The digital gender divide is real. More men than women are using the Internet in two-thirds of countries worldwide.
For me, the digital gender divide is, however, about more than just using the Internet. It’s about being able to access the Internet, knowing how to use it, being able to afford it. It’s also about having a mobile phone, airtime to get online, being digitally literate. But there’s even more to it than that. When I use the term digital gender divide, I use it as a shorthand for the gender inequalities prevalent in women’s ability not only to use and access digital technology, but also, importantly, to create it.
Statistics on the digital gender gap as it pertains to women’s employment in the tech sector make for sobering reading: some three quarters of staff in tech firms globally are male. When it comes to women as creators of tech, the stats are even worse: only about 20% of tech jobs in leading tech firms are held by women.
Reasons for this include existing male dominance and sexist working cultures in the sector, but they go further than that. Research has shown that girls at a young age are already discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM.
That’s why this Girls in ICT Day, Plan International will be highlighting the importance of bridging the digital gender divide beyond girls simply being able to access and use technology. On April 26 we’ll be celebrating girls as creators of technology and digital solutions as well.
We have events taking place all over the world, from Ecuador through Finland to Mali and Bangladesh.
Girls and young women from a variety of backgrounds will be given opportunities to try out app development, coding, and robotics – in many cases led by female role models or mentors.
Our aim is to show both the world and the participants themselves that girls too can create tech. We also hope to spark the participants’ interest in the sector.
In Timor-Leste, celebrations will focus on something we have already created. The local event in Dili will raise awareness about “Reprodutiva”, a smartphone app providing quality information and advice about sexual and reproductive health and rights in Tetun, the local language. The first of its kind in the country, the app was developed by Plan International Timor-Leste, local girls and partners to meet a need identified by the girls themselves – access to quality, confidential information about sex and reproduction. At the event, the girls will be showcasing its use to other youth.
Our efforts for International Girls in ICT Day are not a one-off. As a girls’ rights organisation, Plan International is working to get technology and technical skills into the hands of girls everywhere. We believe it is vital to provide girls in developing countries, including those without access to formal education, with opportunities to themselves create technology and digital solutions that address their particular needs.
To this end, we have set up SmartUp Factory innovation hubs in Uganda and Ethiopia, where marginalised youth – including girls – can access and try out digital tools and technologies. In China, we have worked with teachers to influence their views on which gender is more “suitable” for careers in ICT. And in the Dominican Republic, girls are taught programming to help them set up social enterprises that address their and their peers’ needs.
The world today is already digital, and it will be increasingly so in the future. We need girls and women to be engaged in creating that future so that it reflects their wants, needs, and rights. That’s why we need to redouble our efforts to increase the number of girls and women as creators of technology.