Source: MarketScreener

Inherent gender inequality and unequal internet connectivity are some of the reasons women and girls in Africa remain under-represented in the fields of science and technology, according to panelists at the African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) side event at the 53rd session of the Economic Commission for African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development in Addis Ababa.

Jean-Paul Adam, the Director for Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), speaking at the side event, said although the percentage of women in the labor force on the continent had over the years gradually increased, it remained significantly lower in the technology sector.

'Women's lack of equal connectivity is undermining their capacity to reach their economic potential. A situation that urgently needs to be addressed,' said Mr. Adam.

'Girls face discrimination in the sector because computer science has always been seen as a course for boys, not girls.'

AGCCI is a program being implemented by UN Women in collaboration with the African Union, the ECA and the International Telecommunication Union. The four-year program, initiated in 2018, is designed to equip young girls with digital literacy, coding, and personal development skills.

Girls are trained as programmers, creators, and designers, placing them on track to take up education and careers in ICT and coding.

Letty Chiwara, UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, the Africa Union Commission (AUC), and the ECA, said boosting women's digital literacy today would have far-reaching inter-generational implications.

'Women are uniquely suited to prepare younger generations to participate in the digital economy, a reason why governments should empower more women in the fields of science and technology,' she said.

Cisse Mohamed, Director of Social Affairs at the AUC, said while women and girls were encouraged to take up technology, there was no conducive environment for them to do so.

'African governments should create computer literacy programs, targeting women from rural areas, in particular. Improving access to information and communications technologies, especially Internet-enabled mobile phones, would go a long way toward supporting these efforts,' said Ms. Mohamed, adding that data safety and protection are important in this digital era.

Andrew Rugege, ITU Regional Director for Africa, said COVID-19 was a health hazard but had shown the continent the importance of ICT.

'More than half of our women and youth are not connected on the internet. There is a need to close the gender gap by increasing the mobile ownership and access to the internet by women and youth,' said Mr. Rugege.

'Young girls should be trained on ICT programs rather than just being consumers of the innovations.'

Hendrina Doroba, Division Manager, Education, Human Capital and Employment at the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), said girls who have participated in the Africa Girls Can Code Initiative camps, already had what it takes to convince governments to incorporate ICT into the education curriculum.

'We need to engage policymakers at the country level, to push for inclusion of ICT in the education curriculum in all the countries in Africa,' said Ms. Doroba, adding that the AfDB had created initiatives of expanding infrastructure on digital learning in various countries, including Kenya, Rwanda, Cote d'Ivoire, and Senegal.

The first group of girls who won the 'we can code initiative' competition from Senegal, Tanzania, and South Africa presented their programming projects on robotics and animation at the side event.

The African Girls Can Code Initiative is expected to reach more than 2,000 girls through 18 Coding Camps (2 international, 12 regional and 4 in Ethiopia) by 2022.

In September 2018, the program brought together 88 girls aged 17-20 from 32 African countries at the first coding camp. By 2022, 14 coding camps will be organized to take the program to more than 2,000 girls across Africa.

It was announced at the side event that the next hybrid camps will be held in Cameroon and Congo.

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