When You Educate a Tech Woman, You Create a Digital Nation

??????This is part of our year-long series “Millennium Development Goals Tech Roadmap”

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Target 3A: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015

Much progress has been made to close the gap between males and females in education; however, gender disparities continue to exclude girls from the most marginalized communities.  The same gains and disparities are also reflected in the global labor market.  The number of women employed outside of agriculture rose to 40 percent, but rose to only 20 percent in Southern Asia, Western Asia and Northern Africa.  Most women in these areas are relegated to jobs that don’t provide financial security or social mobility.  Also, women still enter the job market at unequal rates to men due to poor educational backgrounds and professional skill sets.  Only 25 percent of women worldwide are employed in management positions.

Some critics complain that Goal 3 is too narrow in focus and doesn’t take into account other issues women face, such as domestic violence, unpaid domestic work, lack of sexual and reproductive rights, and low participation of women in political and policy making decisions.  They say that without addressing these issues, this Goal ultimately cannot be fully achieved.

Gender disparities continue to also be seen in the technology sector.  While women are huge consumers of technology, the number of women in technology careers is miniscule.  There are a variety of reasons for the low numbers, ranging from a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping and discrimination and poor training opportunities.

The report, Technology, Broadband and Education: Advancing the Education for All Agenda, concludes that access to high-speed Internet on multiple platforms helps both male and female students gain the necessary skills to be employable and participate in the global economy.  The report specifically calls on governments to invest in equal access to ICT for all citizens, especially for women and girls. Close to 793 million adults – 64 percent of them women – lack digital literacy skills, with the lowest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia.

There have been ambitious efforts over the last few years to address these issues.  There are now many programs and initiatives that teach ICT and leadership skills for girls and women, such as Girls Who Code, Girls in ICT, Black Girls Code and Tech Women, just to name a few.

During the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) last month, delegates not only reviewed women’s roles in the implementation of Goal 3 and other MDGs, but also focused time on “access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”  In addition, delegates not only agreed that better access to ICT tools and skills for women improve their long term financial forecast, but there is also a need to make technology responsive to women’s everyday lives.

Njideka Harry, CEO of the Youth For Technology Foundation (YTF), addresses the conference about the situation in Nigeria, where 10.5 million children are out of school – the highest number in Sub Saharan Africa.  Girls make up 47 percent of that number in primary school, but that number sharply goes up at older ages.  She states that the high rate is due in part to the stereotype that women shouldn’t compete with men.

Harry’s organization is shattering these stereotypes by providing hands-on tech training and female mentors for girls.  She also discussed a breast cancer project where the girls in her program went out into the community to educate others about science and technology.  Harry recommends that ICT education should be culturally appropriate and be taught to girls at an early age to make that connection.

“The link between technology and social and economic progress starts with technology education,” she said at CSW58.  “We know that STEM education will help produce the capable and flexible workforce needed to compete in today’s global environment.”

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