By Lina Jere
The United Nations theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. Innovation and technology in the context of the theme can be considered from two angles- female participation in innovation and technology, and the impact of innovation and technology on gender equality. This article seeks to consider the legal framework relating to the two aspects of the theme that have been identified; and the possibilities of legislative development in this regard.
Female Participation in Innovation and Technology
Who inspired your career? Was it a parent who worked as a Paralegal; an aunt who had a thriving restaurant business; or even a cartoon character that was a doctor?
The images we see can inspire us to follow certain career paths as we realise- “this is a career option that is available to me” and “if she can do it, so can I”. Unfortunately, the inverse is also true which is why representation matters.
In terms of female participation, statistics relating to the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) indicate a significant gender gap. For instance, women make up only 22 per cent of artificial intelligence workers globally. The low representation of women in STEM results in innovation that does not sufficiently take into account the special needs of women; promotes gender biases concerning STEM, such as women are not capable of succeeding in these fields; and further perpetuates low female representation as young girls do not see people that look like them in STEM and are therefore less likely to aspire to specialise in those fields.
There are several laws that seek to address the underrepresentation of women. These laws include firstly, the Constitution of Zambia, Chapter 1 of the Laws of Zambia. The Constitution provides that where a person is empowered to make a nomination or an appointment to a public office, that person shall ensure that fifty per cent of each gender is nominated or appointed from the total available positions. This provision would ensure that women have representation in public office, which office would include an office in a public body that is responsible for the portfolio of gender equality, education and technology. This representation is important as it allows women to have an input in the identification and solving of problems experienced by other women and moves women’s issues higher up on the agenda.
The Gender Equity and Equality Act No. 22 of 2015 provides standards relating to gender equality, which state and non-state institutions are required to comply with. It, for instance, states that, in achieving gender equality, both sexes shall have equal access to modern, appropriate and affordable technology and support services. It further criminalises sexual harassment, which is likely to occur in environments where women are a minority or where a lesser number of women hold positions of power, such as in STEM.
The Citizens Economic Empowerment Act No. 9 of 2006 provides that one of its objectives is to promote gender equality in accessing, owning, managing, controlling and exploiting economic resources. Women are therefore provided with, firstly, access to free skills development which can include the use of technology and innovation in business; secondly, access to affordable loans which can increase their access to innovation and technology which they can use to grow their business ventures; and lastly, provides them with an opportunity to drive innovation and technology by making investments in the sector.
Impact of Innovation and Technology on Gender Equality
Technology has made life easier in so many ways, one of which is keeping us connected to almost everyone, from anywhere, at any time. But as the saying goes “too much of anything is bad”, the unlimited access has its downside. This part illustrates how technology can be used to address the social ills that result from gender inequality and has in some cases perpetuated it.
Technology and innovation have increased access to information on gender equality such as information on the accomplishments of African women in STEM. It can also be used to prevent, report and investigate cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), which is a manifestation of gender inequality. Concerning prevention of GBV, did you know that there is a mobile application that assesses danger by analysing data on a partner’s behaviour; and that victims can seek help by calling a helpline that provides counselling, guidance and referral services? Further, the police use STEM, for instance through forensic science, to investigate GBV offences.
GBV has also been perpetrated through the use of technology. This has occurred by way of internet stalking, harassment and posting of explicit images or videos of women online to punish or coerce them.
The Anti-Gender Based Violence Act No. 1 of 2011 addresses acts of GBV that can occur through the use of technology, by categorising harassment and stalking as forms of GBV. The Act further provides civil remedies for victims which include a protection order which is an order that can prohibit a person accused of GBV from making further contact with the victim, whether in person or through other communication channels such as online.
Despite the Anti-GBV Act, GBV continues to persist at a high level in Zambia. This prompted the Zambia Law Development Commission to conduct a review of the Act, to improve its efficacy. The Commission is at the end of the law review process and intends to hand over its project report with recommendations to the Ministry of Justice within the quarter.
The Cyber Security Act No. 2 of 2021 complements the provisions of the Anti-GBV Act by making it an offence for a person to use a computer system to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause emotional distress to a person. The Act addresses the vice of former partners posting sexually explicit images or videos of women on the internet to punish or coerce them, by making it an offence to offer, circulate or make available, pornography through a computer system.
There is room to enhance the legal framework in order to meet the objective of the theme, by for instance:
(1) providing for consequences, under the Gender Equity and Equality Act, where an institution fails to put in place a sexual harassment policy, fails to provide equal access to innovation and technology or fails to meet a set employment quota for women, as the law provides for these principles but does not provide for measures that will ensure compliance.
Alternatively, the Gender Equity and Equality Commission may provide positive reinforcement for institutions that are compliant with the Act, which can be effected administratively, in conjunction with other government institutions; and
(2) enhancing the efficacy of the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act, per the Commission’s research findings and recommendations made under the project to review the Act.
There is room to enhance the administrative framework in order to meet the objective of the theme by, for instance:
(1) operationalising the Gender Equity and Equality Commission, which is established under the Gender Equity and Equality Act, and is responsible for the implantation of the Act;
(2) higher education institutions providing bursaries in STEM fields specifically targeted at female applicants;
(3) increasing visibility of female role models in addition to men in STEM; and
(3) public and private financial institutions such as the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission to introduce funding specifically targeted at women who intend to invest in the STEM sector.
The Zambia Law Development Commission will continue to, as part of its mandate, make recommendations to ensure that international and regional human rights instruments and best practices are adopted into the law. These instruments and practices speak to, among other issues, achieving gender equality.
 In Focus: International Womens Day, retrieved from https://www.unwomen.org/en/news-stories/in-focus/2023/03/in-focus-international-womens-day?gclid=Cj0KCQiA9YugBhCZARIsAACXxeIFbypy_Bp6pxm5HW-oaY3tr7CywnugOl54-R0dYAVX3mFsD1uW6ZYaAlW0EALw_wcB on 5/03/23
 Article 259 (1)
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 Section 21
 Read more- Women in Science- Inspiring Stories from Africa https://globalyoungacademy.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Women-in-Science-Inspiring-Stories-from-Africa.pdf
 Lifeline/Childline Zambia- 933 Gender Based Violence Line retrieved from https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/our-partnership/member-directory/lifelinechildline-zambia/ on 5/03/23
 Zambia Police Service 2021 Fourth Quarter Gender-Based Violence Cases Statistics.
 Section 69
 Section 56