On Girls in ICT Day 2015 Sophia Bekele tells girls to be ICT empowered as doing so is both nerdy and trendy, while advising employers to adopt gender-neutral hiring policies
I WANT to take this moment to thank the ITU and organisers of this empowering and important event for the future of the girls of Africa and the world.
I am very happy to be here and say few words on the subject I am passionate about, ICT and women or ICT for women either way. I nearly bring it up in every global forum I attend.
I am therefore very delighted to see ITU that has taken the lead as a global Inter-governmental organization to create a programme that encourages and celebrates women/girls involved in ICT. I have to say my organization DotConnectAfrica was inspired by these same efforts of ITU few years back when we launched a programme for women and youth in our organization. Thank you ITU for your leadership in this area amongst many others.
I want to take the opportunity to remind ITU also, that DCA is an active contributor/commentator to your global programs pertaining to ICT and Internet issues, and here we are, also to show support for your programme, women in ICT. Such enlightened and strong policy leadership is important at a time when the global economy desperately needs better steering on gender balance.
More women have added to the statistics now, more so than a decade ago. Myself, I started my professional career in a highly male dominated field called IT Audit- Auditing computer systems. Very nerdy I must say. Now I see many women being part of it. Even in private business, not many Women were/are engaged in ICT related activities.
Allow me to mention that the very pan African organisation that we are holding this meeting in – now the African Union – previously the Organisation of the African Unity, its very first and largest ICT infrastructure to connect six of its original buildings with an internet and intranet infrastructure, was built and commissioned by a woman, after winning an international competitive tender. Such contracts for women were unheard of at the time and one can imagine the challenge that women went through. Therefore, not to congratulate myself – that woman was me – and I will only say Halleluiah, we have added to the statistics and our footprints remain.
Now, young women in this room, you can see ladies like us have paved the way for you. Today, it is much easier than yesterday to get involved, you just take the mantel and run with it, and add to more of the statistics. There is vast opportunity out there and waiting for your involvement. From securing employment to being a pioneer in the next new thing, like our lady Ethiopian Champions here Bethelhem Tilahun of SoleRebels in e-commerce or Dr. Eleni in an extraordinary work using automation to create the first commodities exchange in Ethiopia.
I understand women tend to see technology as that of a man’s domain, and so do men by the way, and therein lies the glass ceiling, where we are isolated. Not any longer! Particularly with the integration of the internet. The ICT tools used to create wealth and opportunities can no longer be successful without integration with the internet itself.
I recently read that internet is a “she.” The internet is being utilized more by women, where women are increasing their rights, representation, and participation. The social media we frequently use, today, they are more used by women than men. In this case, we have already added to the statistics. How many in this room are on Social Media?
Another point I want to make is that the internet has bridged the digital divide more than any other technology tool ever developed. Instead of you going to find knowledge, it has brought it right on your desktop. e.g. is online – universities, e-commerce, e-tourism, e-governance and other online enabled resources.
An entry point for girls also is the use of your own smart devices, like your mobile phones and applications built on it. Being an expert user is a starting point for Girls and women, less being a developer of apps. Second is the active use of social media tools and ways to use them to create value for yourself or the organisations you work for, for purposes of branding, marketing and global communications. The ICT sector clearly underpins this and many other developments in the future.
Two recent statistics on education and development you must know and that is also close to home for you living in Ethiopia and sub-Saharan Africa. Various credible international reports point out that Addis Ababa is one the fastest emerging cities now in the ranks of Sao Paulo, Kuala Lumpur, Rio de Janeiro with tech hubs like iceAddis and according to UNESCO’s Education Report, Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) ranks the highest globally in government expenditure on education, at 18.7 per cent.
Therefore, the message I leave to you, young women out there is that you need to educate yourself with the tools of the future – ICT and internet to contribute to this fast, evolving and competitive, global landscape. Getting educated in ICT is no longer nerdy, it is trendy.
The message I leave for those organisations that are building workforce is to please create a policy of diversity to hire, train, and develop girls and women in ICT, for not doing so, means half of the global population is ignored and organisations missing in the value of the creativity and talent this gender balance brings.
The message I leave for policy makers in this room is to follow what ITU has done. Mainstream gender involvement and advocacy in your policy development and implementation.
The above are remarks by Sophia Bekele, Founder and Executive Director at DotConnectAfrica for the ITU’s Girl’s ICT day 24 April 2014.