Let’s give girls everywhere the digital skills to achieve big dreams: Malcolm Johnson

By Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary-General, ITU

Today is International Day of the Girl with this year’s theme being, “With Her: A Skilled GirlForce”.

It is a day to highlight the many challenges girls face, especially in the developing world, and to promote their empowerment and equality.

For me, it is a day to emphasize the opportunities the digital revolution can give girls to fulfill their potential as equal members of society and overcome the many disadvantages they face simply due to their gender.

Today, about 80% of the world’s population is covered by at least 3G services offering broadband access to the Internet through smart phones. However, only about half the world’s population is connected, either due to cost, lack of awareness, absence of necessary digital skills, or unavailability of relevant content in the local language. But of this connected population, it is estimated that there are 250 million fewer girls and women connected than boys and men. This means they are unable to benefit from the empowerment, education and social and health benefits offered.

It also means they are missing the huge job opportunities that are available in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.

Technology developments are creating new opportunities almost every week, and most jobs that will be available in the future to the young girls of today do not yet exist, but we can be sure that digital skills will be essential for almost any future career.

I have been struck by the sheer scale of the shortage of skilled labour for the digital jobs of tomorrow. The European Commission has predicted a skills gap of over 500,000 ICT jobs in Europe by 2020; within a similar time frame the U.S. Department of Labor forecasts the creation of around 1.4 million IT jobs; and Canada is expected to create at least 218,000 computing related jobs, just to name a few examples.

Young women with the right skills must seize this enormous opportunity.

“The good news is that many ICT companies are looking to attract and promote women because they recognize that achieving greater workforce diversity is good for business.”

I am committed to playing my part in enabling today’s generation of girls to be prepared to enter a world of work that is being transformed by innovation and automation. Educated and skilled workers are in great demand, but roughly a quarter of young people – most of them female – are currently neither employed or in education or training.

Currently, women make up less than 30 per cent of graduates in ICTs and occupy less than 30 per cent of research and development jobs worldwide. We must change that.

The good news is that many ICT companies are looking to attract and promote women, because they recognize that achieving greater workforce diversity is good for business. The ICT sector is currently male dominated, especially at senior levels. A broad range of organizations and companies are making efforts to attract more women into the sector.

I have championed the commitment of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as the leading United Nations agency for telecommunications and ICTs, to encourage gender balance in the ICT sector at all levels of the profession.

“It is satisfying to know that we in ITU are working hard with our partners to bring these advantages to girls everywhere.”

This is something I feel passionate about. I am proud to say that my daughter entered into the profession, and my granddaughters are extremely digitally proficient!

When I travel the world and see what a difference access to the Internet can make to a girl’s life and future prospects, it is satisfying to know that we in ITU are working hard with our partners to bring these advantages to girls everywhere.

Let me just mention a few of our activities that I would urge you in joining me in supporting::

Girls in ICT Day, launched by ITU in 2011, has now become a global movement to inspire girls and young women to learn more about the amazing opportunities and careers offered by the ICT sector. It is generating a lot of interest in technology, as was made abundantly clear to me when I was invited to address this year’s Girls in ICT Day event in Ghana.

These events will lead to thousands more girls entering into the profession or becoming equipped to benefit from the technology in their future careers.

The EQUALS initiative is a growing network of organizations founded by ITU working together to ensure that women are given access to ICTs, are equipped with ICT skills, and develop the leadership potential to work in the ICT sector.

The Digital Skills for Decent Jobs for Youth campaign together with the International Labour Organization aims to equip millions of young people with job-ready digital skills.

The online Digital Skills Toolkit provides guidelines to a wide range of stakeholders on strategies for building the digital skills of women and girls.

ITU also encourages applications for jobs from women, and we encourage our members to include women on their delegations to ITU meetings and conferences.

“Of course, men as well as women have a role to play in improving gender balance.”

ITU collects and disseminates data on ICTs, including the number of individuals accessing and using ICTs, disaggregated by gender, age, education, labour force status, and occupation. This data is analysed to provide evidence of the extent of women’s participation in the information society, which shows that much is still needed to be done.

We recognize how important it is for people to see themselves reflected in an organisation, which is why I am committed to ensuring we have visible role models in ITU: individual women who have been particularly successful and have made a contribution to improving gender balance in the ICT sector.

Of course, men as well as women have a role to play in improving gender balance. I am proud to say that, thanks to a number of women recognising my efforts to encourage and help them advance their careers in the sector, I myself received such an award on International Women’s Day last year from the Geneva and Environment Network – as a Visionary and Inspiring Leader. It was humbling to be the first man to achieve such an award!

“Girls and young women all over the world need to become major thinkers and creators of the technology. This so critical to addressing the most pressing challenges we face.”

But, unfortunately despite all these efforts, the gender gap in terms of access to ICTs continues to grow, especially in the developing world. More needs to be done. Digital skills should be a requirement in all curricula so that girls will have equal opportunity and will not be excluded from this essential training due to traditional prejudices at home that technology is not for girls.

Girls and young women all over the world need to become major thinkers and creators of the technology. This so critical to addressing the most pressing challenges we face – whether it be poverty, education, health, environment or sustainable development.

Not only is gender equality key to ensuring that no one is left behind, it is essential to the success of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 5, aimed at achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, including through ICTs.

So, I urge all stakeholders to join us in giving girls and young women the necessary skills and opportunities to dream big – dream of a world where more women lead in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – a Skilled GirlForce that will change the world for the better!

 

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