Girls in Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Education and Workforce
Jamiil Touré Ali
Today’s girls are the adult women of the future. They should receive equal treatment and access to Information Communication Technologies (ICT) education and job opportunities as boys do. SDG4 and SDG5 in their respective target 4.4 and 5.b aim at achieving those goals by enhancing the use of enabling technology, ICT, to promote women empowerment and to increase the number of youth and adults with relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship. And this is achievable through the monitoring of variables such as the proportion of persons who own mobile or have ICT skills, respectively aggregated by sex and type of skills. If girls’ education path or job career is the focus of the international day of girls in ICT celebrated every April 4th, then targets 4.4 and 5.b of SDG 4 and 5 provide the appropriate framework to discuss such issues. Despite that, what are we doing to ensure that girls avail themselves of the power of ICT tools or are at the forefront of the ICT labor market?
AVAIL THE POWER OF ICT TOOLS
ICT or short IT meaning Information Technologies are essential nowadays in our lives. And this has become even more important with COVID-19 changing our education from the classroom setting to online learning. In the COVID-19 period, not being knowledgeable of ICT tools such as mobile phones or mobile applications affects our labor, cultural, educational, and social performance.
It is important to recall that girls face some hindrances lagging their access to ICT -the Internet, wireless networks, cell phones, and other communication mediums- such as social and cultural barriers, economic situation, lack of role models, and self-confidence, etc. In some countries like India, Pakistan, and Morocco, girls’ lives are threatened to death by using a mobile phone or social media (devex, 2017). Furthermore, Internet access at home in developed countries from both rural and urban areas is respectively 81% and 87% while in the least developed countries it is 10% in rural and 25% in urban (ITU, 2020).
According to the ITU 2019 data, 48.3% of females and 69.4% of youth (age between 15-24) in the world have access to the Internet (ITU, 2020). And according to UNESCO, of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults, two-thirds are women and of the 123 million illiterate youth, 76 million are female (UNESCO, 2017). Opposing access to the Internet and the number of illiterate women in the world leaves us with a stunning fact on female gender interactions with ICT tools since ICT tools such as the Internet, mobile phone, and mobile app give access to millions of information and educational platforms. For instance, with a mobile phone equipped with a mobile app such as Coursera one could get free education using the Internet. Moreover, given a mobile phone equipped with a mobile app such as Facebook one could get a business running at the tip of your fingers. So should we infer that the high number of illiterate women is because women are not using ICT tools? The answer is no. The point here revolves around access and availability.
On the other hand, this comparison sheds the light on the importance that the female gender should avail and have better access to ICT tools to get educated, run their business, etc. This is so important in our 21 century because the statistics about women in IT fields are already alarming and so is the number of digitally illiterate women. Hence the girls of today should be accustomed to ICT tools to benefit from them. While the use of ICT tools by girls is one of the problems that initiated the international Girls in ICT Day, the real problem when it comes to education lies in the low percentage of girls studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Why?
According to UNESCO Bangkok, only 17 women have been awarded a Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, or medicine since 1903 compared to 572 men over the same period and only 3% of ICT graduates worldwide are women (UNESCO Bangkok, 2017). While there might be no real reason to explain such questionable statistics, most of the reasons are inputted to the stereotypes that surround the STEM fields. For instance, when girls perform better than boys in mathematics subjects, it’s a common belief to say that such knowledge is meant for boys and girls should rather learn about literature subjects. We need to break out with such stereotypes so we have more women who create software, mobile App. Furthermore, in our society, parents tend to be more protective over girls’ usage of communication technologies rather than boys. The reason for such a situation is embedded in the fear of cyberbullying, cybersecurity problems girls and women face while being online. Despite the numerous laws or regulations enforced by the states to protect female gender activity online problems still subsist and we must keep combating them so girls and women don’t see STEM fields inaccessible to them.
BEING AT THE FOREFRONT OF ICT LABOR MARKET
When girls’ interaction with ICT tools is raised, the gap of girls in STEM fields is bridged. We should also think of their role and place in society as tech makers. The rapid expansion of new technologies, applications, and software requires workers to possess some technical skills as IT. Yet the career path of girls who follow STEM education is alarming. As a matter of fact, of the 7 million people who work in the ICT sector, 30% are women and only 6% of CEOs at the top 100 global tech companies are women (UNESCO, 2015).
As a consequence, this generates a huge gap in the ICT labor market. Furthermore, UNESCO evaluates that gender equality in the ICT sector would open up a market of USD 50-70 billion (UNESCO, 2015). To remediate the previously mentioned statistic, Women in STEM fields need to take bold steps toward leading and founding tech companies and being decision-makers, and society must learn to see them as women rather than portraying them as women who perform men’s work.
In an unequal setting where the future of girls in ICT is handicapped by main factors such as low access and availability to ICT tools, the stereotypes surrounding their educational progression in STEM fields, and their under-representativity in the ICT workforce, we must continue empowering our girls and women to embrace STEM fields and creating the appropriate environment safeguarded from cybercriminals and naysayers thoughts or social pressures. And let our motto be “One girl in ICT, is one step closer to the attainment of sustainable development goals targets 4.4 and 5.b.”.
 «Final Acts of the Plenipotentiary Conference. Guadalajara, 2010»
 ICT indicators for the SDG monitoring framework
 Women and ICT – UNESCO