[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]
The session, moderated by Dr Salma Abbasi, FRGS, chairperson and CEO of eWorldwide Group, highlighted the journeys taken by women technopreneurs who have broken the stereotype and perception that science and technology are dominated, controlled, and belong only to men, stereotypes and perceptions which prevent girls from engaging in this space. She asked the speakers three questions: What was their inspiration to work in the ICT area? What are the challenges faced by women in the area? And what recommendations they had to overcome them.
Prof. NK Goyal of Technological University India talked about the importance of colleges in training women to become entrepreneurs and to empowering them. He said that women are no different from men; both are capable of working in the ICT area and capable of being entrepreneurs.
Ms Eng Ghalya Al Mannaee, IT manager at the General Women’s Union, started her participation by sharing that her mother was her inspiration to work in ICT because she saw her working very hard. According to Al Mannaee, one of the challenges faced by women today is to achieve leadership positions. She said that is important to be confident and to have force to overcome the gender divide in ICT.
In his participation, Dr Haidar Fraihat, director of technology for development at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA), mentioned that he knows of a lot of success from history and has heard many sources of inspiration from women in ICT. Fraihat said the digital economy has facilitated women to participate in ICT areas because it is not necessary to have an ordinary job; it is possible to work from home. Nevertheless, he observed that the participation of women is low in the labour force, not only in ICT. Fraihat recalled that there is an educational divide in some countries and noted that it is important to have equal opportunities for men and women to enrol in ICT courses.
Mr Henning Envall, counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Sweden, began his participation by saying that he sees a lot of opportunities for women in e-commerce. Envall noted the importance of human rights on the Internet. According to him, there are a lot of challenges that need to be faced to overcome the gender bias, such as the gender digital divide, an open Internet, illiteracy, and poverty.
Ms Eng Khawla Al Mheiri, project manager at the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority in the UAE, shared that in her generation there are few models to follow because women did not work in the ICT area. She said that families commonly support women to study, but it is difficult to find the same support to work. Sometimes it is difficult to find a job and many women start their own businesses to cover this gap of employment. Al Mheiri noted that there are funding programmes and scholarships for women who want to study ICT and to start their own businesses. Talking to other women helped her to gain confidence to continue in the ICT area and to overcome the challenges.
Abbasi ended the session by talking about the importance of women building their networks and having models of women in all kinds of spaces, such as government, business, and academia. She reinforced the necessity of an inclusive environment in which women can study and work.
By Nathalia Sautchuk Patrício