Nº 4 2012 > Women and girls in ICT
The world celebrates Girls in ICT Day
Myriad marvellous events
As reported in the April 2012 issue of ITU News, Girls in ICT Day is celebrated throughout the world on the fourth Thursday of April every year. Girls in ICT Day is an international initiative, backed by ITU Member States in Plenipotentiary Resolution 70 (Guadalajara, 2010), to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider careers in ICT. In the spirit of the day, ITU members should organize their own events in a way that serves to inform and educate, as well as to celebrate. The women and girls invited to participate in these events should be able to see for themselves the tremendous possibilities which the ICT sector holds for them and for their future. This new column in ITU News has been introduced to highlight examples that go beyond the purely ceremonial, and that open up the treasure house of ICT opportunities to women and girls.
ITU members heed the call for action to promote gender equality
To celebrate the second Girls in ICT Day, the ITU Secretary-General called on ITU members to organize national and local events on 26 April 2012. Some 1320 events were held in 82 countries, during which teenage girls and university students were invited to attend awareness-raising conferences, spend the day at the offices of ICT companies, government agencies or academic institutions, and meet female role models in the field of ICT in order to better understand the opportunities the ICT sector holds for their future.
On the day, the celebrations followed the course of the sun, starting in New Zealand and Australia, then sweeping across to reach Asia, with events in China and Malaysia, then on to the Arab States, where Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan all celebrated the day. In the Commonwealth of Independent States, events were held in Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. Moving westward, there were events all across Africa and Europe, then in the Caribbean, and North, Central and Latin America. More than thirty thousand girls were directly empowered in these celebrations globally.
ITU Member States and Sector Members all made a strong case for the creation of an empowering environment that encourages girls and young women to consider a career in technology. Civil society organizations, academia and committed individuals proved themselves to be invaluable partners in the celebration of these events, often working with very little funding in their efforts to raise awareness — among communities, teachers and career advisers — of ICT sector employment prospects. The private sector, including companies such as Cisco, which held more than 40 events worldwide, was instrumental in the success of many of the events throughout the world. Cisco used its telepresence networks so that girls in one country could exchange their experiences with girls in other distant countries, as they did for example between Chile and Colombia.
There is no predefined model or recipe for what a successful Girls in ICT Day event is. The aim is simply to raise awareness about the current shortage of qualified people and the bright prospects offered by the ever-growing needs of the ICT sector, as well as the importance of bridging the gender gap in what is still erroneously considered a male domain.
Girls and young women see technology careers from the inside
The wide range of partners involved in creating events for this second Girls in ICT Day allowed for a great variety of spontaneous and enthusiastic approaches to the empowerment of girls and young women. All the events were carefully planned.
One of the most popular types of event, favoured by most stakeholders and partners, involved organizing visits for school children and students to ICT companies, innovation centres, radio studios, regulatory authorities or mobile phone companies. A number of these visits were followed by presentations made by leading women working in the information technology world. There were also round-table sessions where participants could ask their questions and share their thoughts. Some organizers also planned follow-up programmes to further develop the will and skills of interested young women, to make sure that Girls in ICT Day has a lasting influence on future generations.
Technology comes to local communities
Some of the events brought technology directly to pupils and students, for example with technology buses which visited a number of rural or remotely located schools to introduce students, particularly girls, to careers in ICT. Career fairs were held in community schools in rural areas, along with workshops to raise awareness among students, both male and female. Other events included competitions around the theme of ICT.
Professional women promote technology
“The girls already have the ideas and innovative spirit. We need to provide them with the tools,” said Thea Smith, Deputy Director of Communication at the Ministry of Transport, Communication and Tourism in Suriname, who was the strength behind the project in her country. This ministry, in collaboration with other ministries, the regulatory authority and telecommunication providers, decided to bring girls in their last years of secondary school to an innovation laboratory at the University of Suriname for a session where they could meet professional women working in the ICT sector. After motivational speeches by these professionals, the girls engaged in a hands-on session at the innovation laboratory. “I always thought a career in ICT would be boring, but it’s not!,” commented one girl, reflecting on the half day spent in that technology environment.
Liberia achieves a lot with slender means
An example of an organizer who used the very little means she had to empower, inspire and reach hundreds of girls was Roberta Sonkarley in Liberia, who orchestrated a two-day event in her country. A hundred girls from several schools spent a working day at the ICT departments of various companies to learn and see the practical use of ICT. The second day started with an interactive conference and ICT career fair. A further 100 girls and young women from selected high schools and colleges went to the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in Monrovia to learn about ICT careers. Several eminent personalities took part in an interactive conference held at the ministry, with keynote addresses delivered by Dr Frederick B. Norkeh, Liberia’s Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, and Angelique E. Weeks, Chairperson of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority. They talked about the importance of ICT in Liberia, and encouraged Internet service providers to move forward and create partnerships with the organizers to reach more girls.
During the event, women leaders and engineers in the ICT and telecommunication industries in Liberia shared their experiences and explained what impact they were making on Liberian society and why they had chosen such a path. A round-table session ended the second day event, during which an ICT mentoring initiative for women was launched. Potential stakeholders were invited to join in supporting the initiative.
This event in Liberia marked the beginning of a sustained campaign to empower and educate girls and young women in the area of ICT. As a direct result, 267 girls expressed a firm interest in building their careers in ICT.
As we approach 2015, the target date for realizing the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, among which eliminating gender disparity features prominently, the Girls in ICT Day project is a way to create connections that inspire ideas and innovation to address a societal need. As coordinators of the project, we have been amazed by the positivity and willingness of organizers in all regions of the world, often working with very limited means, yet managing to move mountains and reach out to hundreds of girls. This year, the events sparked by Girls in ICT Day have sowed the seeds of empowerment in thousands of girls and young women around the world.
Girls in ICT day 2012
“Girls in ICT Day” saw 82 countries organizing 1320 events, reaching more than 30 000 girls and young women. Showcasing this celebratory initiative on 16 May 2012 as part of WSIS Forum 2012, Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) invited 14 event-organizers from Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Arab States, Asia-Pacific and Europe to describe what they had done to mark the day in their countries. ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré opened the session, which was also graced by Jasna Matić, Serbia’s State Secretary for Digital Agenda.
Showing photos and videos of their events, speakers described their successes and explained what hurdles they had faced and how they had managed to overcome them.
Among the many girls and young women who had participated in the “Girls in ICT Day” celebration worldwide, one young woman from Malaysia, Aisyah Shakirah Suhaidi, was invited to Geneva to share her first-hand experience of the event held at her school. She showed participants the drawing that she had done and explained that, for her, ICT meant a pathway to a brighter future.
Resources for event organizers
More specific information about the 2012 Girls in ICT Day events is posted on a dedicated portal for this project at www.girlsinict.org, where pictures, videos, programmes and other documents are freely available for everyone to use. The aim is to spread the word and inspire more people to organize a Girls in ICT activity to mark the day in 2013.