African girls have what it takes to drive technology: Girls in ICT Day 2017
27 April, 2017, Addis Ababa. Over 230 eager, energetic and tech-savvy high-school girls filled the conference room at the African Union Commission, in Addis Ababa, for the celebration of 2017 Girls in ICT Day. The event was led by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in partnership with the African Union Commission, UNECA, UNDP, UN Women and the private sector. The day was marked by several activities, including mobile and SMS competitions and a UN Women moderated panel discussion featuring inspirational women, who change lives and whose lives have been changed by and through ICT.
The panel discussion prompted a reflection on the potential of ICTs for girls’ personal growth and empowerment as well as on overcoming the gaps in access and use of ICTs. The panelists enthusiastically encouraged the girls at the event, arguing that since they are amongst the minority in the ICT field, they need to see it as an opportunity, to never give up, be balanced, and learn to push back. One of the panelist, Mrs. Yetnebersh Nigussie, an articulate, visually impaired human rights activist moved the youth by claiming “ICT is my justice, my best equalizer.” She discussed the contribution of ICT in her life such as opening international job opportunities without the need for travelling. The panelists also raised the need to create networks and social circles, “they will only be as strong as they stand up for each other” Nigussie said. Another important lesson shared was the importance of developing one’s emotional intelligence - knowing oneself, believing in oneself and having self-worth, in whatever they do.
In her opening remarks, UN Women representative to Ethiopia, the AUC and UNECA, Mrs. Letty Chiwara highlighted that although ICT, STEM and innovation in general are brining transformation in our lives, there are by far very few women and girls who are leaders in this area of science and technology, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. She therefore called up on the young girls to use technology to change the world and to become innovators of tomorrow, “Africa has all it takes to drive technology, not only for Africa but also the whole world”. Letty further expressed UN Women’s commitment to continue its partnership with ITU in developing a joint continental program that will ensure that young girls of Africa will be leaders in ICT.
The International Girls in ICT day, which is a global initiative celebrated on the 4th Thursday of April every year, aims at encouraging and empowering young girls to see ICT as a potential career path. The Africa Regional Director of ITU, Mr. Andrew Rugged, shared that over 72,000 girls were part of this year’s celebrations worldwide. Rugged revealed that ever since the launching of the partnership between UN Women and ITU in 2016 for the “Equals initiative”, both organizations have worked relentlessly to change social perceptions that ICT is only for one gender. He called upon partners – not only UN agencies and countries but also private sector to give young girls jobs, training and capacity building opportunities as well as encourage them to become creative.