The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and its partners on Thursday launched a friendlier and comprehensive “Learning Girls in ICT Initiative” that is expected to help bridge the continental digital divide.
The launch of the “Learning Girls in ICT Initiative” marked the 10th anniversary of the International Day of Girls in ICT which is commemorated annually on 22 April to help bridge the gender digital divide. “Digital skills offer our girls the power to change the world,” Jean-Paul Adam, the Director of the ECA’s Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Division (TCND), said as he officially opened the well-attended webinar.
“Digitalization offers a variety of opportunities for female empowerment and a more equal female participation in labor markets, financial markets, and entrepreneurship.” To unveil the initiative, ECA and its sister agencies, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), UN Women and bilateral partners, jointly hosted a webinar under the theme “Connected African Girls, Creating Brighter Futures”.
“With the lowest rate of internet penetration, the African region has the widest digital gender gap in the world where only 22.5 per cent of women use the Internet, compared to 33.8 per cent of men,” Mr. Adam noted at the webinar.
“This gender gap is growing in some regions across the continent, reinforcing gender inequalities by denying women and girls’ opportunities to access education, find better-paid jobs, and start new businesses.”
According to one of the main organizers of the forum, Mactar Seck of the ECA’s TCND division, the “Learning Girls in ICT-Initiative” is an e-learning web platform, which is designed to offer essential technology education and skills to young women and girls.
“Women have a critical role to play in ICTs in Africa,” said Wandia Riunga of the ECA as she explained that the initiative was aimed at promoting Africa’s integration, generate inclusive economic growth and stimulate job creation.
Mr. Seck also explained that the e-knowledge portal was also expected to helo bridge the digital divide, eradicate poverty for the continent’s socio-economic development, ensure Africa’s ownership of modern tools of digital management, and boost its burgeoning knowledge economy.
“Through this launch the ECA is helping to build a bridge that will encourage more women and girls in the continent to take on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEAM),” he said.
“We need to broaden the horizons of technology and do away with the stigma that science, technology and mathematics are only for boys,” Salma Abbasi, who moderated much of the webinar, noted in her presentation.
“With the benefit of being the youngest continent in the world, Africa needs to address the gaps and access to connectivity and leverage on the abilities and agility of youth to bring more women into technology.”
The webinar, which attracted a continent-wide participation, saw female thought leaders in technology such as Angela Lum-neh from Cameroon, Ndeye Fatou Coundoul Thiam of Senegal, Sorene Assefa in South Africa and Kenya’s Chepkemoi Magdalene, showcase their various tech-hubs and the changes they are spearheading in their communities.
Other leading African female tech-stars in the online forum, who also shared their experiences and innovations that have broken technological barriers, included Crescence Elodie Nonga, Zohra Slim, Bethelehem Tesfaye, Emmanuella Abie and Tasnim Daly of Tunisia.
“At the ECA, we are playing our part in the global effort to enhance the use of enabling technologies that promote the empowerment of women through coding camps, forums; and through our global outreach programs, which bring together partners from pertinent stakeholder groups,” said Mr. Adam.
The hybrid continental coding camp, held in Ethiopia in late 2020, brought together 124 girls in Addis Ababa, and attracted over 3000 girls across the continent who joined online for two weeks to deliberate on the promotion of women and young girls’ access to digital channels.
“One of the best experiences I ever had was to participate in the coding camp. It motivated me greatly,” Tasnim Daly, an emerging IT entrepreneur told the webinar as she recalled her experience from the coding camp which continues to promote women and girls to take up career roles as computer programmers, creators and designers, in the ICT sector.
“Empowering young women and girls as part of building forward better is very important. Future challenges such as pandemics and climate change will need more women in the forefront,” Adam said.
For Emelang Litiane of the ECA’s Eastern and Southern Regional office (ESARO), technology has proved to be a boon in the COVID-19 pandemic era.
“The digital gender divide needs to be addressed as it poses a threat to gender equality and the attainment of SDGs. It is redundant to have access without skills and vice versa,” she said.
Through the “Learning Girls in ICT-Initiative” the ECA is revitalizing and upscaling the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) which it initiated in 1996 as a continental comprehensive framework on ICT-for Development (ICT4D) and laying the foundation of the information society in Africa.
“We need to continue to promote the empowerment of girls through ICTs,” Jean Jacques Massima of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) said.
“The ‘Young African Girls Can Code training camps are becoming an awareness raising and capacity-building tool that attracts young girls to ICT professions.” Ms. Abbasi added: “We must adopt some sort of disruptive thinking which incorporates soft skills, tech and business skills. This is the only way most of Africa will move from being consumers to become innovators.” The next coding camps will be held in June in the Congo and Cameroon.