Deputy Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said South Africa needs a “capable army” that includes women in order to contribute to and benefit from the fourth industrial revolution. File Image: IOL

DURBAN – South Africa needs a “capable army” that includes women in order to contribute to and benefit from the fourth industrial revolution, says deputy minister of telecommunications and postal services, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

“One thing that we realise is that in order to derive an effective economic spin-off from the fourth industrial revolution, we have to build a capable army. And we realise that a capable army will not be capable enough unless there are women,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams on Thursday in Durban.

The deputy minister was part of a high-level panel discussing the empowerment of women in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector at the Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre on the final day of the ITU Telecom World Conference 2018.

Also part of the session were; minister of small business development, Lindiwe Zulu; deputy minister of communications, Pinky Kekana and KZN MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs and Nomusa Dube Ncube.

Ndabele-Abrahams said that her department had committed to training 100 girls a year from each province in ICT skills in an effort to increase the confidence of women in digital literacy.

But acquiring and sharing digital skills needed to be a joint effort, not just the responsibility of one ministry. Mentorship and support of girls was essential, she said.

Ndabele-Abrahams said that in October, a multi-stakeholder consultative forum would be convened as a start to devising strategies to coordinate the efforts and opportunities for women, youth and SMMEs. 

In her keynote address, Zulu said that women were still struggling to participate in the “broader economies” in the country, which included ICT.

Women who had made inroads and succeeded in the ICT field were to be applauded and celebrated as breaking new ground and clearing paths for other women, she said.

One of the challenges facing female business owners operating in the ICT sector was “big companies opening up the skills in the value chain and enabling women-owned enterprises to thrive”, said Zulu.

“If business does not open up the space for small and medium enterprises and black-owned enterprises and women, we can talk all we want. This is why government is encouraging public/private partnerships, in order to create a better South Africa,” she said. 

Kekana said “deliberate and measurable targets” had to be adopted by the government to bridge the gender divide.

To ensure women were not left behind, Kekana said it was important that those in the ICT sector focused on educating girls and sought to understand cultural barriers.

She also questioned why coding was not made a compulsory subject like English.

Kekana said she was not sure that even with gender parity, empowerment was always the end result. An enabling environment had to be created that would allow women to elevate other women as they rose to the top of the ICT field.

- African News Agency (ANA)