Access and Safety Prioritised by this Years’ Girls in ICT Day

Sofia Imtiaz Salesforce Consultant

It’s the last week of April which means that International Girls in ICT day was observed, as it does every year. This years’ focus has been on “Access and Safety” as key elements to engage the next generation of girls with ICT.

The theme this year “reflects the world’s shared interest in empowering youth and girls to safely benefit from an active digital life” according to the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The UN recognises that there’s a need to make sure women and girls enjoy equal access to digital learning opportunities, especially in countries that are least developed.

Globally women only make up 30% of tech science and technology professionals. Furthermore, latest data by ITU found that only 57% of women use the internet worldwide, compared to 62% of men.

If women aren’t able to gain access to the Internet and at the same time don’t feel safe online, they are thus unable to develop essential digital skills and engage in these digital spaces. This then diminishes their chances to pursue careers in STEM fields.

Inspiring a New Generation

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said, “Girls in ICT Day is a call to action inspire the next generation of young women and girls to enter STEM careers.”

He added that it is essential to call on all business, government, university leaders and so on to do their utmost to support young women and girls so they “give them the chance to achieve their dreams.”

Access to STEM is Crucial for Girls

UN Women also went on to reiterate the importance of making sure each and every girl has meaningful and safe access to ICTs and digital technology.

In a statement they made, they said they were inspired by activists such as 18-year-old Ana Vizitiv from the Republic of Moldova whose work promotes equality in STEM and ICT, and Yordanos Genanaw, a 20-year-old role model and entrepreneur from Ethiopia who took part in the African Girls Can Code initiative and is now developing a website and mentoring others.

UN Women reminded that girls’ access to STEM subjects is now more crucial than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic and various other crises in countries across the world  have created challenges to girls and young women to learn, earn and connect. Thus the agency reiterated how vital technology is as a solution for them to access essential information and services.

Not only that, but technology helps them keep in touch with peers and relatives, communicate in school, and plays a big part in their independence and future prospects.

Negative Stereotypes Still Persist

One of the latest studies by UN Women and ITU found that girls access digital technology at a later age than boys do, and their access and use of technology is more often restricted by parents.

Furthermore, young women and girls are disproportionately exposed to online violence and harassment which can have a negative impact on their mental, physical, and emotional well-being. UN Women added that it can also influence how they access and use digital tools for the rest of their lives.

The UN Secretary-General has called for a global digital compact for improved digital cooperation built on the idea that “every girl has the right to be connected and safe, and to play her part in shaping a more equal, green and tech-driven future.”

The Generation Equality Action Coalition for Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality is connecting governments, the UN System, tech companies, civil organisation and young people in order to foster a more diverse and equal digital transformation. This will also aim to prevent and eliminate online violence that’s gender-based.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed marked the day by calling for an end to system barriers. She said on Twitter that “Girls continue to face cyber bullying and threats, and a lack of access due to digital divide”, and asked for a transformation in tech and innovation to be “equitable, safe and accessible”.

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