The International Girls in ICT day was celebrated on April 23, 2020, with the theme “Inspiring the Next Generations.” One would ask, what is being done to inspire the next generations of young women and girls to embrace Tech?
Information and Communications Technology [ICT] is still a critical need for girls and women. As you may all be aware, technology plays a critical role in our daily lives. It helps in setting our career path, to access information, and express views on issues or things that concern us daily. However, most women and girls join the tech field at an old age. For more women to join the ICT sectors, learning ICTs for girls should start at a young age and this will be able to prepare them to strive for ICT related jobs and courses [subjects].
When Girls join the tech field at a young age, they will become creators and designers instead of being users of tech only and they will create an inclusive environment that will give birth to more digital children.
Albeit, the presence of women in the ICT arena does not guarantee attention to gender issues because ICTs are socially constructed and impact men and women differently. Most women and girls remain excluded from the benefits of the internet and they face increasing marginalization.
When unwomenNG [@unwomenNG] wrote on the twitter page--- “Women & girls remain underrepresented in #STEM fields despite global action calls for gender balance. On #GirlsinICTDay, we must continue to tackle gender biases & stereotypes linking science to masculinity & encourage young girls to pursue courses in #STEM,”---April 23, 2020.
Eleanor Sarpong [@Ellasarpong] replied to the above tweet and said--- “We continue to have fewer girls in #STEM across the world. We need families to encourage their girls to pursue and stay in these fields. I’ve been there and I know the power of strong mentors. We need more of them. So let's join forces !!! Happy #GirlsinICTDay #GirlsInICT2020,”---on April 23, 2020.
However, there are still few women and girls in ICT which has been caused by factors such as digital illiteracy, limited affordability of ICT based services, lack of tech know-how and not having a degree especially in low developed countries, however, the reality still remains that in the future, Jobs will be driven by technology and innovations.
Yet girls still study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM] at a lower rate than boys, they often feel societal pressure and cultural norms work against them while seeking employment and advancement in tech careers, they still face lack of self-confidence and suffer from feelings of inferiority, girls still lack support and understanding, girls still face cultural biases regarding their place in the society and their roles as women at home.
Girls are actually willing to join ICT fields but they are driven off by what society says and think they are, what some teachers who should be encouraging them, and uplifting them to study ICT say. Tech being a male-dominated field, girls also lack female role models and mentors to encourage and let them know that Girls too can study ICT courses and pursue careers in ICT sectors. Unfortunately, sometimes it is the parents who nurture their children believing that tech fields are only for men or boys and in case of opportunities, priorities are given to the male child to study or work.
Due to the recent outbreak of coronavirus [COVID19] which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. On March 16, 2020, the Ugandan president [Yoweri Katugga Museveni] addressed the nation and ordered the closure of all public gatherings and events for 21 days. The closure of schools which brings a total of almost 15 million young Ugandans going home was among the public gatherings mentioned to be closed during the government’s address.
With this outbreak of COVID19, many parents had to resort to homeschooling for their children with no hope of the schools opening soon. However, most of the parents are hit hardest by this pandemic which caught many unaware and not prepared for homeschooling for their children. The internet and ICT may seem the only options for parents to access relevant subjects to teach their children.
In a bid to ensure that children continue learning during this period of lockdown caused by COVID19, the Ministry of Education and Sports with the guidance of the National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC), has recently developed harmonized and standardized self-study lesson packages for all core subjects for Primary and Secondary learners. This is only possible with access to the internet and ICT tools.
The majority of parents especially females may not have the required skills to use the ICT tools to access the internet and get required topics relevant for their children as many may not have the tech know-how. It is one thing to have basic ICT skills but also another thing to surf the web and get whatever information you want.
Additionally, based on the gender division of labor, many of the household chores are done by girls, and less is done by the male child which is affecting girls’ access to effective learning as most of their time is spent doing household chores.
Uganda Christian University recently announced that university students would do online examinations without considering how many of these university students actually have access to computers, whether they have digital skills and whether they live in an environment that allows ICT use in terms of infrastructures.
This pandemic has made the world realize how important ICT and the internet are for more Girls to join ICT Careers and jobs.
According to the International Telecommunication Union [ITU], in 2019, Girls in ICT Day events reached an estimated 20,000 girls but this might have not been possible this year. What does this mean for girls in ICT?
The International Girls in ICT day aims to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider studies and careers in the growing fields of ICTs.
Even though many efforts have been done to achieve this, a lot are still seen as a struggle to overcome these barriers for more girls to study and even take up careers in tech.
During the World Wide Web Foundation celebration of its 31st birthday of the web this year , the foundation released a report and cited that the web is not yet favorable for women and girls as nearly “two billion women across the globe can’t access the web at all which deprive them of the opportunities to learn, earn and have their voices heard,” according to the 2020 Web Foundation report. With the COVID19 outbreak, the internet has been the only accessible platform to get information and learn, although the web is still not favorable for women and girls who have been hit hardest by COVID19 negative impact. The 2018 lugambo tax still continues to widen the gender digital divide and affects children’s learning while at home during this lockdown.
Experts say tech can be a lonely and sometimes an intimidating field for women. But this can be overcome by having role models, mentors, and parents encouraging their daughters to study tech subjects.
@GradeScore [@achom_lillian] wrote on her twitter explaining why the emphasis should be on girls--- ‘" Why the girls and not the boys in ICT mentorship" The world confirms that more boys are into ICTs than girls, hence the emphasis on girls. But I agree that boys need mentorship programs to respect women & girls #GirlsinICT @maureenagena @ekisesta @UhuruTelecoms @jossiemiliza,”---April 23, 2020.
The government through the ministry of ICT and National Guidance in Uganda should be able to let everyone know what ICT companies and government agencies are doing for girls to better understand the opportunities the ICT sector holds for the future.
Girls need to be inspired and engaged for more young girls and women to take up STEM studies as a career opportunity, create awareness for a better tomorrow, bridge the gender gaps and reduce inequality.
This can only be done by:
The Web Foundation [@webfoundation] wrote on twitter--- “Until we close the digital gender gap, girls will not have equal opportunities to use technology, become engineers & shape the industry. On #GirlsInICT Day, join us to build a better online world for women & girls. #ForEveryone #WebWeWant,”---April 23, 2020.
For women and girls to do ICT related subjects and take up ICT careers, we should not focus on “who is” but rather “what is” to avoid saying male or female. Also, women should uplift fellow women and remember that action is asking for what you can do for others, and Multiplication is asking for what you can do with others.
With these recommendations, I only imagine a world where more girls and young women will create and have a conducive environment for fellow women to join ICT sectors that will also have a huge impact on Uganda’s productivity.
Sandra Aceng - Program Officer Gender and ICT policy advocacy