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Minister of Gender, Community Development, and Social Welfare, Jean Muonaowauza Sendeza, has disclosed that structural challenges continue to hamper digitalization in Malawi.
Sendeza highlighted access to electricity, internet connectivity, poor or weak telecommunications infrastructure, low access to gadgets or high cost of electronic gadgets, and the limited ability of individuals to use digital solutions as some of the challenges hindering the digitalization drive.
The minister made the remarks in New York in the United States of America (USA) where she is attending the 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Sendeza disclosed that only 20 percent of Malawians have the internet access, and this challenge largely affects women and girls.
“As reported by the African Union that poor access to broadband internet represents a major hurdle, particularly for people living in rural and remote areas, to fully harness the potential of digital transformation, which also affects Malawi. Malawi has been pursuing the course of reducing gender inequalities in STEM through the implementation of the country’s strategic development blueprints, which are the Malawi Growth and Development Strategies, and more recently the Malawi 2063 development agenda,” she said.
She added “The Malawi 2063 development agenda identifies science and technology as one of the enablers for achieving sustainable development. It emphasizes the importance of reducing gender inequalities and improving opportunities for all people without discrimination. It further regards gender equality as one of the key human capital development enablers driving economic growth and a vibrant knowledge-based digital economy. It further recognizes the importance of science, technology and innovation to harness the country’s competitive advantage in the inclusive wealth creation and self-reliance agenda.”
Sendeza further stated that since the Government of Malawi places issues of STEM at the center of the country’s development, it instituted the National Commission on Science and Technology, as a driver for propelling meaningful development.
She said the Malawi Government realizes the importance of mainstreaming gender in science, technology and innovation. In actualizing this realization, the National Commission for Science and Technology has been implementing a number of initiatives that aim at inculcating a science and technology culture in the country.
She cited the establishment of the Women in Science and Technology Network, comprising Malawian women scientists, researchers and technologists from the academia, private sector, civil society and government, the Constitution of Malawi, in Sections 20 and 41, which upholds the principle of equal rights for men and women and prohibits any discrimination based on gender or marital status.
“This is to ensure that women and girls fully participate in all development activities including the participation in STEM and other digital technologies and innovations. To demonstrate this, Malawi conducts the Presidential Delivery Unit Digitalization labs to provide comprehensive guidance to transform Malawi into a wealthy and self-reliant nation through provision of integrated and inclusive ICT, digital systems and life enhancing services, Annual commemoration of the International Girls ICT Day since 2017, the African Development Bank-funded STEM in Universities Project where scholarships are awarded to girls who have been admitted in STEM programmes and academic staff proceeding for further studies in STEM programmes. It is targeting especially all the public universities and their research entities,” said Sendeza.
She also cited A USAID Project entitled Strengthening Higher Education Access in Malawi, which supports Adolescent Girls and Young Women with the objective of increasing access to education for adolescent girls and young women, persons with disabilities, vulnerable and other disadvantaged youth, and the higher education institutions such as the Malawi University of Science and Technology, which annually organize Girls Camps to encourage adolescent girls in secondary schools and female first year students studying STEM at MUST and other public universities to make good use of science and technology opportunities in their institutions.
“Allow me to reiterate that the Malawi Government is committed to promoting women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in STEM and Innovation.
“While realizing that Technology is a gateway to accessing information and services, and to participating in all spheres of life, we should be mindful that other people’s rights are not infringed upon, especially women and girls, by the same technology through cyber bullying,” thus concluded Sendeza.