Woman sitting in window on laptop

© Extraordinary Zambia

A new project will unite women changemakers and their male allies to ensure women have an equal say in Africa’s digital futures. In the GeDIA project (Gender-Just Digital Innovation in Africa) researchers at the Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID) are joining forces with 10 Co-Investigators and 7 non-academic partners. GeDIA is funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). PI Prof Dorothea Kleine and a team of a further four co-directors, from Uganda, Zambia, South Africa and UK lead this group. The project unites universities with non-academic partners including the Zambian Women in IT activists Asikana Network, the South African social enterprise CodeSpace, as well as Oxfam’s Nairobi office and digital team, and the Malala Fund, both of whom are contributing in kind to the project.

Digital Innovation in Africa, and globally, is taking place in highly unequal societies, and there is a risk that the shift to digitization will trace and amplify these inequalities. Both women and men stand to gain from more gender-equal societies, because greater gender equality is associated with significant positive effects for other development goals. However, when it comes to areas such as digital training, the use of information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) and digital-related design, often gender equity is an afterthought. “Women are often seen just as a harder-to-reach group to be retrospectively included” says Prof Kleine. “The project brings together women leaders, and some key male allies, who set out to develop a joint research agenda around the idea that African women themselves will be central actors in Africa’s digital futures”.

Co-director Fiona Ssozi, an academic at Makerere University in Uganda, explains the work strands of the 12-month project: “In this first phase we prepare a proposal for a large research programme in the second phase. We are developing a three-pronged action research programme. One group will be working on digital tools and data visualisations for campaigning for gender justice, another will focus on ensuring fair access for women and girls to digital and data science training and careers, and the third group will demonstrate processes of gender-just service design, with women as active partners at each stage.”

The project will also offer GeDIA Academy, a peer-mentoring system for female academics at African universities. This will be supported by three particular centres of excellence in ICT4D research, the University of Sheffield’s Digital, Data and Innovation research theme within SIID, the University of Cape Town’s School of IT and Makerere University’s College of Computing and IT.

The international Covid19 situation will force many meetings and workshops to be moved online, but the network is raring to go. Kleine comments: “This is an amazing, diverse team. Digital futures are being imagined and realized right now, during the crisis and the recovery, and the GeDIA project wants to support women changemakers from different sectors to unite, imagine and realise more gender-equal versions of these digital futures”.

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Partners of the project include: University of Sheffield (UK), University of Cape Town (South Africa), Makerere University (Uganda), University of Dodoma (Tanzania), Dedan Kimathi University of Technology (Kenya), SPIDER, Stockholm University (Sweden), Asikana Network for Women in IT (Zambia), INIIT (Kenya), Malala Fund, Oxfam, CodeSpace (South Africa).

For more information on the Sheffield Institute for International Development: http://siid.group.shef.ac.uk/

For more information on the Global Challenges Research Fund: https://www.ukri.org/research/global-challenges-research-fund/