There is a growing recognition of the potential of Information Communications Technology (ICT) to promote gender equality and empower women, but there is still a yawning “gender divide” in the numbers of women using technology, and pursuing technology careers, in South Africa.
That’s all about to change, if Girls Invent Tomorrow has its way. A local organisation that aims to actively encourage young girls to consider technology as a career option, Girls Invent Tomorrow hosted a Girls in ICT event at the ICC in Durban to coincide with the International Day of the Girl Child.
The United Nations General Assembly declared 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child two years ago to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. This year’s Day focused on “Innovating for Girls’ Education”.
At the event, more than 100 wide-eyed high school learners were given the chance to interact with women in the ICT industry in an open forum, and were given more information about career opportunities available in the ICT sector.
Thuli Sibeko, organiser of the event and founder of Girls Invent Tomorrow, said it was vital to empower girl learners and young women to expand their horizons and look at the many exciting career opportunities in this traditionally male-dominated sector. Girls Invent Tomorrow believes that with the future constantly being reinvented through technology, ICT is one of the best areas to get into for South Africa’s girls.
“We need to change perceptions when it comes to the variety of careers in the technology sector,” said Sibeko. “The career opportunities in this sector are so vast and so exciting, it is a shame to think that significant numbers of schoolgirls are closing themselves off to careers in this area through old-fashioned ideas that suggest it’s a man’s world.”
For global technology company Intel, one of the key sponsors of the event, gender equality is an issue close to its heart. In the past month, Intel launched Girl Rising, a social action campaign to educate and empower young women around the globe, and She Will Connect, an initiative to reduce the gender and technology gap around the world.
She Will Connect aims to expand digital literacy skills to young women in developing countries, starting with Africa, where the gender gap is the greatest. By doing this, Intel aims to reach 5 million women and reduce the gender gap by 50 percent in conjunction with a diverse set of partners, including global and local NGOs and governments.
“The Internet has transformed the lives of billions of people,” said Thabani Khupe, corporate director, Intel South Africa. “It functions as a gateway to ideas, resources and opportunities that never could have been realised before, but our research shows that girls and women are being left behind. We believe that closing the Internet gender gap has tremendous potential to empower women and enrich their lives as well as all the lives they touch.”
The World Economic Forum’s recent Corporate Gender Gap Report 2012 highlighted a lack of role models as one of the greatest barriers to women leaders. “We know there are remarkable female role models out there that tend to fly beneath the radar. We want to bring them into the spotlight over the coming months,” said Khupe. “We are here to encourage more girls to step into technology and not leave all the fun to boys in shaping our future”.
ICT jobs are consistently ranked among the top 20 careers with the best pay and best long-term prospects, and the technology industry remains one of the world’s most robust sectors, creating strong ongoing demand for young tech professionals.
Sibeko has a powerful vision of bringing together NGOs, universities, government agencies and the local technology industry to develop more successful approaches to attracting girls to the technology field.
“Technology needs girls to help invent the future,” said Ms Sibeko. “Stereotypes of girls represent them as less interested in subjects like mathematics and science. This reduces their access to jobs with better pay or markets that may offer better opportunities.”