Thursday, November 22, 2018

African Women Discuss Their Role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Southern Times
November 21, 2018
Lahja Nashuuta

Johannesburg - About a thousand women from across the African continent are meeting in Johannesburg for a five-day conference to deliberate on issues affecting women in the continent.

The conference that runs from 19 to 23 November is being held under the theme “strengthen the continental African women movement in the Fourth Industrial Revolution toward a new value –based ecosystem”.

Hosted by the Zanele Mbeki Foundation, the objective of the meeting is to look at how women can embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) to unchain themselves from poverty and other developmental issues facing them.

Delegates will also deliberate on the state of women movements in the continent and how they can be strengthened to be more responsive to the new and persistent challenges facing women.

In her opening statement on Monday, former South Africa First Lady  Zanele Mbeki reminded the delegates that: “We are told that Africa missed out on the first, second and third industrial revolutions and the fourth revolution is already upon us. Through this dialogue, we want to understand what this fourth industrial revolution looks like, how it affects us and how we can participate to ensure that this time Africa is not left behind.”

Mbeki said the dialogue creates a platform for African women, especially from the grassroots level, to meet in their own continent to deliberate on the women issues of continental importance and to set an agenda based on their experiences and to find fitting solutions that match their needs.

“Right now, we have very few platforms which address continental issues that are convened by us Africans. In the main, as African women we meet as invitees at global forums such as the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) funded by our governments, the World Economic Forum and Women Forum Global meeting and our voice does not really count, although those forums are funded by our governments,” she said.

She stressed that women need to work together and identify current and involving systematic barriers, including practices and norms that hinder the advancement of African women. This includes policies, strategies and programmes at the national and continental level.

Mbeki pointed out that women need to work together at a national, regional and continental level to influence the community, national and continental structures that include public, private and civil society aimed at empowering Africa women.

“It is the global movement that enables new architecture for women’s high-level inclusion in the United Nations, therefore, we need a strong continental women’s movement to address the issues of gender inequality and women exclusion in Africa so that we can set our agenda at the global level.

Regarding the Fourth Industrial Revolution, various speakers stressed the need for the continent to focus on encouraging and inspiring girls to pursue careers that are more secure and less likely to be automated.

Dr Gertrude Mongella, Special Advisor to the UNESCO Director-General and Former President of Pan-African Parliament, said most jobs created between now and 2020 will have a technology component, and it is important that women understand the skills they will need to excel.

“If we educate girls in science, technology, engineering and math at a younger age and adequately prepare women to enter the workforce, we increase the potential for overall economic growth and development,” Mongella said.

Mongella said the new digital landscape will also provide female entrepreneurs with the flexibility to start businesses with a relatively small amount of investment, and to sell their products and services across the globe.

However, women will need skills that enable them to work within technological systems and to fill gaps created by advancing technology, she said.

“We need to invest in initiatives and develop programmes that empower and advance women and girls in architecting and leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” she said.

Sharing the same sentiment was the Director of Gender Links Collen Lowe Morna, who said women often face more difficulties and barriers in the workplace than men due to their responsibility for their family and social preconceptions.

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