As part of the 2023 International Women's Day celebrations under the theme "For an inclusive digital world: innovations and technologies for gender equality", Ipar organised a webinar on Tuesday 27 March focusing on "the challenges of responsible and inclusive use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) through the prism of policy and research in Africa".
Within IPAR, several research projects (GRAIN, DUA, AgriDATA) focus on responsible AI, which is a powerful tool that can stimulate development in Africa. However, it can generate inequalities if it is not used responsibly.
Access to data and technologies and the pressing need to ensure data reliability and security are challenges in Africa. To this end, politicians, international institutions and the private sector must work together to maximise the benefits of AI. These players can put in place mechanisms to invest in infrastructure and to regulate in order to harness the benefits of digital technologies to promote diversity and inclusion.
To ensure that gender equality is properly integrated into the use of artificial intelligence, the regional virtual panel, moderated by Dr Marame Cissé, a gender expert at IPAR, addressed various AI-related challenges, in particular the development of applications and algorithms to reduce the gender gap in the field of AI in Africa.
Five (5) speakers from Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire and Morocco raised the issue of strengthening practices that promote digital inclusion, access to technologies and female entrepreneurship. The implementation of policies in favour of responsible and inclusive AI and the awareness-raising strategies to be encouraged among decision-makers and entrepreneurs around the opportunities for including women in the digital transformation in Africa.
Introducing the theme of the webinar, Dr Marame Cissé pointed out that this year's theme is an invitation to examine the challenges of women's access to digital technology. Access to digital innovations and technologies is a key development issue. Gaps between men and women in access to digital technology compromise development, given the role of women and the importance of these technologies in everyday life.
According to UN Women's Focus on Gender Equality 2022 reportThe exclusion of women from the digital world has reduced the gross domestic product of low- and middle-income countries by $1 trillion over the last decade. This must prompt decision-makers to take into account the specific perspectives and needs of different groups in society, including women and marginalised people and communities, in the development and deployment of AI. Innovative practices, policy mechanisms and recommendations that promote gender equality in the digital sector were discussed in turn by the panellists.
Acting on policies and the synergy of actions to promote digital inclusion
Charlette N'guessan, Ivorian entrepreneur and AI specialist, argued that AI offers great prospects, but it can also have shortcomings that are detrimental to its positive and responsible use, hence the need to regulate the sector to minimise the risks associated with these shortcomings.
In the same vein, Alpha Seydi Ba, a media and communications expert from Senegal, stressed the need to strengthen political will around the promotion of inclusive leadership on AI, a change in paradigms, investment in training, particularly for women, etc. Economic planning documents, strategies, etc. are all levers on which action can be taken. Economic planning documents, strategies, etc. are all levers on which it is possible to act.
To encourage politicians to take action, Mr Ousseynou Gueye, Director of Polaris Asso in Senegal, suggests strong advocacy focused on the specific problems faced by women: cyber-harassment, protection of personal data, etc. The scales for action are not just local, they are sub-regional and regional. Turning to the levels of governance, Charlette N'Guessan recalled the important work of the African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET by AUDA-NEPAD) in promoting the responsible deployment of AI.
Training, raising awareness and securing personal data: levers to be used to accelerate digital inclusion
Reducing the gender gap in AI in Africa is a complex undertaking. According to Salma Gherraby, Founder of Business Innovation (Morocco), it requires a holistic and inclusive approach. In her presentation entitled The challenges of using AI.pdf Ms Gherraby calls for the promotion of inclusive algorithms and the creation of an inclusive corporate culture, the training of AI developers in gender issues, the involvement of women in the design of AI and raising awareness of AI and gender.
In the same vein, Nadine Zoro, Director of the DigiFemmes Programme (Côte d'Ivoire), called for digital technology to be seen as an opportunity and not a hostile place for women. She encouraged women to embrace digital technologies and use them more often. She points out that the majority of women (in Africa) have never worked with a computer, and this is often the case for women living in rural areas.
As well as access, there is the issue of women's appropriation of technology. So the most basic information must be made available to them through appropriate training. She also added that an entrepreneurial environment must be offered to women in all their diversity. Practices that promote digital inclusion, access to technologies and female entrepreneurship in and through digital technology must take account of the diversity of women's situations and offer them secure tools and solutions.
Governance, regulation and trust: essential mechanisms for promoting technologies
According to Charlette N'Guessan, AI offers great prospects, but it can also have flaws that are detrimental to its positive and responsible use, hence the need to regulate the sector to minimise the risks associated with these flaws. In her view, we need to close the gap between Africa and the West when it comes to AI, by ensuring that the solutions developed meet Africa's needs and are inclusive. She also recommends defining the regulators between AI stakeholders, as well as stepping up infrastructure policy, defining policies that strengthen access and regulating the use of artificial intelligence.
Turning to the governance aspects, Ousseynou Gueye said that the responsible use of AI also depends on trust and good, inclusive governance. In his view, building confidence in the use of digital technologies to ensure their positive appropriation by women, through the security of personal data and digital tools, is essential to encourage more women to adopt them.
The discussions highlighted the key challenges, but also a number of possible solutions for the responsible use of artificial intelligence, including the inclusion of women and young people, training, access to data and connectivity, investment in infrastructure, policies tailored to the needs of women, awareness-raising and advocacy for better regulation and governance, transformative research, etc.
To conclude the session, Dr Laure Tall, Director of Research at IPAR, pointed out that it was time to prepare for battle in view of the investments and numerous projects being implemented on the African continent. There are ways of bringing all these actions together and creating synergies. This is a time for action and synergistic action. To this end, it advocates investment in research and knowledge for young people and women, because AI and technological tools should not be seen as highly complex and out of reach. Looking ahead, IPAR plans to hold a webinar in English on the same topic in the near future.