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November 29, 2017

‘Gender Equality Hackathon’ in Geneva pools fresh ideas to bridge digital divide

By ITU News

A “Gender Equality Hackathon” organized by Foraus and the Impact Hub Geneva recently hosted a two-and-a-half day SDG Accelerator #policyhack with Think Tank Hub and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAE) aimed at tackling gender inequalities through innovative ideas.

The hackathon aimed to pool the ideas and experiences of a diverse selection of individuals to generate innovative tools and solutions to address the gender biases and imbalances that impact women on a life-long basis – starting early in education and continuing into their professional careers and social lives.

Twelve challenges were sourced from the public sector, international organizations, civil society and the private sector. These ranged from how to get more ‘Girls in engineering’ to promoting ‘Retention of young women in the workplace.’

As the hosts provided opening remarks to a crowded room, the audience buzzed with excited whispers as onlookers and participants exchanged comments and introductions.

Approximately sixty men and women from a range of backgrounds, experiences and ages were assembled into twelve groups. After two-and-a-half days of brainstorming and “hacking,” the groups presented their final pitches to a panel composed of a mix of representatives from academia, government, think tanks, the private sector and international organizations.

To demonstrate the fun, ease and imagination of coding, a team member with no prior coding experience created an animated dancing ballerina in under 30 minutes.

“One [objective] was to create a platform for organizations to […] connect their challenges on gender equality issues that they face themselves with fresh minds – people with different types of skillsets and backgrounds and from different walks of life who, nevertheless, if assembled in hacker teams, become powerful agents of change,” Felix Stähli, Co-Founder of Impact Hub Geneva told ITU News.

“Switzerland is committed to develop and support initiatives that increase the dynamism of Geneva as a central platform for the implementation of gender equality,” said Samir Yeddes of the Swiss Mission in Geneva to ITU News, adding that the country “has been pursuing a foreign policy that actively promotes gender equality and women’s rights and, since last September, our strong political commitment is now embodied in our first foreign policy Strategy on Gender Equality and Women’s Rights.”

Girls in Tech

The prevalence of stereotypes and biases that pull girls away from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies and careers was highlighted by the ‘Girls in Engineering’ challenge supported by the Equal Opportunities Office of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Framed by the reminder that “only 20% of Swiss baccalaureates in physics and applied mathematics are awarded to women,” the challenge invited its hackers to positively impact the perceptions of young girls of STEM studies and careers and find ways to break down these biases which manifest from a young age.

“I remember being a girl and being intimidated by scientists, engineers […] so I wanted to try and break down some of those barriers.” — Emily Rickman, astrophysicist

Hackers highlighted the lack of positive role models in STEM and aimed to raise awareness of women in STEM as well as what exactly certain STEM roles entail, and proposed to pilot project-based coding classes targeting primary school boys and girls before gendered biases become more rooted. To demonstrate the fun, ease and imagination of coding, a team member with no prior coding experience created an animated dancing ballerina in under 30 minutes.

Talking to ITU News, ‘Girls in Engineering’ hacker and astrophysicist Emily Rickman said that she drew on her personal experiences for the project. “I remember being a girl and being intimidated by scientists, engineers […] so I wanted to try and break down some of those barriers,” said Rickman.

Women and a changing workforce

Technological changes that are transforming our world were highlighted by the ‘Women in labour market: automation and AI gap’ challenge.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) not only will impact the labor market through the displacement of jobs, but is predicted to have a disproportionate impact on women. To find a way to tackle the issue and make sure that men and women stand to equally benefit from AI, the team created a platform addressing the information gaps surrounding women in AI in the form of a website that collects the work that has been done on the subject onto one platform in a visually digestible way.

“AI and automation will have transformational impacts on women in the global labor market. What the SDG Accelerator Gender Hackathon provided was an opportunity for individuals with a wealth of ideas, experiences and expertise to work in collaboration rather than isolation,” said hackathon team member Loyce Witherspoon to ITU News.

At the conclusion of the hackathon, Felix Stähli spoke to ITU News about the importance of following up on these ideas.

“The big work, however, is yet to start,” said Stähli. “Ideas or prototypes are great. It sparks new energy and gives new perspective. The big part, however, is to follow up on that – and that’s why we also designed a support workshop for all the teams to get some input on how they could structure themselves for tomorrow, once the hackathon is over, and continue to develop their ideas.”

By Pamela Dahlia Lian (@dahlialian), ITU News

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'Gender Equality Hackathon' in Geneva pools fresh ideas to bridge digital divide

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