July 11, 2023, will mark the twentieth anniversary of the Maputo Protocol on African Women’s Rights. By identifying the protection of women’s rights as a foundation for sustainable development, the Protocol guaranteed African women and girls fundamental rights, including the right to education and health.
Two decades later, women’s access to basic social services has failed. Access to education, health services, finance or even digital technology remains a challenge for women and girls in Africa.
Nearly 80% of women on the continent do not have access to digital technology, compared to 17% worldwide.
Addressing the gap
Yet digital technology offers tremendous opportunities, not only economically, but also in terms of access to education and health. In the health sector in particular, digital health technologies can be a powerful way to accelerate universal health coverage in Africa.
They can facilitate access to health services for all, while acting as a powerful lever for economic development. Especially as the global digital health market continues to grow and is estimated to be worth $660 billion by 2025.
HealthTech is becoming an economic sector and an industry that promised to generate jobs of the future. Therefore, there is an opportunity to ensure that women don’t get left behind.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where women bear a large proportion of disease and mortality burden, improving access to healthcare means giving women access to health services and empowering them to benefit from the opportunities offered by HealthTech.
Investing in women’s digital skills and promoting female entrepreneurship in the health sector is now essential to driving growth and development in African countries. African women have a long tradition of resilience and creativity in dealing with their challenges.
Whether through the development of low-cost digital diagnostic solutions, the creation of digital community awareness platforms or telemedicine, they can be key players in transforming the continent’s healthcare system.
Investing in women’s innovation
This requires African governments to promote digital literacy for all girls to ensure equal access to education and technology skills development. They must ensure a safe social and legal environment for women and facilitate their access to digital finance and funds in the digital economy.
Civil society has already set the ball rolling on the continent through initiatives such as the Women Innovators Incubator and the Young African Innovators for Health Awards, launched by Speak Up Africa in partnership with the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA).
The second edition of the prize was launched last May. It focuses on women’s innovation and all promising solutions for achieving universal health coverage in Africa.
By awarding grants and strengthening the leadership of women entrepreneurs in health innovation in Africa, this initiative is helping to reduce the gender imbalance in access to funding in the digital sector.
Another example of an initiative supported by civil society is the “African Women in Digital Health” movement, launched in Kigali in December 2022. It is now one of the flagships of the digital transformation strategy of the African Centre for Disease Surveillance and Prevention (CDC Africa).
The private sector also needs to support this momentum by investing more in women-led digital start-ups to ensure that the specific needs of women and girls in health are addressed.
The author is the Chief Digital Advisor for the Africa CDC.