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The Chronicle

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Michael Magoronga, Midlands Correspondent

ALTHOUGH gender is an important area for Africa’s development priorities, its relation to Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), especially in the fight against the vagaries associated with extreme weather conditions and climate change response in general, leaves a lot to be desired.

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This is despite the fact that women, girls and children find themselves at the receiving end of the effects of climate change.

Their role in day-to-day household chores ranging from looking for clean water, firewood, their involvement in subsistence farming and any other food security endeavour, leaves this group at the mercy of negative effects of climate change.

Studies show that in most African countries, women represent about 70 percent of the agricultural labour force, producing more than 50 percent of the continent’s food.

Women, who in most cases, earn less than their male counterparts, have limited control of household finances. Many rely on what they are given by their husbands.

These resource constraints limit their ability to adopt innovative technology that can improve production levels.

To address these gender inequalities and fully exploit the potential benefits of ICT use in agriculture and climate risk management development, there is need for robust efforts to foster innovation and a gender inclusive digital transformation in agriculture and in climate response and adaptation.

These must drive policy decisions that promote investments in ICT for female empowerment.

This comes at a time when the use of digital tools for the dissemination of information regarding farming and climate adaptation is gathering pace.

The use of mobile phones, televisions, radio stations, audio visuals and other information delivery and accessing systems have become key in improving food security, disseminating agriculture and climate (weather) information among other important details.

ICTs have become new platforms for climate experts to generate, disseminate and translate weather information and even advisory services without the constraint of physical distance.

Formation of WhatsApp platforms and groups that are used to disseminate key information have become essential in the fight against climate change and agriculture.

Despite the huge benefits and potentials of ICT use in agriculture and climate adaptation, there are a number of factors that militate against their effective use, especially in the rural parts of Zimbabwe.

The barriers common to all major ICT devices include lack of and erratic electricity supply, poor network coverage, and high maintenance costs among others.

Last week, the world commemorated International Women’s Day under the theme “DigitALL:

Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality”, and it is imperative to focus on how the digital gap can be closed.

The Conference of Parties (COP) 27 revealed that the rights of women and girls in all their diversity, were often sidelined in climate change negotiations.

Ms Manal Shehade, ACT Alliance Gender Community of Practice chairperson said there was need for gender justice, especially in financing, when discussing climate adaptation issues.

“An intersectional gender lens can’t be an afterthought. The truth is that without finance, there will be no gender transformative climate action and without gender justice there’s no climate justice,” she said.

Ms Shehade said action that does not address the gendered dimensions of the climate emergency can further exacerbate inequalities.

In Zimbabwe, a study carried out by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) shows that there is a wider digital skills gap between women and men.

Zimstats ZimStat

Despite the advances in digital technology, the gender gap in access to ICTs still exists and this keeps women from realising their full potential when it comes to ICTs.

According to the report, this is so because the training that women receive in schools is not STEM related.

Data from the 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey showed that less women had ICT skills than men in all areas that were collected in the survey.

“Overall, about 13 percent of women aged 15 to 49 years reported having performed at least one ICT skill. The skills gap is apparent between rural and urban areas underscoring the need to improve access in rural areas,” said the report.

The ICT ministry is doing a splendid job in trying to connect all parts of the country as it chases a digital economy by 2030.

Through the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), the ministry embarked on a connectivity program where they are connecting the internet to rural schools, clinics and police stations among other institutions.

Untitled 22 4 Post and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz)

They are also rehabilitating former post offices into ICT centres which they equip with computers and internet for everyone to access free of charge, which is very commendable.

In the same vein, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is also encouraging a strong digital foundation for girls saying it is key in the country’s achievement of desired results and women empowerment.

Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mrs Thumisang Thabela encouraged girls to take up ICTs and STEM subjects at an early age.

Untitled 12 3 Mrs Thumisang Thabela

“The Ministry has an initiative of Mobile Science laboratories for primary schools. This is an endeavour to introduce STEM learning as early as ECD in an effort to groom and tap talent in the learning pathway. The ministry remains committed to promoting improved access to relevant and inclusive quality education for every learner regardless of gender, ethnicity or economic status,” she said.

Mrs Thabela said schools should implement climate friendly initiatives that are favourable to both boys and girls.

“Due to incessant and ever-changing climatic conditions, all staff and pupils are encouraged to be climate ready and put in place mitigatory measures that prevent the effect of disastrous climatic conditions. Schools therefore need to embark on massive afforestation programs and ensure water is readily available,” she said.

The ministry, she said, continues to place deliberate focus on water provision through drilling boreholes or supporting mechanisations to enable more schools to have enough water sources targeting especially the girl child.

Solar energy is key, especially for rural women, as it can be used for charging gadgets, in addition to other household uses.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Ambassador Raphael Faranisi said government was in the process of creating a fund that will see installation of solar boreholes and other solar projects to counter power challenges.

Raphael Tayerera Faranisi Raphael Tayerera Faranisi

“Women and girls are more vulnerable to climate change effects; therefore, we need to ensure that our women and girls are safe by drilling solar powered boreholes. We will channel more funds towards renewable energy sources especially solar which is key in ICT. We are aware that ICT is key in the fight against climate change and we urge all, especially women, to take up initiatives being rolled out by government towards renewable energy and ICT,” he said.

Director of Climate and Environmental Services in the same ministry, Professor Prosper Matondi said his department was aware of the gender gap adding that his department was seized with issues of ensuring that women get the necessary information.

“Our data shows that climate change is more intense among women and children hence we have come up with programmes to cushion them from such vagaries. We have partnered with development partners (Unicef) for a number of projects that are targeting women and children like installation of solar equipment such as lights and boreholes,” he said.

6ytrhthth Professor Prosper Matondi

Prof Matondi said ICT was key for early warning systems in case of disasters.

“Imagine if people didn’t have the ICT gadgets, they would let their children go to school and maybe we could be in the middle of a disaster as we speak due to Cyclone Freddy. But we managed to send the warning and our mothers reacted swiftly. Children didn’t cross flooded rivers and were not affected by the cyclone. This is all attributed to ICT and knowing that men are usually not at home, women are the ones who take care of children.

“We’re happy that women managed to embrace the use of cooking stoves. For a while we’ve been relying on bio-gas but we’re now spreading information on cooking stoves that require less firewood hence reducing deforestation. They’re more efficient and cleaner. All this information is useful to our women in the rural areas and for them to receive it they have to have access either to television, a mobile phone or radio. That’s when our solar project comes into play,” he said.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, various stakeholders shared solidarity messages in which they highlighted the importance of ICT in the women’s sphere.

Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister Dr Sithembiso Nyoni highlighted the need to employ a variety of approaches in addressing the various challenges faced by women and fostering digital education towards achieving gender equality.

She said the theme was in tandem with the country’s thrust to attain Vision 2030.

“The theme is in tandem with the vision of the New Dispensation which emphasises on economic recovery and making Zimbabwe a middle-income economy by 2030. If we work collectively as a people, we can achieve all this by exploiting technological innovations through fostering digital education towards achieving gender equality,” she said.

Climate change is among government’s top priorities on its road to attaining Vision 2030. Minister Nyoni said women were still facing many challenges in the country adding more needed to be done to address them. “There’s need to employ a variety of approaches to address the various challenges faced by women which include enrolment in non-formal education, technical and vocational training, agricultural extension services, workplace training and training in these new technologies,” said Minister Nyoni.

The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development is in the process of revitalising irrigation schemes across the country and most of them have state-of-the-art irrigation systems and are operated largely by women.

It is imperative therefore to do more to ensure that women have access to ICT in all its forms to ensure a food secure nation, safe from the whims of extreme weather conditions.

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