Science teacher bats for ICT programmes specifically designed for women
There is a school of thought that believes that economically empowered women lead to more peaceful societies. In Jamaica, more women are creating businesses with impact from their homes using digital platforms. But there still exists a significant gender divide when it comes to gender equality in tech and entrepreneurship that reflects inequities that already exist in society.
“It’s not always the case that ICT reinforces gender differences, but it can certainly worsen the problem if we don’t ensure equal access and opportunity for everyone,” Kaydia Cunningham, science teacher and STEM ambassador, told OBSERVER ONLINE.
Statistics show that the number of tech based jobs has increased worldwide but the number of women in tech has decreased since 1980. All over the world the number of women in tech is low, creating a scenario where the women-to-men ratio is only one in five of global startup founders.
Women lag behind in jobs in almost all ICT industries all over the world. Cunningham is urging change.
“We need to create education and training programmes that promote digital literacy and provide access to technology for women in underrepresented areas. Encouraging more women to pursue careers in ICT and creating a welcoming culture that values diversity can help promote diversity and inclusion within the tech industry,” she said.
According to the ITU, the United Nations’ specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), ICT Facts and Figures 2017, the proportion of women using the Internet is 12 per cent lower than the proportion of men using the Internet worldwide. In least developed countries this drops to only five per cent women compared to seven per cent of men. Findings also suggest that digital fluency assists women find and stay in their jobs and improves their chances to excel at education.
In developing economies, statistics show that men still continue to use digital technologies more frequently than women and are more proactive in learning new digital skills. Cunningham admits that this is true but points to glimmers of change in the status quo.
“In Jamaica, there’s still a digital divide between men and women, especially in rural areas. However, programmes such as the Women in ICT initiative aim to empower women in the ICT sector through training and mentorship. Technology can provide women with numerous advantages, such as access to information, education, and economic opportunities,” she said.
On a global scale, there is a push towards a more gender-equal world. Movements against harassment and violence have started from the internet and have empowered women to speak their truth impacting societal change. It will take around 100 years for the world to reach gender parity according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 published by the World Economic Forum. Progress, apparently, is a slow process.
“While having more women in tech is a positive step, it’s not the only solution to achieving gender equality. We need to address cultural biases and norms to create a more equitable and inclusive society. However, promoting diversity and inclusion within the tech industry can help create a more gender-equal world,” Cunningham added.
In developing countries like Pakistan where gender inequality is already pronounced, women in tech remain a very small percentage. Although the Pakistan government has put in place programmes like ICT for Girls and women entrepreneurs their reach and access is still very limited to urban areas only.
Last year, over 180 teenage girls from across Jamaica moved closer to realising their dreams of pursuing careers in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) after participating in a day of technology-focused workshops organised by STEAMHouse. The event, dubbed CreatHer, was hosted at the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Library in 2022 and included talks on careers in ICT, delivered by exemplary women within the field, and demonstrations of technological innovations.
Cunningham highlighted the need for more ICT programmes specifically designed for women in Jamaica.
“There are ICT programmes designed specifically for women in rural areas, such as the Women’s e-Learning for Leadership (WELL) program in Kenya. These programs provide training in ICT skills and entrepreneurship to women in rural areas, bridging the digital divide and promoting economic opportunities,” Cunningham said.
Research conducted in 31 countries by Accenture found that when men and women have the same level of digital fluency — defined as the extent to which they embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected, and effective — women are better at using those digital skills to gain more education and to find work.
“We need to open the minds of our young women to the career opportunities within the field of ICT. By seeing themselves as not just consumers but future creators of technology, we hope they will be inspired to pursue studies in and ultimately contribute to the field,” she said.
– Claude Mills