Did you know that yesterday was 'Girls in ICT Day'? The Day celebrates girls’ interests and strengths, and encourages them to choose a career in information and communication technologies. Read this great post about women and girls in ICT by Linda Raftree, Plan's Senior Director of Information and Communication for Development (ICT).
By Linda Raftree
The field of Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) tends to be dominated by men. Is this because men are more suited to working in technology? Because women don't want to? Because boys are more interested from an early age?
Probably not. What is more likely is that there are factors throughout girls' lives that discourage them from going into this field.
At a personal level, I've been lucky enough to work in settings and environments that are largely positive towards women in this field. I've met and collaborated with numerous wonderful men who treat me with respect and who have been more than willing to work side-by-side, to ask for advice, to share their own experience and information, and to support and promote the work I'm involved in. The fact that I work more on the social side of ICTs rather than the super technical, engineering or 'coding' side, however, may have something to do with my positive experiences.
Many women who work on the more 'techie' side report feeling discriminated against, and the numbers tell a story that's worth looking into. In the US, for example...
When women are shown in the media working in technology, they are often seen as rare, they are patronized or sexualized, and their appearance is noted and commented on. (And don't even get me started on 'booth babes' at for-profit technology conferences.)
As Miriam writes in 'First Female Engineer Graces the Cover of Wired Magazine', 'I’m glad they’ve featured her here, and I’m glad that she’s not scantily clad like most of the women who grace the covers of national magazines. But when will we get beyond the idea of Rosie the Riveter? When can women across fields just be acknowledged the way their male counterparts are–for their accomplishments? ...Posing her like Rosie feels antiquated, and also draws attention only to the fact that she’s a woman in a man’s world–not that she’s an incredible engineer in her own rite [sic].'
It's the same, or perhaps more pronounced, the world over.
At last year's Commission on the Status of Women, Fabiola, a 17 year old from Cameroon commented: "when a girl succeeds to sit on a computer lab, a boy will raise his voice on her, saying: 'Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will be holding a baby's napkin?'"
UNGEI event highlights importance of technology in girls' education
In other parts of her talk, Fabiola recognized the important role that her parents played in keeping her in school and encouraging her to study for a career related to the sciences.
This highlights the importance of not only education, but of positive parental and community support and a broader set of changes that allow girls to have more freedom and more opportunities. Girls need to know that they have options open to them. And boys need to know too that girls can 'do stuff'. Women role models are important, and where there are not yet women in certain careers to serve as role models, positive support from men to encourage girls to explore their options is key.
More girls and women in ICTs is not only an individual opportunity for women to earn an income. It can also mean that ICTs products and tools will be designed with women in mind. And I'm not talking about making things pink and purple to appeal to women, I'm talking about the design that responds to real needs in the real lives of women and girls around the world.
As part of a broader effort to encourage more girls to consider wider options, 'Girls in ICTs Day', was established last year and will now be an annual event on the UN Calendar, to be celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday in April.
Video Message from the Secretary - General of the ITU for Girls in ICT Day 2012
Many initiatives are underway already to support girls and women in the ICT sector. More governments recognize the importance and necessity of taking deliberate steps. The ITU's latest report notes that "The choices made by policymakers, enterprises and individuals on investment in education and training must strive for gender equality—that is, to give women the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as men."
Positive attitudes and support from families, friends, communities, the private sector and the media is also part of the solution to helping girls see their potential.
The Girls in ICT Portal offers statistics and advice on how to encourage more girls to consider ICTs as a career option.