International Womens Day 2023
Message of WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti
Dear colleagues and partners,
I am delighted to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day with you in recognition of women and girls championing the advancement of transformative digital technology.
This year’s theme, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality,” highlights the role of innovative technology in promoting gender equality and meeting the health and developmental needs of women and girls. Globally, the increasing number and use of mobile phones and internet connectivity have facilitated access to health information and services. The adoption of digital health and other technological innovations has positively impacted electronic medical records, health data management, security, and effective communication between health workers, patients, and community stakeholders.
Innovations have equally enhanced capacity building and knowledge translation through online training, webinars, and innovative tools for patient care—such as telemedicine, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Efforts at innovation have facilitated improved access to quality healthcare services and encouraged the participation of individuals, families, and community stakeholders in healthcare, especially during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
We have seen that women can be innovators and contribute to transforming the health of all people on the continent. In December 2018, we organized the first WHO Africa Innovation Challenge. It was a deliberate effort to find solutions to Africa’s unmet health needs and recognize home-grown innovations that could solve Africa’s health challenges.
More than a third of the over 2 400 submissions from 77 countries came from women-led enterprises, and one of them emerged among the top three awardees. We need to encourage and support such dedication. I’m glad to see the enthusiastic scale-up of ICT-based innovation deployed to fight COVID-19 and other diseases in the region.
These include using drones in Ghana, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Malawi; robots for clinical assistance in Rwanda; satellite imagery-driven vulnerability mapping dashboards in Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone; and WhatsApp Chatbots in South Africa. Similarly, Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Uganda are using self-diagnostic tools, contact tracing apps, and solar-powered automatic handwashing tools—to mention but a few.
In the area of reproductive health, innovative technologies such as YeneHealth, a digital innovation supporting women to gain self-agency; NoviGuide 2.4, a neonatal application helping to recognize and act when danger signs are noticed; and Safe Delivery smartphone applications being tested in eight countries have shown added value to reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescents services when deployed widely.
Nevertheless, we must do more to remove the digital gender divide, mainly impacting vulnerable women and girls, especially those in rural and remote areas with low education and socioeconomic status. According to a 2021 report by the Association of Mobile Operators, inadequate infrastructure, lack of digital skills for the internet and ICTs, and gender-related barriers around access to and control over resources are the main obstacles to “meaningful connectivity” for women and girls.
We can address this challenge by:
1. Creating awareness about the digital gender divide.
2. Advocating for policies and legal frameworks to keep women and girls safe.
3. Promoting women’s participation in science, technology, and ICTs.
By doing these, we will ensure that disadvantaged and vulnerable women and girls also benefit equitably from digital and technological innovations for their improved health and well-being. Let us also work to ensure that women and girls are safe online. This will free them from online gender-based violence, including cyberstalking, sexual harassment, trafficking, and gross breaches of privacy.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I urge all stakeholders—from governments and partners to civil society and citizens—to support country-driven and gender-sensitive approaches to close the existing digital gender divide.