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Enhancing The Participation Of Women In The Evolving Creative And Innovative Sectors: The Role Of Intellectual Property

Participation of women in tech

Enhancing The Participation Of Women In The Evolving Creative And Innovative Sectors: The Role Of Intellectual Property

Empirical Research has substantiated the claim that women are starkly underrepresented in the field of innovation compared to men. Research shows that less than 10% of patent applications are held by women.

A survey published by the European Union further discloses that only about 17% of people working in technological fields are women. Worse still, according to the same study, the few women who find themselves working in the technological fields do not earn as much as their male counterparts.

In developing countries particularly, women find themselves in disparate living conditions with the many adverse effects. They tend to be limited by factors such as gender stereotype, unequal and fettered access to resources, illiteracy, unemployment, inadequate support system, and so on.  Intellectual Property certainly will be instrumental in mitigating these short-comings as it has been observed that countries that value, protect and invest in intellectual property rights are the ones with the best environment for women.

The imperative nature of intellectual property rights has necessitated its recognition as human rights by virtue of its codification in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The provision states that “everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author”.

China seems to understand the importance of intellectual property as a study revealed that an average Chinese person knows what intellectual property entails. Old and young minds, men and women even the free and imprisoned in China are all educated on their Intellectual Property rights, especially patents. And we see situations where their prisoners create things and are sometimes freed on the basis of their creations. This has made China thrive in terms of innovation and creation today.

However, in Africa, the story is vastly different as Africa contributes an insignificant 0.5 percent to global inventions. And for Nigerian women, it is doubly worse as many factors tend to inhibit their potential for innovation. These factors display themselves in the form of gender bias, unsupportive work environments and woeful under representation of women in patent intensive fields.

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Reasons for low participation of women in creative and innovative sectors

The reasons for low participation of women in creative and innovative sectors are not farfetched, and include:

Gender Stereotypes

From an early age, the gender stereotype of boys being better at science and technology is instilled in the female folks; thus, while their male counterparts are given toys that can spur their creativity, the girls are gifted with mere dolls and teddies, and are taught that they belong in the kitchen.

In High School, these girls with this kind of upbringing naturally yearn towards the art courses; so youd find them in the Home Economics lab and not in the Introductory Technology or ICT labs. The story does not change in the tertiary institution as the girls outnumber their male counterparts in the Humanities department while the hosts of young men flood the STEM faculties (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Little wonder in later life, many women are not involved in patent intensive fields.

Under-representation of Women

The capacity of women with respect to creativity and innovations is not in doubt.  The windshield wiper patented by Mary Anderson and the frequency hopping technology patented by Hedy Lamarr laid the groundwork for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology. In the same vein, Prof. Omowumi Sadik, a Nigerian inventor has a number of patents on biosensors. Her creativity yielded the invention of microelectrode biosensors which are used for drug and bomb detection. To mention but very few.

Despite the milestones and the contributions of many women in various sectors of innovations, it appears that adequate recognitions are not ascribed to them. Learning the history of computers in school, students were only given anecdotes of men who achieved tremendous things in this field. Terms such as “Fathers of computers was effortlessly acceptable but the term “Mothers of computers” was inconceivable as it sounds alien. 

This lack of representation limits women’s opportunity for mentorship and sponsorship and makes it difficult for prospective women to feel inspired to join the creative and innovative sectors. And when they try to do, they find themselves trailblazing their own paths.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a common menace women face in their careers and in their working environments. Women have reported being harassed by employers, colleagues, clients and strangers in the course of their career pursuit. This can hamper their creativity and innovation, for no person is optimally productive in an uncomfortable environment or circumstance.

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Ways to enhance participation of women in creative and innovative sectors through Intellectual Property

The field of Intellectual Property can be explored as a means for enhancing participation of women in creative and innovative sectors through the following:

Education and enlightenment on Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property education should be incorporated into every area of schooling. It should be taught in the secondary schools and in the universities, and not be restricted to the law faculties alone. It should be discussed on radio programmes and on social media platforms, and should be discussed in simple terms everybody will understand.

Intellectual Property clubs should be formed in schools. Intellectual Property should be made something girls are familiar with just like cooking, only then will they become fully aware of their rights and the benefits of inventing which will in turn spur them to create, because they know that they can fully defend their rights in case of any infringement.

Beyond primary education, women should be encouraged to engage in programs that will enable them think innovatively. For instance, the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab of the United States offers tuition-free daylong STEM programs for elementary and secondary schools targeted at exposing the students to careers in science and technology. These kinds of programs should be incorporated in Nigeria as it will ensure that girls learn about STEM opportunities early.

Ensuring that Intellectual Property rights owners get adequate compensation for their labour

The Intellectual Property field of law has the primary objective of protecting the proprietary rights of creators and inventors. It does so by ensuring that creators reap the economic benefit of their intellectual labour and as well retain the moral rights of their creations. In essence, intellectual property field of law can enhance the participation of women in the creative and innovative sector by ensuring effective implementation of the laws and policies so that female creators and inventors get adequate compensation for the expression of their intellectual labour.

A good illustration of unfair compensation is the case of Onyeka Onwenu v IROKING FHC/L/CS/1486/2017. Upon the expiration of the existing contract between the parties, the defendant continued to sell and make profits from the music of the plaintiff.  In an action for infringement, a lean and inadequate sum of 500 thousand naira damages was awarded in the plaintiffs favour.

In effect, by efficient dispensation of justice, the judiciary also has a role to play in encouraging women to get involved in innovations and creativity. By granting women the exclusive right to the economic gain of their creations, Intellectual Property law ensures that their efforts are not taken advantage of by others who exploit the work without the owners consents. By these strategies, continuity in creations and innovations are encouraged.

Sharing of Knowledge/Mentorship

While Intellectual Property law grants creators and inventors the right to enjoy the economic benefit from their work, it also encourages the sharing of knowledge and ideas. This is the point where Intellectual Property tries to strike a balance between the rights of creators and sharing of knowledge by fair dealing.

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Thus, Intellectual Property law allows others to use, build upon, or adapt creative works, provided they obtain the proper permissions and give proper acknowledgement to the original creators. This sharing of knowledge and ideas is essential for innovation, as it allows new ideas to be built and improved upon, leading to even more innovations and creativities.

Effective implementation of Intellectual Property Laws

One of the problems creators face in Nigeria is that the laws are not adequately tested. Hence, even in the face of violation of Intellectual Property rights, the rights owners seem powerless. This, in turn makes them not willing to create, for one would be wondering the essence of exerting the requisite labour for creation in the first place if the protection of those rights are not guaranteed.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Intellectual property law plays a vital role in promoting innovation and creativity. It provides creators and inventors with the legal means to protect their expressed ideas and creations, thereby affording them their right to reap the economic benefits of their work.

This protective role of the law operates as motivation and incentives daring the citizens to develop, invest in, and leverage on their intellectual properties and their concomitant rights. In turn, the society also benefits. Addressing the challenges which tend to hinder women representation in the field is vehemently suggested, for this will take the society several steps forward.


About Author

Peace Achebe is a law student with keen interest in Finance, Human Rights, Intellectual property and International law. She has shown her interest in IP through her unalloyed membership of the Intellectual Property Law Club, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and the Nigerian Intellectual Property club, where she has consistently worked as member of the research teams of the respective clubs. In her spare time, she enjoys working to achieve the United Nations SDGSs, playing basketball and watching movies.

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