addresses concerns, and it informs a broad swath of communities”.

Bayo-Osibo said that in the past five years, average registrations have grown and indications are that attendance is poised to grow.

“In [year] 2020 we held our first Virtual activity as a consequence of the global COVID-19 Pandemic. In an effort to live with our ‘new normal’, this year’s conference became hybrid, catering for both physical and online participation. We continue with the ideals of skills acquisition and capacity building during our conference.

This year’s conference had four academic paper presentations and three training sessions in which participants were involved. Topic covered areas as overcoming inertia: transiting from career to business and introduction to artificial intelligence.

Emphasizing why the choice of this topic, the President said, “I came about some statistics for digital skills; the gaps that exist and expected projections. I saw the potential of African talent; I dare say, African women talent. The opportunities that exist and disasters that loom if not utilized.

“Some 230 million jobs across the continent will require some level of digital skills by 2030 translating to a potential for 650 million training opportunities and an estimated $130 billion market, according to IFC report in 2020. Therefore, Information Technology continues to have an impact in more areas of society, culture, politics, environment, the economy, health and education, etc. than ever before.

“IT is increasingly global in scope, more embedded in a growing array of digital technologies, shaping how we live, interact and achieve societal change and social justice.

To this end, she said that NIWIIT will remain at the forefront of these rapid changes, especially as it pertains to bridging the gender digital divide that currently exists.

NIWIIT 2021 Induction

Oath-taking session during the induction ceremony

During the AGM, NIWIIT inducted 42 new members. The membership categories include: twenty (20) professional members; fourteen (14) membership and four student category.

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