Kekana calls on women to take up ownership in WOAN

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Deputy communications minister Pinky Kekana.
Deputy communications minister Pinky Kekana.

Pinky Kekana, deputy minister of communications and digital technologies, has called on women to act, take up ownership, and hold equity in the wholesale open access network (WOAN).

Kekana made the comment during her keynote speech at the launch of “Lift As We Rise”, a series powered by the South African Women in ICT Forum, which took place at the University of Pretoria’s Africa Campus earlier today.

The South African government recently issued the long-awaited policy and policy direction for the licensing of high-demand spectrum, paving the way for WOAN licensing.

In the policy, communications and digital technologies minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, directs that a portion of unallocated high-demand spectrum must first be assigned to a network category of licensees, known as WOAN, and the remainder must then be assigned to other eligible licensees.

The WOAN has also been pegged as a viable option for creating new business opportunities for ICT SMMEs, new entrants into the ICT sector, as well transformation of the industry to benefit and empower women.

Kekana stated: “Women of South Africa, there are opportunities in tech, if we choose to see it like that. There are currently talks about the WOAN…I’m not sure where women in the ICT space are in those conversations.”

The deputy minister told the group of mainly female delegates that throughout Women’s Month, she has heard of challenges still being faced in the workplace, particularly challenges in the ICT sector, as well as overcoming challenges of the gender digital divide. 

“More deliberate and action-oriented efforts are needed to ensure equal access for women in the tech industry and equal participation of women in relation to men in the tech economy. When women contribute to shaping policy and decision-making, we create an inclusive economy for all South Africans to thrive, not just women,” she stated.

“As women, we need to be thoughtful and measured in our view of ICT. We need to view ICT as tools through which gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls can be advanced, allowing us all to participate in the technology economy together.” 

Kekana added that in response to the United Nations' sustainable development goal on gender equality, the government of SA is intentional and very vocal about women in leadership in the male-dominated ICT sector. 

Lift as we rise

Today, the Women in ICT Forum introduced its “Lift As We Rise” series, which is a phrase drawn from one of political activist, Charlotte Maxeke’s popular speeches, which emphasises women uplifting each other.

The launch of the series also saw the training of 60 grade five girls from around Pretoria on basic coding skills through the DigiGirlz coding workshop, which is initiated by Microsoft SA.

The Women in ICT Forum, an initiative of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), is an industry forum that brings together women working in ICT as well as non-ICT-related fields.

Working with private and public sector and civil society, the forum’s interests lie in furthering the advancement of women participation in the ICT sector.

Mameetse Masemola, chairperson of the Women in ICT Forum and acting deputy director-general for ICT development branch in the DCDT, said the forum’s strategy is clear and deliberate to focus on interventions that promote women empowerment in the ICT sector, as well as engage men that want to be part of the solution.

As the second board of the forum, Masemola said they plan to champion and focus on four Ts, namely training, talent, trade and traction over the next four years. 

“We have chosen as a forum the motto of Lift As We Rise because it epitomises the authenticity with which we are going to be driving our mandate as the forum.”      

Kekana, who is also a patron of the Women in ICT Forum, indicated that political activist Maxeke understood that the “pull her down syndrome should not be something that women are preoccupied with”.

Explaining her take on what the forum’s series means, she stated: “To me, it means we selflessly understand the needs of others in the context of our own, and as we work together towards our own goals – we work to support the dreams and goals of other people.”

“If we take the phrase Lift As We Rise seriously…we can double the figures of women representation in the ICT sector and build from there.”

Kekana also committed to ensure gender parity in the ICT sector is achieved. “We can no longer be observers and merely talk about emancipation of women and we can no longer talk about gender parity but not activate it to women empowerment,” she concluded.  

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