On April 28, 2022, we joined the rest of the World to celebrate International Girls in ICT (Information, Communication Technology) Day 2022 under the theme, “Access and Safety.” International Telecommunication Union (ITU) states that “The digital gender gap continues expanding in many developing countries, creating a specific need to support digital gender equality. Globally, women and girls use the Internet 12.5 percent less than men and boys.”
At The Innovation Village, we believe that as technology powers different sectors of global economies, there must be equality in terms of access to it. As we celebrate the girls and women who have taken the step to participate in the field, we not only prioritize the skilling of girls through programs like Code Queen as well as appeal to different stakeholders to provide access to ICT while ensuring safe use.
In an interview, we talk to Angella Mirembe Ssemwogerere, Founder of Coding In Heels, a Social Enterprise that focuses on inspiring Girls and Women to embrace STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) with a focus on technology. With more than ten years of experience working in the IT & Telecommunication Industries, she desires to share her knowledge and play a key role in closing the digital gender divide by inspiring more women to join the Tech industry.
What is your assessment of the participation of girls in ICT today?
About three or four years ago, many girls were not particularly aware of how the fourth industrial revolution was going to affect their lives, so the approach was to entice girls to get interested in STEM subjects. But, with COVID-19, we have had a two-year gap where everything came to a standstill and with the lack of interaction, we are not certain of the outcomes of that. However, young people have realized that applications like zoom and having things like a Google ID are important.
My assessment as of today is that girls are now more aware that they need to participate and are trying on that front because I get a lot of phone calls from people inquiring about my ICT programs. Participation is increasing but it depends on the areas where the changes are happening. The gap remains because there are issues like lack of access to ICT skilling institutions and tech equipment.
Boys continue to flourish more in this area because it is embedded in our culture and lifestyle. For instance, whereas a boy is introduced to technology such as small helicopters when they are toddlers, a girl will be introduced to dolls. This way, boys are intrigued by engineering and technology in the early on-set as opposed to girls.
What is Coding In Heels’ contribution to improving ICT among girls?
In the beginning, we concentrated on software development where we introduced girls to programming and how it plays a significant role in their environments. With time, we realized there are a lot of soft skills missing. We worked on preparing girls for a world that they do not know so we added in things like building self-esteem, character, presentation skills, ethics, and taking great care of one’s digital trail. In the next year, alongside ICT skills, we will be helping to build girls holistically. They need the confidence to penetrate this male-dominated industry.
What needs to change to include more girls in ICT?
ICT needs to be introduced early on in school. When we are in school, they say Arts is for girls and Science is for boys, so we wait till university to introduce the former to ICT. We need to introduce ICT as soon as we introduce English and Mathematics/Numbers.
The theme for this year’s International Girls in ICT day was “Access and Safety”, how do we ensure girls are not left behind?
Access is two-way. As parents, are we giving children access to ICT? Some parents do not allow children to touch laptops until they are at university. Before we say that the internet is expensive and the government must close gaps to access, the first step is to start from home. In terms of safety, there are parents who do not buy ICT gadgets for children because of the dangers that come with that including cyberbullying. Parents can provide access while safeguarding children from information that is detrimental to their development. We need to keep in mind the fact that jobs are changing so even if you study administration, it is no longer about sitting at a desk and picking up phone calls. Your supervisor will ask you to schedule Zoom calls or book flights online, so these are skills that are necessary.
What would success look like if we continue advocating for Girls in ICT?
If we get a lot of girls educated, they would be able to get employment. This is because employment is no longer restricted to borders. If you have tech skills right now, you can access works from all over the world, especially with the new trend of remote working. Success would be women being able to get jobs and doing them even in the comfort of their homes or environment. I also imagine women having their business at home, advertising on Instagram, and receiving their money through Fintech applications plugged into their phones or website.