On April 25, 2019, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), together with over 170 countries celebrated ‘Girls in ICT Day’, an international day observed by the United Nations to help bridge the gender digital divide. The importance the United Nations is placing on technology as a driver of development is reflected in the launch of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ United Nations High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation last year.
Hundreds of events were held worldwide aimed at inspiring a new generation of girls to explore the exciting opportunities offered by a career in information and communication technology (ICT).
ITU estimates that within the next 10 years, there will be more than two million technology jobs that cannot be filled because of a lack of digital specialists. Girls and young women who learn coding, app development and computer science will not only be well-placed for a successful career in the ICT sector; advanced digital skills are rapidly becoming a strong advantage for students in almost any other field they might choose to pursue. Digital skills give qualified girls an edge in a competitive job market, provide a higher salary and enhance career mobility.
This year, ITU celebrated Girls in ICT Day at the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The special focus on Africa recognizes the enormous potential for leveraging ICTs to drive economic growth and development and accelerate progress towards all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. As well as having the lowest rate of Internet penetration, the African region has the widest digital gender gap in the world with only 18.6 per cent of women using the Internet, compared with 24.9 per cent of men.
“Girls in ICT Day is a call to action to inspire the next generation of girls and young women to learn more about the exciting world of tech,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “As the head of the lead UN agency for ICTs and an International Gender Champion, I am committed to pressing for progress for gender equality inside and outside ITU. Not only is gender equality key to ensuring that no one is left behind, it is an essential element to the success of every single one of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Girls in ICT Day is celebrated annually on the fourth Thursday in April. Since it was established in 2010, the event has generated over 11,000 events in 171 countries, reaching more than 350,000 young women. Hundreds of organizers and thousands of girls and young women have become part of this global movement, including ITU Member States and private Sector Members, ITU Academia Members, and schools, universities and NGOs around the world.
“I am proud that Girls in ICT Day has grown into one of ITU’s most successful global campaigns,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), which leads the global Girls in ICT Day initiative. “Technology is one of the most powerful tools we have for empowering women and girls. An ICT career gives girls the chance to be at the heart of the world’s most exciting and fastest-growing industry. And the ICT industry needs women to play an equal role in the creation, design and implementation of the devices and platforms that are becoming indispensable to the way we live. ”
The ITU event at the African Union Commission on April 25, 2019 welcomed a number of high-level speakers including Sisay Tola, State Minister for Innovation and Technology, Ethiopia; and Prof Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science & Technology. Around 260 school-age girls from Addis Ababa and across the African continent participated while Betty G, one of Africa’s fastest-rising young music stars, was onsite advocating for Girls in ICT.
ITU’s network of 13 Regional and Area Offices around world also organized events, partnering with other UN agencies, hosted competitions and supported regional partners.
The second coding bootcamp of the African Girls Can Code Initiative 2018-2022, an initiative of ITU, UN Women and the African Union Commission, is being held this week in South Africa. The camp comprises courses on digital literacy, coding and personal development skills, including entrepreneurial know-how. Through 18 coding camps, the African Girls Can Code programme, is expected to reach more than 2,000 girls by 2022.
In addition, this year ITU has selected girls from Eswatini, Ethiopia and Tanzania to become role models and young spokespersons for the ongoing Girls in ICT campaign. During the course of the coming 12 months, ITU will follow their journey through a series of short documentaries focusing on their daily activities, dreams and the importance of ICTs in their lives and future.