Saturday, April 5, 2014

Robots or Women: Why Women Are Needed in The Labour Market Today?

“It is man’s participation in culture and the realization of his mental powers through culture that makes it impossible to construct a human psychology on the basis of the individual alone….To treat the world as an indifferent flow of information to be processed by individuals each on his or her own terms is to lose sight of how individuals are formed and how they function.” Jerome Bruner (1990)

Nao the Robot During G-day IOI 14 University of Douala 

         When Nao the Robot came to Cameroon for the first time during the Google Days Innovative Open Ideas  2014 (G-Days IOI)   in  the Faculty of Industrial Engineering of the University of Douala from the 1st and 2nd March,  amongst the several students, passionate and curious who were present was a visible sense of astonishment. Nao was humanized. Well Nao was a humanoid paradoxically. Nao was acclaimed. People carried him, took photos with him, hugged him, smiled at him and even pampered him. ICT and Kulture was part of this experience and we looked for evidence that it was not the presence of Nao that did cause . The reaction to Nao’s presence would have been very different in Europe, North America not to talk of Japan. In these areas, robots have long been part of the lives of people. For most students who were present during the G-Days IOI 14 it was their first time of seeing a robot, a Real Robot. Well, this is strange since robots are analogies of human beings and among the human species is the female human being. The woman-robot better robot-woman would seem a perspective. The idea of woman as robot would sound amazingly degrading for this complex creation of nature but to the best of our imagination robots and women in our human society have always had a lot of things in common. Interestingly the gender of robots is mostly masculine and the robot like Nao is masculinized. One thing is clear robots like women work unusually hard to serve humanity

Students posing with Nao the Robot during G-days IOI 14

        The aforementioned analysis suggests certain forms of attitudes. Putting oneself in the place of a woman would seem natural as revealing a sense of emphatic understanding but  taking robots as human beings would simply seem insane is it not it?. Yet, it is amazing that the present development of human society and economy is tending to a destination where robots would play a central role. The humanization of robots would unavoidably lead to the dehumanisation of the human society. Yet the digital age is an example of how machines, computers, robots are ruling the world. Robots and computers are now at the heart of every human activity. This has come to the point that new terms such as human computer interaction (HCI) that is the study of how people interact with computing technology (Olson and Olson, 2003), and human robot interaction (HRI) that is a field of study dedicated to understanding, designing, and evaluating robotic systems for use by or with humans (Goodrich and Schultz, 2007, p. 204) have been coined to express specific human interactive experiences quite specific and characteristic of the Digital age.
    Robotics, the technology of robots, cybernetics, the control of robot systems, and artificial intelligence make robots what they are and robots are everywhere now serving different purposes. A robot is a machine which does work and is controlled by a computer (Oxford Dictionary, 2008). In addition, according to Kuipers (n.d), “a robot is an intelligent system that interacts with the physical environment through sensors and effectors”. A computer is a machine that is “capable of executing instructions on data. The distinguishing feature of a computer is its ability to store its own instructions” (Downing et al., 2009, p. 105).  Robots do work so as women.

     This article is a reflection on the world-of-work and the role woman, robots and technology play in it. In Cameroon today, the IT/ICT sector is in its larval stage and threats to its development are several. Just to name a few of these threats; poor or absence of comprehensive guidance and counselling services at all levels of education to identify, foster and enable development in the interest of IT/ICT jobs; the absence of truly inclusive IT/ICT communities aimed at enhancing interest in and promoting ICT/IT jobs; absence of sustained competencies and skill building in formal education to enable adaptability to the changes brought by the information age and the absence of systematic planned role modelling within communities and schools to emulate youths into IT professions. Although cultural diversity is an asset Cameroonian children, youths and women can use to enhance their personal and professional development. it remains clear that the poor participation of these important demographies in the IT/ICT sector is problematic whereas there is mounting evidence on their role in shaping world economies. It is worth mentioning that “a still-costly access to ICT infrastructure, relatively low levels of skills with low educational attainments, and unfavourable business conditions for entrepreneurship and innovation are hindering  Cameroon’s capacity to fully leverage the potential of the increasingly available ICT infrastructure (Bilbao-Osorio, B., Dutta, S., and  Lanvin, B, 2013). This analysis highlights the complex relationships between social status, gender, technoculture or the information age and education. The thesis put forward in this article is highlighted by the idea that women (and youth) are the future of the development of the information age worldwide but their impact would of little importance if certain measures are not taken. The Information age is creating new demands in the world-of-work in terms of needs in high levels of skill (especially 21st century learning skills) and competencies. Women can either easily use or learn how to use these skills because of their inherent biological and psychological dispositions.  The need for specialized labour will become more and more pressing and relying on the traditional male inclined labour force would no longer be strategic to maintain development. Therefore women would have to become sure alternative means to boast the knowledge driven economies. Women have a unique brain (Brizendine, 2006) and this can lead them to work in conditions where men would find it difficult to work in. Investing in women would be  a  tremendous asset for every nation especially developing ones but for it to be possible women have to be trained and granted opportunities and facilities to access higher education especially in science technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). For this to start in developing countries such as Cameroon, guidance and counselling services most operate  absolutely and systematically at all levels of the education system (primary, secondary and tertiary). More emphasis should be made on gender responsiveness in this process. For Chemba (2009, pp.2) the term “gender responsiveness” refers to the practice of active and engaged strategies and responses to issues relating to gender in educational planning and policies.  Moreover gender-responsive programmes should be used to promote greater equity by “(1) ensuring that the overall needs and interests of both boys and girls in post-primary schools are met, (2) effectively incorporating life skills-based strategies for preparing the next generation to make “life-career” decisions, (3) closing potential achievement gaps between the sexes and (4) ensuring access to programmes for upper-level education/college/university-readiness” (p. 2).  Woman as robot is a metaphor highlighting the dehumanization of work, the desexualisation of women with regards to the world-of-work especially within the IT/ICT sector and the psychosocial implications these might have for the future. What women should know is that there is growing consensus of their importance ( e.g., Taeb, 2005) in specialized sectors such as IT/ICT and that there are even opportunities for them. For instance, Google helps women in technology to achieve their professional goal (, empowers women by making them digital literate,(, Techwomen “empowers, connects, and supports the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from Africa and the Middle East by providing them the access and opportunity needed to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and inspire women and girls in their communities” (, AppsTech a woman lead IT enterprise  is acting implicitly as a role model enterprise for millions of women and girls in Africa thereby providing them with the evidence that women can do something in the IT sector in Africa. AfricaIT Women builds skills and competencies in women in the IT sector in an Afrocentric context while acting as a social support group were these women can find assistance in their field and minimal but contextual guidance and counselling services ( These are outstanding resources all women interested or already in the ICT/IT sector worldwide should tap.

Woman as robot?
            In fact, “women do more than 67% of the hours of work done in the world” Swayam (n.d) and still they live in poverty. 70 % of the 1.7 billion people living in poverty are women (Swayam, n.d). We may claim that this might be due to the high illiteracy level of women. “Although females represent half of the world’s people, women and girls make up 70 per cent of the world’s poor and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population”(Population Connection, 2012). The analogy of woman as robot finds bearing in the idea of multitasking. “The inequality and injustice customarily experienced by women in Africa are acute, and well-documented. But as mothers, workers, carers and keepers of the home, African women are the queens of multitasking Miers (2011, p.1). African women are the queens of multitasking, like robots they work virtually endlessly to ensure that their families and communities develop. For example in Cameroon, 1 household out of 4 is headed by a woman (MINPROFF, 2012). In 2007, women spend on average 17 hours on household chores per week against 9 hours only for men (MINPROFF, 2012). However, despites cultural and experiential specificities which tend to mark the uniqueness of women, women are women everywhere. They share a collective burden that of marginalization and discrimination. The marginalization and discrimination of women is blatant in the world of work and a hindrance to development.

Women and the world of work: Technology and Business

Young girl talking during the G-days IOI 14
Girls should have more IT women
 to model and they should be fostered as early as possible to IT JobsPhoto Didier De Masso

            On the 8th of March 2014 at the Catholic University of Bamenda was held Bamenda Women Techmakers (WTM). ICT and Kulture was not surprised to see the paucity of the participation of women in Bamenda during this technological event. It is worth mentioning that the 8th of March is the International Women’s Day (IWD). Several hindrances affect women’s participation into IT/ICT jobs. The inequality that results is negative in the long run to nations and to both men and women (Swayam, n.d).  Whereas, investing in women is profitable both for themself, their familiars and nations. In fact, “mounting evidence confirms that women’s improved economic status produces many positive economic and welfare outcomes for children, families, and societies” (International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) 2010). Moreover as the International Labour Organisation (2010) points out with regards  the circumstances of female employment especially, in the sectors where women work, the types of work they do, their relationship  to their jobs, the wages they receive , provide  by far fewer gains to them as compared to the typical working male (p. xi). The situation of women in the world-of-work is complex but what seems certain as the ILO (2010, p.3-5) points out women are an important relatively stable labour force, but they are not used to the fullest of their capacity.
-           Nearly half (48.4 per cent) of the productive potential of the female population remains unutilized (compared to 22.3 per cent for men).
-          Of all people employed in the world, 40 per cent are women. This share has not changed over the last ten years.
-          Overall, there is not a significant difference between the sexes when it comes to global unemployment rates but the female rate is consistently slightly higher than the male. The female unemployment rate in 2009 was 7.0 per cent compared to the male rate of 6.3 per cent. Also at the country level, the majority of countries have higher unemployment rates for females than males (113 countries out of 152) and 30 countries showed female rates that exceeded male rates by more than 5 percentage points.

Alice Justman Google Adwords specialist  during a working session ( photo Didier De Masso)
Women participation in buisness and technology can be a real asset for  developement

  •        Ten years ago agriculture was the main employer for women; the services sector now provides the majority of female jobs.
  •           In many countries the female labour force is generally better educated than the male labour force. At the same time, the data show a much greater tendency for the educated woman, at both the tertiary and secondary levels, to face unemployment than men with the same education level. Yes, women are making great progress in gaining access to education and yes, the trend is for more women to become economically active, but in terms of numbers alone, the balance is still strongly in favour of men
  •          There is a clear segregation of women in sectors that are generally characterized by low pay, long hours and oftentimes informal working arrangements. And even within the sectors where women dominate, it is rarely women who would hold the upper managerial jobs.
  •      Part-time work continues to be a predominantly female domain (although male part-time employment rates are also increasing in some countries with available information).
            Recently, following a press release by the World Bank (2014) citing The International Labor Organization   it is estimated that almost half of women’s productive potential globally is unutilized compared to 22 percent of men’s. Closing these gender gaps could yield enormous dividends for development. This give much more evidence on the real potential women are in terms of human resources. It is important highlighting that “women are more economically excluded than men” according to Gender at Work cited in World Bank Web Site (2014).  This is wastage since “putting money in the hands of women can have a positive long-term effect on the family and whole communities. Studies have indicated that when women hold assets or gain income, the money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine, and housing, and consequently their children are healthier. For every dollar a woman earns, she invests 80 cents in her family” (Population Connected, 2012). Therefore, investing in women is strategic.

Africa IT Women  talking during the G-Days IOI 14  photo Didier De Masso

Bamenda Women Tech Makers  during the International Women's Day  2014 At The Catholic University of Bamenda  Photo Didier De Masso

    Nowadays, Women‘s participation in science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) ought be to encouraged through empowerment of women and girls in IT/ICT professions. However, this is not the case and facts paint a dark portrait of the state of things. In the United States of America, if women are not involved in science and technology by 2018 the information technology industry will only be able to fill half of its available jobs (Ashcraft and Blithe, 2009). “In 2003, nearly half of all women who held a computer science B.S. were not employed in a science, engineering, or technical (SET) job two years after graduation. Just over one-third of women with a computer science B.S. were still employed in an SET job two years after graduation” (p.15). 

Mandi Nanga Google App  specialist ( Photo Didier De Masso). Education in the 21st century involves specific technology and requires learners to have specific skills.More women should be educated


   The key element for women to be effectively present in the the labour market is education (ILO, 2010, Taeb, 2005). Notwithstanding, women are both consumers and producers of technological good and services. Their participation in technology development is important because they constitute a valuable source of semi-skilled and skilled labour which is for most instances highly under-utilized. (Mrs.) A. Tcheknavorian-Asenbauer Chairperson of United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s (UNIDO) Task Force on preparations for the Fourth World Conference on Women highlighted some points of interest and relevance even today. Firstly, over 200 million women are employed across all industry sectors with half coming from developing countries. Secondly, the work these women do sustain their families and contributes to the socio-economic progress of their nations. Lastly, even if most of this labour provided by women is unskilled, skilled labour as a result of education is enabling women to access senior decision-making positions. 

   More women are using technology (Bulik, 2011, p.2). This implies that women are consuming more and more IT goods/services. In fact, “women do more than 67% of the hours of work done in the world” Swayam (n.d). This sets any strategy or action in favour of sustainable development to invest in women since their contribution in technology (that is the development of the IT/ICT sector) and economy is of help both to themselves and the societies in which they live. The importance of women in technology is such that in the united states of America for example "if women are not involved in science and technology by 2018 the information technology industry will only be able to fill half of its available jobs" (Ashcraft and Blithe, 2009).

Woman using a smartphone  photo Didier De Masso

Looking at the Future: will women be the world’s principal human resource?

  Women, work and they work hard. Evidence indicates that women are a potential and their exclusion in the development of nations will be a disadvantage to humanity. More has to be done to enable women feel useful in their economic roles. The guilty and shame societies need to provide more space for empowerment of women. Do we have a choice? Because of hard times and the reawakening of the feminine collective unconscious things will never be the same again. Things will change and change is on already.  Looking at Nao and the minds behind it we realized how much till needs to be learned and done in science and technology. Robots are capable of many things but they are and will always be robots nothing else, nothing more. The history of science is a teacher. It teaches us for example never to say that something will not be. We do not know the future with absolute precision.  Yet one thing is certain, our universe is governed by fundamental laws which we cannot master or control absolutely. We are compelled to think, feel and act within the limits of what is possible for us. Our humanity has no price and its diversity not to say. Our culture is our cement. The right dose of masculine and feminine principles in each bit of thing is what has always been.  The equilibrium of the universe resides on this principle. With the need generated by the information age the need for  qualified woman human resource  is an urgent imperative.


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