It is important that more girls should be connected so that they are better prepared to play a meaningful role in “shaping a more equal, green and tech-driven future”. This is one of the points that Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka highlighted recently in observing the International Girls in ICT early this month.
Mlambo-Ngcuka made the reflection in her current capacity as the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and executive director of UN Women. Her office represents and champions the interests and the needs of women in general and the young girls in particular globally.
Women in Science published articles that emphasised the need for the youth to embrace science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) so that they are equipped with relevant skills required by the science and technology-driven world.
In 2017 the World Economic Forum (WEF) released a report projecting that the 4IR and the related technologies is poised to create more jobs. The report further added that although this will initially lead to massive job losses it will simultaneously pave the way for new occupations especially in fields such as STEM, analysis, computer science and engineering.
Mlambo-Ngcuka also registered her unhappiness about the persistent gender gap that exist at virtually all levels of STEM disciplines between male and females, saying no girl should be left behind. “In this era of remote learning, when girls lack access to affordable internet and to a computer or tablet, it means they risk being left behind, for good,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka.
In the United States alone, she noted, computer science research jobs are predicted to grow 19% by 2026, yet women in that sector earn just 18% of computer science bachelor’s degrees. She also observed that globally, only 28.4% of people engaged in STEM careers are women and in sub-Saharan Africa an average of 30 per cent are women.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said predictions show that an additional 11 million girls may not return to the classroom after the COVID-19 crisis. She said every girl must be meaningfully connected to a broadband that is reliable, fast and regularly available. In addition, she said, they must have access to digital technologies and universal digital literacy.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said through Generation Equality and the Technology and Innovation blueprint, the UN wants to build and bring about “a more equal and diverse digital transformation”. Last month, at the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico City, she said, they launched game-changing blueprints in an acceleration plan whose objective is to eliminate the remaining barriers to gender equality over the next five years.
She said that the leaders of the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality– one of six such coalitions- defined actions that are concrete, game-changing, and measurable and require multi-stakeholder collaboration. The Action Coalition blueprint addresses such gaps with the goal of doubling the number of women and girls working in technology and innovation, she said.
She said her office aims to halve the gender digital divide by 2026. The gender gap for global internet use currently stands at 17% and rises to 43% in the world’s Least Developed Countries, she added.
In the same vein, she said they want to see investments towards feminist technology and innovation increased by 50%. This, she said, will enable them to better respond to women and girls’ most pressing needs and ensure that we do not reinforce the gender stereotypes that prevent many girls from pursuing studies in ICT fields.
According to Mlambo-Ngcuka, their blueprint aims to boost government and corporate accountability policies and solutions to end online and tech-related violence and discrimination, so that technology remains a force for good.
“We must also work to eliminate the cyber-violence that targets younger women, and which has spiked along with other forms of gender-based violence during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Today, and every day, we recognize that digital power must be in the hands of girls. We have a unique window and momentum now to secure bold commitments that will ensure girls are connected and empowered to create the brighter futures the world needs, she concluded.