International Women’s Day

Posted by Cheick Diarra
Chairman for Africa

African women from all walks of life have demonstrated capabilities and potentials that extend far beyond producing food and raising children. Given their central role not only as mothers and caregivers, but also as farmers and informal traders among others, by unleashing their potential we stand a better chance of unlocking the continent’s growth.  Significant progress has been made in Africa to advance both women’s empowerment and their status in society – but there is still more we can do. 

Women in Africa continue to face discrimination and inequality. Despite the legal guarantees for women’s right for political and economic participation, stereotypical gender roles are deep-seated, limiting women’s employment and decision-making opportunities. Progress on gender equality and women's empowerment is critical to advance the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) overall and there is increased recognition of the linkages between gender equality and achievement of all the MDGs.

Adding to that, we have a legacy in Africa of uneducated adults – and this cycle needs to be broken. Two thirds of the world’s illiterate population are women and girls.  Despite tremendous progress made toward gender empowerment, significant challenges still face women throughout their lives. 

Broadly speaking, women are poor in Africa, they have limited claim to their land, no property, less opportunity and yet they are the ones who hold the key to education for all. The challenge is by no means a small one – but the potential is what we should focus on. As we invest in literacy programmes around the world - I suggest that special attention is paid to the female population.
If we invest in the women of Africa and in basic literacy programmes for them, this will have an exponential effect in terms of broader literacy and education.  We can create economies of scale if we correctly target the sector of the population that has the power to influence and lead and fundamentally accelerate literacy across the continent.  The ambitious task of educating our children in Africa suddenly becomes a good deal more simple – and achievable. 

I believe this economy of scale is best achieved through technology. Think of how the combination of a computer, mobile telephony, multi-media software and the Internet have the power to bring the written word to life, by sound or by sight, at relatively little expense across oceans and continents.

Technology access has a multiplying effect that opens up new worlds to schoolchildren, new markets to entrepreneurs and small businesses or new citizen communities to governments, irrespective of geographical location. 

How then do we harness this potential in ICT?

Last September we launched a portal with UNESCO called the Knowledge and Innovations Network for Literacy. This online resource connects experts with teachers, NGOs and governments who need tried and tested literacy curriculum, programmes, teaching methodologies and policy guidance. Based on Microsoft’s SharePoint technology, the Network serves as a global forum and community that can help scale the best practices in the spread of literacy, and especially literacy for women.  I believe that is a step in the right direction.

This is the type of collaboration that is going to help reverse the gender gap and address the poverty illiteracy often breeds. Today, on International Women’s Day I want to urge you to start thinking about how you can contribute. Together, we can use technology to transform the lives of children and women around the world who are excluded from society, the economy and national policy. We are all stakeholders in the MDG’s common denominator - literacy. 

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