27 December 2017

East Africa: Outstanding Initiatives Bringing Digital Tech Opportunities to Women in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Costa Rica Win At 2017 Equals in Tech Awards

Outstanding initiatives from around the world that use the power of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to empower women and girls were recognized on 19 December at the 2017 EQUALS in Tech Awards.

This annual event is designed to showcase how ICTs can be used to dramatically improve social, political and economic outcomes for women and girls - and the value that women and girls bring to the technology sectors.

The awards are part of the EQUALS Global Partnership, a network of more than 50 partner companies and organizations working together to bridge the digital gender divide, and co-founded by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), UN Women, the International Trade Centre, GSMA and the United Nations University.

Awards are given in three categories: Skills, Access and Leadership. These represent the three pillars of actions by EQUALS partners to bridge the digital gender divide. Skills are needed for women and girls to use digital resources; access provides the opportunity; and leadership recognizes the value of gender equality in tech employment sectors, including senior leadership roles for women.

In her video address to attendees, Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General said, "New tech needs to be available to all for the benefit of all, our sustainable future depends on bridging the digital gender divide. Let's work together to empower role models who can inspire women and girls everywhere."

This year, there were 293 submissions from 72 countries for the EQUALS in Tech Awards. From these, 15 finalists were selected representing the most innovative and inspiring initiatives working to bridge the digital gender divide. A winner was then selected in each of the three categories by an expert panel of EQUALS partners and previous winners.

In the Skills Category, the winner was Digital Citizen Fund of the United States and Afghanistan, which over the past four years has built 13 information technology and media centres that provided Internet access to 55,000 people and training to more than 10,000 women in digital literacy, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. More than 100 women have gone on to launch their own startups in different industries. The award was received by Ms Roya Mahboob.

In the Access Category, the winner was Lebanese Alternative Learning, which has developed Tabshoura in a Box. This platform works independently of the Internet and electricity, a key feature in low-resource environments, and provides a hotspot where students can connect computers and access digital learning resources.

Currently, three school and three learning centers are using Tabshoura in a Box, and the platform is expected to spread to at least 15 schools and learning centres within the next year. The award was received by Dr Nayla Zreik Fahed.

In the Leadership Category, the winner was Sula Batsu Cooperativa of Costa Rica, which has created women-led rural "technological poles" that empower women to launch their own digital businesses. The programme has impacted 1,500 rural young women, 700 teenage girls, and 200 mothers of rural girls.

It also hosts a network of 400 girls who meet regularly to define and implement actions around women in tech, the results of which influence university curricula, companies and public policies. The award was received by Ms Kemly Camacho.

"I am delighted to see these creative initiatives aimed at bridging the digital divide. They demonstrate how women and girls' access to frontier technology and improved skills can be achieved. Today's winners bring us closer to an inclusive information society that leaves no woman or girl behind," said UN Women Executive-Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in a press statement.

This year's awards were supported by the Internet Society, the Government of Switzerland and Facebook.

"Expanding Internet access for women is critical as they play a vital role in shaping the Internet's future. The importance of role models can't be underestimated and Equals in Tech is a key way to raise the profiles of women and inspire others. The Internet Society is proud to be sponsoring the award again this year," said Kathryn Brown, President & CEO of the Internet Society.

Commenting on Facebook's sponsorship of the "Equals in Tech" initiative, Emilar Gandhi, Facebook's Public Policy Manager, SADC said, "At Facebook, we're driven by our mission to give people the power to build community. We believe in the power of technology in driving progress and empowering women, we know that when women do better, economies do better, which is why we're proud to be part of the Equals in Tech Awards."

The 2017 Equals in Tech Awards ceremony was held in Geneva, Switzerland, during the Internet Governance Forum, 19 December 2017.

discussion on Bridging the Digital Gender Divide with representatives of the three winning initiatives took place 20 December during the Internet Governance Forum. The session was moderated by Su Sonia Herring, Internet Society Youth Representative, and also included the participation of Carla Licciardello, ITU Gender Specialist, and Anna Fälth, Manager of UN Women's EmpowerWomen initiative.

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