AI, Gender and development in Africa: Feminist Policy Considerations

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a major driver for what has now become known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). On the African continent specifically, the discourse centres AI as a tool for leapfrogging and economic advancement (Marwala 2022). However, women and gender minorities are underrep­resented in AI spaces and are disproportionately harmed by AI technologies as a result of this exclusion. There is therefore a need to evaluate if and how gender is considered in AI policies on the continent. While different countries on the continent are at various levels and stages of AI integration and implementa­tion, a look at regional bodies – who are the standard setters – can be a first step to unpacking some gaps that currently exists in the ongoing efforts to implement AI for economic de­velopment.

This report provides a surface level look at answering whether or not the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) adequately consider gender in the AI and development discourse. By analysing protocols, model laws, strategies, and declarations related to development, technology, and gender (or all three), I find that while some at regional level, a strategic and pragmatic portrayal of AI is absent and there is inadequate gender specificity.

While some individual countries do a good job of strategically focusing on AI, and some regional documents attempt this, overall; I find that AI is lumped into other emerging technologies and not singled out as a key focus. This can make it difficult to create policies that effectively target AI technologies, thus failing to minimise harms of said technologies.

As a result of these findings, I recommend the following:

  1. Industry/sector specific mentions of AI: This would help frame AI in a more practical way for its applications on the African continent
  2. Gender mainstreaming at every stage of AI and development efforts
  3. Gender protocols need to include AI and development considerations substantially

Author: Rutendo Chabikwa, DPhil Student