International Day of the Girl Child celebrations take place on 11th October every year and this year’s theme is ‘Digital Generation. Our generation’. It is, perhaps, not surprising that this theme has been chosen this year, in light of the acceleration in digital platforms for learning, earning and connecting due to the Corona Virus pandemic. Sadly, some 2.2 billion people below the age of 25 still do not have internet access at home and girls are the most likely to be impacted by this. In addition, the gender digital divide is about more than connectivity. Girls are also less likely than boys to use and own devices and gain access to tech-related skills and jobs. Only by addressing the inequity and exclusion that span geographies and generations can we usher in a digital revolution for all, with all. However, girls and young women across the globe recognise this digital divide and are coming up with their own solutions. One such tech trail blazer is Hala, a 15-year-old Syrian refugee living in Za’atari camp in Jordan.
Advancing computer literacy through WhatsApp
“My idea is to be able to use the digital training I learned in Jordan to invent something that can help people,” says Hala, 15, a Syrian refugee living in Za’atari camp in Jordan. In 2019, Hala enrolled in a UNICEF-supported programme to improve her knowledge and proficiencies in computer and mobile applications, and video editing and from that came her idea of using the digital training she had learned in the camp in Jordan to invent something to help others. “COVID-19 imposed new challenging realities, including our learning experiences. Suddenly, we had to fully depend on digital methods to attend school from a distance,” Hala explains.
Hala communicates with her classmates through WhatsApp to assist them in the transition to digital learning. “I taught my siblings and schoolmates ways to properly switch the computer on and off and ways to use programs, such as Windows and Excel. My neighbours also used to come to my house because they had no knowledge of how to use a computer, and I helped them operate a computer, use some of its programs, email and surf the internet.”
Hala wants to continue being an example and support to others. “When I get the chance to obtain the quality education I aspire, I will become more empowered and secure enough to launch my own training projects that would target women and children in my community.”
For this and other examples of these young inspiring tech trail blazers, go to: https://www.unicef.org/stories/tech-trailblazers
How are Soroptimist Clubs bridging the digital divide?
The gender norms, deeply entrenched in the rural areas of India, often restrict and affect the equal access to technology especially for those girls from underprivileged backgrounds, which meant that many girls were missing out on their education when learning transitioned to online during the pandemic. Clubs bought and donated smart phones to selected girls from underprivileged backgrounds to enable them to take part in the digital lessons.
To support online learning during the pandemic, many Clubs made donations to purchase smart phones or tablets or donated old, no longer wanted PCs, laptops or tablets, which were revamped by other organisations or charities and donated to families who had children in need of the tech to enable them to take part in online lessons.
Globally there is gender imbalance at the highest levels of industry in the STEM disciplines with women being under-represented. Clubs in the Caribbean ran several projects whose objectives were to expose girls to female thought-leaders in the sector, to raise their awareness of opportunities available to them in the emerging digital economy and to inspire them to pursue careers in these fields. Topics covered were: The Pervasiveness of Artificial Intelligence, Making a Career in Web Development, Personal Branding on LinkedIn and Video Gaming as part of the technology sector. STEM education is critical to creating a qualified workforce of the future and the Club advocates for girls being part of that future bringing a feminine perspective to the table. #55573
Another Caribbean Club held an ICT Day to give girls and women the opportunity to engage with information and communication technologies in a range of exciting ways, encouraging them to consider a future in the technology sector.
Hala and girls like her embody the hope of change possible if we only invest more in girl- and young-women-designed learning solutions fit for their digital world. Let’s do what we can to help them!