Gender inequality and socio economic development
I think it is great that there has been a lot of conversation lately regarding gender inequality and ways to combat it. However, I can’t help but feel that as a country many people, particularly males still see the issue of gender inequality as a women’s issue only.
After working in the Geospatial/ICT sector for over 12 years now I just want to explain some of the effects I’ve observed of gender inequality on ICT in particular, as well as the broader impact this inequality has on our development as a nation.
A country’s most important resource is its human resource as they say. This is especially relevant to countries with limited capacity for expensive physical infrastructure like Samoa. This is best illustrated by Singapore, where successful human resource development allowed a country 4 times smaller than Samoa to achieve a GDP per capita about 13 times larger than Samoa’s.
Samoa is already limited in our human resources. More than half of our population is female, the presence of artificial barriers that hinder women’s economic participation severely limit the ability of our country to develop. To put it plainly, it’s similar to working with one hand tied behind our back. We have already seen very clear cases where women in our community have created businesses that have improved our economic output for example SSAB, Le Vai to name a few.
I am not in any way saying that women now are somehow not contributing. The fact that they give birth to all of us and are our primary child rearing/care-giver is a very big contribution. However “IF” they want to contribute more, then we should support them more instead of putting in artificial barriers that hinders them from doing so.
If we look at the top 5 most gender equal countries in the world. Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Ireland. These countries also consistently rank at the top of virtually every other key socio and economic development indicator like GDP, health, education, welfare, low unemployment rate, low crime rate etc.
I believe a lot of this has to do with their population as a whole participating in their social and economic development because there are less or no barriers for half of their population (women) to participate. New Zealand is actually at number 10 which is a country many of us in Samoa want to migrate to for economic reasons. Contrast that to the bottom 3 countries in terms of gender inequality like Egypt, Mali and Lebanon and we see the difference. Although these countries have other factors affecting them negatively, I would argue that the large gender inequality certainly does not help.
When I worked for EPC in Geospatial/ICT we had to advertise an assistant position 4 times because we couldn’t find someone. What I noticed each time was that most of the applicants (which there were very few to start with) were predominantly males. In fact I remember that there was only 1 female that applied. Now that I am in the private sector and involved heavily in Geospatial/ICT research and development it has hit hard how quite debilitating it is not having the capacity/talent to source from locally because there are very few ICT and in particular Geospatial talent in Samoa. What is making it worse is that literally half of the population (females) are not participating in ICT education and careers according to the recent ICT survey.
Why they are not participating is where gender inequality has reared its ugly head again. Girls for the last couple of years have consistently performed better than boys in the sciences and especially maths. These are subjects that are critical to CS(Computing Science) in particular and ICT however most women don’t end up taking a lucrative career in CS/ICT because of gender inequality. Key among them is a perception that CS/ICT is really for boys and not for girls. Because of this image of CS/ICT being a male space, pursuing it would not even occur to most girls despite the options it provides, those that pursue it are discouraged to take it up by their peers or parents, not necessarily directly but beliefs.
The end result is that we are seeing a huge shortage in ICT professionals in many countries including Samoa, in a time where ICT is projected to be a major driver in socio and economic development not just locally but globally.
To fully maximise the use of the already limited human resources we have, we need to take gender out of the equation and focus only on the individual person. Stereotypical views of certain professions based on gender roles not only discriminate against an individual person’s gender regardless of merit but it also limits the pool of people to feed from as is the case with ICT.
We should not discourage our children from taking certain professions because of their gender. If a boy wants to be the best secretary or nurse then let him be or if a girl wants to be the best software or geomatics engineer then encourage her to be one. In doing so will open up all these professions not only to more competition but also to the total available human resource to source from and hopefully fill highly skilled professions that we are currently lacking in including ICT.
I fear that if gender inequality is not addressed properly we will not fully utilise our limited human resource and such will continue to hinder our socio and economic development including ICT and development in general.
More hands makes a load lighter, two heads is better than one etc etc