WHO: Close existing digital gender divide

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged all stakeholders to support country-driven and gender-sensitive approaches to close the existing digital gender divide.

Besides, more has to be done to remove the digital gender divide, mainly impacting on vulnerable women and girls, especially those in rural and remote areas with low education and socioeconomic status.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti issued the call in her message to mark the International Women’s Day on Wednesday.

A report by the Association of Mobile Operators of 2021 indicates that inadequate infrastructure, lack of digital skills for the internet and ICTs and gender-related barriers around access to and control over resources are the main obstacles to “meaningful connectivity” for women and girls.

It is on this backdrop that she suggested ways including raising awareness about the digital gender divide, advocating for policies and legal frameworks to keep women and girls safe and the promotion of women’s participation in science, technology, and ICTs.

“By doing these, we will ensure that disadvantaged and vulnerable women and girls also benefit equitably from digital and technological innovations for their improved health and well-being,” said Dr Moeti.

According to her, the theme for this year’s commemorations “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality,” highlights the role of innovative technology in promoting gender equality and meeting the health and developmental needs of women and girls.

She indicated that globally, the increasing number and use of mobile phones and internet connectivity have facilitated access to health information and services.

On the other hand, the adoption of digital health and other technological innovations has positively impacted electronic medical records, health data management, security, and effective communication between health workers, patients, and community stakeholders.

Innovations have equally enhanced capacity building and knowledge translation through online training, webinars, and innovative tools for patient care—such as telemedicine, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Efforts at innovation have facilitated improved access to quality health care services and encouraged the participation of individuals, families, and community stakeholders in health care, especially during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

“We have seen that women can be innovators and contribute to transforming the health of all people on the continent,” she noted citing an example of December 2018, whereby WHO organized the first Africa Innovation Challenge.

Such an initiative acted as a deliberate effort to find solutions to Africa’s unmet health needs and recognise home-grown innovations that could solve Africa’s health challenges.

More than a third of the over 2 400 submissions from 77 countries came from women-led enterprises, and one of them emerged among the top three awardees.  We need to encourage and support such dedication.

She was glad to note the enthusiastic scale-up of ICT-based innovation deployed to fight Covid-19 and other diseases in the region.

They include using drones in Ghana, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Malawi; robots for clinical assistance in Rwanda; satellite imagery-driven vulnerability mapping dashboards in Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone; and WhatsAppChatbots in South Africa.

Similarly, Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Uganda are using self-diagnostic tools, contact tracing apps, solar-powered automatic handwashing tools—to mention but a few.

She, however, advocated for the safety and security of women and girls online, noting that the aim is to prevent the groups from online gender-based violence, including cyberstalking, sexual harassment, trafficking, and gross breaches of privacy.

Meanwhile, the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) also championed proper use of technology in curbing online harassment of women and girls.

CHRAGG Chairman, Retired Judge Mathew Mwaimu issued the call via a statement to mark the commemoration of the International Women’s Day being held on every March 8.

“Women should confidently continue to use technology for their own and society’s socio-economic development,” said Retired Judge Mwaimu advising the government to devise a special program which will help women in the rural areas to use technology to boost their incomes for sustainable development.

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