Gender-Just Digital Innovation in Africa (GeDIA): Uniting women changemakers (and their male allies) to co-design gender-just digital futures

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Social Sciences Research Institutes


Digital innovation in Africa (and globally) is taking place in highly unequal societies, and there is a risk that the shift to digitisation will trace or even amplify these inequalities. Gender inequality is one such inequality, and it intersects with inequalities along education, class, ethnicity, location, marital status, sexual orientation and disability lines. Gender equality is a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5) in itself and also has been shown to have significant secondary effects on the achievement of other SDGs.

Thus both women and men stand to gain from more gender equal societies, and yet in project design in the areas of digital literacy, Information and Communication Technologies for development (ICT4D), and digital-related service design, often gender equality is an afterthought, rather than being a key aim from the start. Women are frequently seen as "hard-to-reach", relatively passive participants who need special encouragement to be included. This network seeks to shift this paradigm and instead position women as active agents in their own digital futures. We unite leading women changemakers, and their male allies, in a network that partners with other women changemakers across African countries to develop digital action research with women (alongside men) as central actors.

The network unites academic leaders from the field of ICT4D, Human Computer Interaction Design, digital literacy training, Data Science, with gender equality activists and partners from business (GSMA's network) from NGOs (Oxfam, Malala Fund) and women's networks (Asikana, Coding Space). Participants come from Zambia, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, the UK and Sweden, and each bring their own networks. Thus as a network of networks we will be able to share good practice, identify gaps in our knowledge, and develop a joint research agenda. Together we will apply for a GCRF Large Grant which will allow us to undertake impactful action research together.

We seek to explore this overarching question: How can women changemakers in Africa be empowered to co-create a more gender-equal digital future?

Based on our analysis of the structural barriers to women's participation in digital innovation, GeDIA will concentrate on three focal areas where we see vital levers for change:

1) Amplifying advocacy in gender equality and equal participation in civic life by developing training opportunities for activists to better use the new tools of digital civics, social media campaigning, data science and data visualisation

2) Ensuring fair access for women and girls to education, training and careers in IT and Data Science

3) Developing gender-just service design. Developing better co-design processes for digital-related public services (e.g. sensor monitored water, sanitation, hygiene; apps for maternal health) with women as active partners in design.

We will convene a series of workshops and webinars, to bring together the members of the network. Here we will offer each other trainings, share best practice and existing methodologies. We will nurture a GeDIA Academy which supports female academics in African universities through peer support and mentoring. Male allies from Data Science Africa will host a training school focused on women as learners, and male allies from the Zambian Innovation Hub BongoHive will help host our workshops.

A members' directory will allow journalists and conference organisers to find female commentators on Africa's digital future. We have the support of DFID and GSMA who are on our advisory board, and our partners Oxfam, Malala Fund, INIITKenya have together pledged 40 person days to contribute to co-shaping this research agenda. They recognise the urgent need for collaborative research and action if women and girls are to have equal digital rights and participate in Africa's digital future.

Planned Impact

For an overview please see the GeDIA Impact Diagram.

The overall impact of the GeDIA network is to position women as changemakers themselves, rather than "hard-to-reach" groups to be included in digital innovation. In all our gender-unequal societies, women are less represented in digital data, digital participation, digital jobs and design of digital. We thus take a bold, multi-pronged approach to address both digital rights and gender equity together.

The network unites women changemakers (and male allies) from academia (especially from three leading centres of ICT4D research: Sheffield, UCT and Makerere) and from key NGOs Oxfam, Malala Fund (esp. Nigeria), and Asikana Network of Women in IT in Zambia. DFID are supportive and on our Advisory Board, as is the Connected Women team at the global umbrella organisation of mobile phone operators (GSMA) who will facilitate links to industry.

For the Academic Impact, please see the Case for Support and Academic Beneficiaries.
In terms of societal impact, the overall GeDIA network will: As a network of networks, unite women from a) the Sheffield-led GCRF Digital Development network, b) Oxfam's and Malala Fund's networks of women and girl gender advocates, c) Asikana's Women in IT network in Zambia; d) UCT School of IT's women alumni network; e) Data Science Africa granduands and f) GSMA industry networks. GeDIA participants will produce a manifesto recognising women as changemakers in digital futures in Africa. Through a website, blog with video interviews, and a members directory, GeDia will give women changemakers collective and individual visibility, as well as celebrating role models. GeDIA Academy is a sub-network for female academics working on digital at African universities to be supported as future research leaders (e.g. in GCRF projects). The GeDIA network will be the go-to place for media and conference organisers to source female commentators and panellists on digital, thus amplifying the voices of African women changemakers.

Based on three Literature Reviews we will develop an interwoven research agenda and analytical framework taking into account structural factors as well as agency, which will form the basis of an application for a 2nd stage large DIDA research grant. The grant will support research into structural barriers and digital rights for women in the digital era, as well as practical action research, with women changemakers at the centre.

Focal Area 1 will identify data gaps and combine tools (Sheffield, UCT, Oxfam Digital Campaign team etc) for activists to offer data science and social media training. Trainings will be piloted with Malala Fund's network of 38 gender activists and will then be rolled out further, free of charge. Hundreds of gender activists will be more effective in generating and leveraging data in advocacy work.

Focal Area 2 will improve digital literacy curriculum for girls in partnership with Malala Fund. Building on resources from Oxfam and others, GeDIA will develop curriculum relevant to women and girls, with an emphasis on privacy, risk and harassment online, how to deal with trolls and safely participate in online debate, to allow more women to participate in digital civic spaces. This will be integrated in Malala Fund's campaign for more girl-centred curricula. GeDIA will pilot the first-ever version of the Data Science Africa training school focused on women learners.

Focal Area 3 will operationalise a gender-just approach to the design of digital-related public services, in particular in the areas of mobile apps for maternal health and digital network design underlying Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services in South Africa. Methodologies will be developed to be tested in action research in stage 2. Via GSMA industry partners will be invited to collaborate. With the uptake of these methods, a new design paradigm will come into being which benefits women and girls in Africa and globally.


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