Advancing gender equality is crucial to ensure a sustainable future since women account for just over half the world’s working-age population. If women do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will increasingly be lopsided with half the population contributing significantly less than half the output. As Africa navigates the shifts that Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will bring, we have to ensure equal access to opportunities the digital transformation brings, and stipulate how we can boost access to skills, to ensure women and girls are fully empowered to participate in the coming revolutions.

We are already seeing the emerging impacts of 4IR, most noticeably in the workforce where jobs are rapidly being lost to automation. There is a need to upskill employees to provide them with an opportunity to remain in their roles and to add value to their organisations.

The 4IR has the power to improve lives since production can be facilitated and made more efficient; learning can be more interactive and ubiquitous. However, women are disproportionately more likely to be doing low-value tasks that require unskilled labour that can be easily replaced with automation. Women, therefore, make up the vulnerable group needing upskilling to access to the opportunities brought by the 4IR.

Women are underrepresented especially in engineering and technology careers that are most expected to grow and benefit most from the 4IR. In Africa, the population of Africa is expected to grow from its current 1.2 billion to approximately 1.6 billion in 2030.   This point is made to draw attention to the need for Africa to have the right mix of Science, Technology, Engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills, with the softer skills like emotional intelligence, in order for African workers to have the capacity to drive change and development (though human interaction) into the continent using the 4IR.

The rest of Africa can learn lessons from Rwanda, which has pioneered integrating women into politics and the ICT revolution.  Women like Akaliza Keza Gara, a member of the 4Afrika advisory council for Microsoft that ensures that young people venture into ICT, serve as exemplary cases for gender inclusivity within the digital space.

In other parts of Africa, online initiatives such as She Leads Africa is empowering young women to excel in business. M-Pesa, the leading mobile money transfer service, facilitates business transactions and has helped thousands of female entrepreneurs to build thriving small and medium enterprises.

Yet, there is more to be done. The highest share of women in the workforce globally is found in Zimbabwe at 52.8{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1}.   Additionally, women across the continent are more likely to be in informal employment relative to men. In the private sector, African women hold 23{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1} of positions at the executive committee level compared to a global average of 20{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1}.  This clearly shows that Africa is keeping pace, but globally more must be done to empower women. More women need to be integrated into formal employment, moving up the corporate ladder and part of the decision making. This requires the world and Africa to invest in upskilling women in order to take the positions and drive the 4IR agenda forward.

Bridging the digital divide and ensuring that the education system is ready to maximise the opportunities brought by the 4IR – for women especially – are notions and issues that should be incorporated when designing new policy initiatives surrounding the 4IR, among others. Addressing these issues can change the lives of vulnerable groups, particularly the poor, women and children. Tutwa Consulting Group is keeping a close eye on policy changes and developments, as it is essential to understand how the digital revolution can also help narrow the gender divide.