The Platform Economy and Gender in Africa
By: Sylvia Mukasa*
As rapid digital transformations happen, building inclusive digital economies is vital for inclusive growth and achieving gender equality. According to the 2021 GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report, there are still 74 million unconnected women in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Besides, women are also still less likely to own a mobile phone and are 37% less likely to use mobile Internet compared to men in the region.
Globally, women hold only 24% of all digital sector jobs, and in developing contexts men are 2.7 times more likely to work in the digital sector. The under-representation is seen across the entire IT ecosystem, especially in more technical positions and leadership positions. Increasing evidence shows that advances in disruptive technology do not automatically translate into advances in gender equality. Therefore, the platform economy should aim to have a transformative impact that does not exacerbate gender inequalities.
Given these scenarios: Are women producers and consumers in the platform economy, and to what extent is their participation? What are the challenges? Why should we pay attention and what can we do?
A platform business can be defined as a multisided marketplace that enables the creation, trade, and demand matching of micro-services between producers and consumers, through a digital platform. Some examples of platform business are social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, as well as retail platforms, Alibaba and Jumia for example.
Barriers to entry
- Digital gender divide — Women are less likely to own mobile phones and devices; as well as are less likely to access and afford internet.
- Gendered division of labor — Women’s primary role is of caregivers.
- The digital skill gaps — Digital literacy remains a challenge amongst women.
The large gaps in access to the internet and mobile phones limit women’s ability to work in tech-enabled jobs or to compete as entrepreneurs. When women leverage technology, it can often catalyze overcoming longstanding gender gaps such as economic empowerment through gig jobs.
Understanding how women are or are not currently using disruptive technologies is essential for them to become equal participants in an increasingly digitalized economy, yet gender-disaggregated data remains a huge challenge.
Participation in the Platform Economy
Are women participating in the platform economy? Is there a business case?
Across 11 African countries where Jumia operates, women sellers have adopted e-commerce. For example, in Nigeria and Kenya, women sellers make up 50% of Jumia’s seller base. IFC’s research Women and e-commerce in Africa shows that if women’s sales reached parity with men’s, the value of the African e-commerce market could increase by nearly USD 15 billion between 2025 and 2030, providing a powerful business case for e-commerce companies. The report further shows that women entrepreneurs are actively participating in e-commerce but require support to grow. In addition, McKinsey’s “Power of Parity” report estimates that narrowing the global gender gap in labour force participation could add US$12 trillion in global annual GDP by 2025. Moreover, narrowing the gender gap in the ICT sector alone would open up a market of US$50–70 billion.
With that being said, assessing the relative proportion of men and women engaged in platform livelihood helps understand women’s participation in it. The skew towards males is quite evident in ridesharing/driving for instance. Even though it is crucial to consider safety concerns and night work being a challenge for women in this segment, a study of motorcycle taxis in Kenya claims to have found only one female driver active at that time on the platform.
“The reaction from most of my male customers is at first they fear that I might get them into an accident, worrying that a woman can’t drive a boda (motorbike),” she shared. (Gachoka and Winiecki 2020)
Clear example of gender biases here.
Gig platforms also show a high degree of occupational segregation. Some labour platforms on home care services and beauty work skew towards women while micro-tasking ones are skewed towards men. Zollman and Wanjala (2020) found few platforms offering flexible work opportunities for women without high levels of education. Furthermore, digitalization is also seen to disproportionately impact the informal sector. Zollman and Wanjala (2020) found that platforms such as UberEats are more likely to have far-fetching impacts on women’s economic survival, as well as causes the displacement of local women’s groups providing urban catering.
Furthermore, due to lower levels of digital literacy and sellers’ ability to promote their products online, marketplace models have struggled to find success in Africa. However, social commerce in platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp is fast becoming a key marketplace model in the region.
Platform Economies and SDGs
In my view, the following key SDGs should be at the forefront of how we drive platform economies.
How do we get to gender parity in the platform economy?
The following six actions can be taken. Please bear in mind the list is not exhaustive.
Other measures such as advocating for and promoting female role models to inspire young women to study, start and run businesses, and lead in technology sectors. Promoting research on future skills to inform policy on the widening skills mismatch will address employment matters.
Dialogues around the governance of platform economies in Africa have been and will continue to be done by organizations such as the Global Leadership Academy (GLAC), GIZ, and others. Please check the next discussion on 31st August 2021 where I will be taking a deep dive on this topic at a public event organized by GLAC.
The platform economy holds a huge promise for addressing gender equality by providing alternative means for women to access jobs and start their ventures. The examples and statistics in this article clearly show that closing the digital inclusion gap between men and women entrepreneurs has tremendous benefits for the economy. As platform livelihoods continue to grow in SSA, more disaggregated research needs to be done to design better solutions for women.
A multi-stakeholder approach is vital to ensure women are participating fully in the platform economy. I hope this article will inspire tech companies, the private sector, NGOs, development partners, governments, investors, and civil society to invest in women to build an inclusive platform economy.
*An award-winning entrepreneur, Sylvia is Founder/CEO of GlobalX Investments Ltd/GlobalX Innovation Labs. She is passionate about empowering Women in Tech and contributing to the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Africa and globally. She is Country Co-Founder/Chapter Lead (Kenya) for Women in Tech Africa (WiTA). WiTA won the United Nations EQUALS in Tech Award, Leadership Category in 2018. She is a 2014 TechWomen Fellow, an Initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. TechWomen empowers, connects and supports the next generation of women leaders in STEM from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East; launched by Hillary Clinton, former US Secretary of State. She is a member of the Gender Alliance.