Acceleration of girls education and rights to ensure sustainable gender empowerment through ICTs

5 May 2016 15:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2016.]

Dr Salma Abbasi (Chairperson and CEO, eWorldwide Group) moderated the session. She told the audience about the importance of educating girls in ICT. It is crucial to break cultural and traditional barriers that prevent the education and empowerment of young women. Inclusion of ICTs in the education of girls, in particular at an early stage, is proving to play a pivotal role in transforming the overall educational sector. It is improving access and delivery of quality education among developing countries.

Among the panellists were representatives from the private sector, the technical community, UN agencies, government, and civil society.

The working part of the session started with a video on the practical use of ICTs for improvement of education in India.

Ms Roshni Sen (Secretary to the Government of West Bengal, India, Department of Child, Development, Women Development & Social Welfare) pointed out that a girl going to school is a problem from inception. In many countries, where the level of poverty is high, families send boys to school. Girls stay home to do chores. Another great issue is child marriage, and for that girls have to drop out of school. ICTs are addressing the gender divide and bringing access to education to girls, and other benefits as well. Girls are closer than ever to simple things, like having their own bank account, for the first time.

In a second intervention Sen said that women and girls are interested in creating, and when given the opportunity they invent something new immediately.  She noted the growth in women’s gaming communities worldwide. Women are nowadays not only playing games, but creating new ones.

Ms Susan Schorr (Head, Special Initiatives Division, BDT / IEE / SIS, ITU) stressed how current education systems do not include ICT skills in the curriculum. This will prevent girls from progressing when they grow up. They need to be taught to have equal opportunities in approaching ICTs from a very early age. Even when in school, girls face an unsafe and discriminatory environment. It is important to promote access and the right to education which ICTs helps to do. A bright example from Schorr was  the Girls in ICT movement, with 158 countries involved. Eight new countries joined in 2016.

Mr Kamruddin Shams (Board Member, Indian Education Fund, Chief Financial Officer, eWorldwide Group) talked about his experience while working with children in orphanages. What he perceived was children’s self-confidence and self-esteem grow once they are given the opportunity to use technology. Children are dedicated to technology and to being the best they can be with whatever they do with it. Challenges like literacy and language barriers can be solved with ICTs and help children, boys and girls, to grow and progress.

Ms Theophania Chavatzia (Programme Specialist, Education for Inclusion and Gender Equality, UNESCO) started her presentation talking first about the achievements in the area of access to education. There are 84 million fewer out-of-school children and adolescents since 2000, and 52 million are girls.

Still there is a lot of work to be done considering that 31 million girls were out of primary school in 2012, and 51% are expected to never enrol. Schools are not ready to receive girls. In some countries schools do not have bathrooms for girls. Teachers are not properly trained to approach and respond to the needs of girls. She emphasised that even policies in place are going against the right to education, not allowing pregnant girls to come back to school.

According to Chavatzia, ICTs can play an important role. ICTs need to be included for promoting education quality, helping to overcome attitudes, and encouraging girls and women to approach education. She gave an example of community-based learning in Siera Leone about ebola. She concluded that ICTs can play an enormous role in the recent refugee crisis and give children access to education.

Ms Monique Morrow (Chief Technical Officer, CISCO Systems) showed her presentation on The Internet of Women, an open global community that invites the world to do business with women of the Internet. At the end of presentation she concluded: ‘Technology is neutral and colours are neutral, therefore we need gender neutrality not gender parity.’

The session concluded with a message that ICTs have huge potential to play a transformational role for women starting with education in schools. The right to education, including ICTs, is a fundamental human right, along with creating a secure and healthy environment for all children.

by Aida Mahmutovic