Perhaps nobody would oppose it in public, but the reality is different. Women are not balanced in all professional environments, and more and more cases are reported that reflect the way they are rewarded for their work is not fair.
When it comes to open data it is a different situation. Open data does not take gender into consideration instead it serves as an empowerment tool for any individual who is interested in making use of it.
Open data – data anyone can access, use or share – is transformative infrastructure for a digital economy that is consistently innovating and bringing the benefits of the Web to society. Open data often goes hand in hand with open working cultures and open business practices. While this culture lends itself to diversity, it is important that those who are involved in open data make sure it addresses everyone’s needs. It is therefore encouraging to see that open data initiatives in African countries are being led by women. From heading up technical teams to leading stakeholder engagement strategies, these leaders are driving open data across the continent.
Some examples of women who have empowered themselves and are changing their community for better with open data are:
MAHADIA TUNGA is Training Lead for the Tanzania Data Lab (dLab) project, and has spearheaded initiatives to increase data skills amongst the country’s civil servants and NGOs. dLab has also hosted a number of roundtables to explore how open data can help tackle HIV/AIDS. As a “curious citizen, researcher and lecturer”, Mahadia sees open data as “an important vehicle to transform the social [and] economic landscape of her country”, especially as a “tool to improve efficiency and enable citizens to make informed decisions”. She maintains that her experiences working within a high-performing and supportive environment have given her confidence and determination to continue building the data skills of key stakeholders across Tanzania.
NKECHI OKWUONE is one of the youngest Open Data Managers in the African region, responsible for managing the Edo State Government Open Data portal and the innovative Edo AgriHub project. In Nigeria, open data is being used to help tackle corruption and opening up new business opportunities. However, Nkechi says that occasionally processes are ‘deliberately frustrated’ when opening up data means exposing corruption, and governments and the private sector must be held to account in releasing data. Nkechi recommends fellow Nigerians to consider a career in open data, as it is, as she calls it, “a growing and ever relevant area” in the country, although she highlights the need for resilience, discipline, courage and dedication to succeed in forging open data initiatives.
YEAMA THOMPSON has been an open data champion and enthusiast in Sierra Leone since 2014, when she served as Commissioner of the Right to Access Information Commission during the Ebola crisis. During the epidemic, the Ebola Response team data gathered, analysed and shared data in real-time, which shaped government policy-making and resource mobilisation. Yeama says that although there is “no denying that Sierra Leone is a patriarchal state”, the power of open data to “speak about change and address structural governance gaps” means that “women are taking the lead on open data and good governance in government and civic spaces”. In her experience, “women are more receptive [than men] to open data in Sierra Leone”, demonstrating the wider disruptive force of open data in introducing political, economic and social change.
LINET KWAMBOKA is coordinator of the Kenya Open Data Initiative, managing the government’s open data portal alongside an Open Data Fellows programme, which places fellows across key government departments to increase open data available for innovation. She champions open data as an equalising force in Kenya, enabling citizens from both marginalised and well-resourced regions of the country to access customised goods and services.
Notice that each leader stressed the importance of including everyone, whether male or female, young or old, in order to deliver digital equality. As open data is already a movement that can facilitate far-reaching social and economic change, this transformative environment provides an opportunity to shine regardless of who you are.
Open data is beneficial is so many ways. Take for example the business world.
When the business world hears open data, it thinks of governments and public institutions opening up their data. Examples are geographical information, statistics, weather data, data from publicly-funded research projects, and digitised books from libraries. They think economic gains will happen around the world along three main channels:
Business innovation: Broader and more rapid access to scientific papers and data will make it easier for researchers and businesses to build on the findings of public-funded research. This will help boost a country or region’s innovation capacity in fields like pharmaceutics and renewables.
Business creation: A new market for public service information will thrive if data is available and products/services are developed by businesses by adding value to the original public service data provided by a government. Businesses, in other words, can build new innovative applications and e -services based on those data that the government can make available with minimal cost to itself.
Business efficiency: Businesses could benefit from more open data by gaining more precise and complete insight into customers’ (and citizens’) preferences and needs, thus becoming more efficient in tackling those needs and at the same time contributing to a smart growth.
Open data also makes a government more transparent i.e. Open Data supports public oversight of governments and helps reduce corruption by enabling greater transparency. For instance, Open Data makes it easier to monitor government activities, such as tracking public budget expenditures and impacts. It also encourages greater citizen participation in government affairs and supports democratic societies by providing information about voting procedures, locations and ballot issues.
At the clinical/population and research data level, opening up medical data, sharing and linking large healthcare datasets enables semantically to relate and enrich data on symptoms, diseases, diagnosis, treatments, and prescriptions offering the potential for improvements in care for individuals and populations as well more efficient semantic access to the evidence base.
In a continent like Africa where women are marginalised to some extent, valuable information through the effecting of open data initiatives, can be a tool to enable them empower themselves to become successful business owners, key strategists in various economies, speak out and give their strong opinions on various situations concerning the government with the right facts to back up their opinions and lead an era were being heard and respected would no longer be a rare happening.
Knowing that such an important field can be spearheaded by women, can only serve as an encouragement to women to make ways for themselves with free access to data at their fingertips to use and share at their will.
Open data does not care about gender because its relevance comes from what it is being used to achieve not who uses it to achieve.