Nº 3 2012 > Technology needs girls

ITU promotes Girls in ICT Day in New York

Second anniversary of a global fixture

Joanne O’Riordan’s motto in life has always been “no limbs, no limits”.Dr Touré launching a three-year “Tech Needs Girls” campaign, which will focus on empowerment, equality, education and employment
Joanne O’Riordan’s motto in life has always been “no limbs, no limits”.
Dr Touré launching a three-year “Tech Needs Girls” campaign, which will focus on empowerment, equality, education and employment

On 26 April 2012, global leaders from the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia met in New York to define a road map that will help break down barriers and overturn outmoded attitudes in a bid to attract more girls to technology-related studies and careers. ITU launched a three-year “Tech Needs Girls” campaign focused on empowerment, equality, education and employment.

In a high-level debate, held at New York’s Institute of International Education and hosted by ITU to promote the global Girls in ICT Day, speakers identified misguided career counselling in schools, the geek image of technology professionals, the rarity of female role models, and an absence of home and workplace support as factors in dissuading talented girls from pursuing technology careers.

The debate brought together champions of gender empowerment, including: Melanne Verveer, United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues; Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women; Mignon Clyburn, Commissioner with the United States Federal Communications Commission; Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda; and Jasna Matić, Serbia’s State Secretary for Digital Agenda.

Adding to the lively discussion were industry leaders including Alethea Lodge-Clarke, Programme Manager of Public Private Partnerships for Microsoft; Monique Morrow, Chief Technical Officer for Asia Pacific, Cisco Systems; Juliana Rotich, Executive Director of Ushahidi; and Sarah Wynn-Williams, Manager of Global Public Policy for Facebook. The most poignant words came from panellist Joanne O’Riordan, a girl born with no limbs. Now 16 years old, Joanne talked about what technology means to her.

Inspired by the Girls in ICT Day events organized around the world by non-governmental organizations, universities, government agencies, industry and others, participants sketched out a blueprint for attracting school-age girls to the fast-evolving technology field, and agreed to work together to change attitudes and boost female enrolment in technology studies.

Welcoming the invited audience of more than 200 experts in gender, education and technology, ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré said: Over the coming decade, there are expected to be two million more ICT jobs than there are professionals to fill them. This is an extraordinary opportunity for girls and young women — in a world where there are over 70 million unemployed young people.”

Dr Touré explained that outdated attitudes had to change, because they put young girls off considering technology as a job option. “ICT careers are not ‘too hard’ for girls. ICT careers are not ‘unfeminine’. And ICT careers are certainly not ‘boring’. Encouraging girls to go into the technology industry will create a positive feedback loop — in turn creating inspiring new role models for the next generation.”

Joanne O’Riordan, one of only seven people in the world with total amelia (a congenital birth condition causing the absence of all four limbs), gave her perspective on the vital role of accessible technology in personal empowerment. In an inspirational speech, the 16‑year-old told the audience that her motto in life had always been “no limbs, no limits”.

I use technology in all aspects of my life… I was just one year old when I first began to explore the use of technology with our old computer. I figured out how to use it by simply moving my ‘hand’ and chin at a faster speed. Today I can type 36 words a minute and for someone with no limbs, I think that’s an incredible achievement,” she said.

Joanne concluded by challenging industry leaders and technology experts to create a robotic system that could help her and others with disabilities or age-related problems live richer, fuller lives. “I’m asking the women here, who are the leading women in their fields, to start doing what I do every day — think outside the box. To think of ways and means to make technology more accessible to the people who really need it. Women are better than men at most things, so why not technology too?”

Dr Touré closed the event by calling for partners to collaborate with ITU on a three-year Tech Needs Girls campaign focused on empowerment, equality, education and employment. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us all, working together as partners, to make a real difference,” he said.

“Girls in ICT Day” was sparked by Resolution 70, which was updated and adopted by ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October 2010. The Resolution, “Gender mainstreaming in ITU and promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women through information and communication technologies”, resolved to incorporate a gender perspective in all ITU programmes and plans. Girls in ICT Day aims to build on and promote the work already being undertaken within the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.

Girls in ICT Day, which is celebrated annually on the fourth Thursday in April, was established by ITU in 2011. The Day encourages girls to choose a career in ICT by showing how these technologies play to their interests and strengths. Teenage girls and university students spent the day at the offices of ICT companies, government agencies and academic institutions, meeting women working in the technology field, and gaining an understanding of the many exciting opportunities available in the ICT sector.

ITU and its partner WITNET provided support to Girls in ICT Day event organizers worldwide, sharing flyers, banners, event organization toolkits, and helping them with sponsorship ideas and coordination with other partners. Celebrations from around the world will be published in a future issue of ITU News.


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