Zambia: Not Leaving Women Behind in ICTs

ON April 22, 2021, the world commemorated what is known as the United Nations (UN) International Girls in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Day.

The theme for the day "Connected Girls, Creating Brighter Futures" was timely and far-sighted.

This was because it inspired and provoked everyone to understand how important it was to nurture and support girls in ICT, with the possibility of bridging the female gap in the future industry.

Women in ICT still have a long way to go and the theme speaks to the current situation with regards to women.

In his recent keynote address on women in ICT, António Guterres - Secretary-General of the United Nations said that Information and communication technologies had been invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ICTs help humanity to stay connected, and to keep vital services and businesses going.

Mr Guterres however regretted that almost half the world was still offline - and most of those who lack access to digital technology were women and girls in developing countries.

"Latest figures from the International Telecommunication Union show a 17 per cent gender gap in internet use globally. This is even wider in least developed countries. In some regions, this gender gap is growing, reinforcing gender inequalities by denying women and girls opportunities to access education, find better-paid jobs, and start new businesses," he said.

He added that making technologies available to all was an essential part of building back stronger communities and economies, and addressing many of the world's most pressing challenges.

The UN's concern has been shared and espoused by various groups concerned of the future of women in ICTs.

For instance, according to the recent report, there is a huge gender gap between men and women in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. This gap manifests itself through various aspects, including employment opportunities, wages, leadership opportunities, perception at the workplace, and so on.

From such reports, it is easy to conclude that women make up only a small percentage of the ICT world force.

For a developing country like Zambia, the picture may be even uglier unfortunately. It is also easy to submit that women are also left devoid of deliberate support platforms that may help them climb their way up the ICT ladder.

As a keen supporter of women who are taking their ICT careers to greater heights, I attended a Huawei Webinar Seminar where I learnt about an initiative that seeks to empower women in tech called the Huawei Women Developers (HWD).

HWD is a global program that Huawei has launched to support women developers. The program aims to empower women developers, provide them with comprehensive resource support, and help them acquire greater space for career and technology development. It is also a platform where women developers can learn, exchange ideas, and shine.

It has a vision and mission to build a platform for women developers to exchange ideas and gain new inspirations, comprehensively empower women developers in both theory and practice, enabling them to quickly improve and develop new skills, and also help women developers obtain more development opportunities and realise their value through incentives and innovation support.

In her remarks during a webinar summit for women in ICT, Huawei Senior Vice President Chen Lifang said: "We believe that women will lead technological innovation. We hope that the HUAWEI Women Developers program will help women better leverage their talents and unique value, and give them opportunities to demonstrate their leadership abilities. This will help make our world a better place."

With countries like Ireland, Argentina, Bangladesh, Kenya and South Africa already having launched HWD in their respective countries, the program is already open to all women across the world upon registration on its website.

There is great need to bridge the gaps in ICT's by increasing productivity and resource efficiency among women. Women need to be given an edge to compete effectively and demonstrate their capabilities.

"At Huawei, it is our firm belief that women too need to leap to greater heights in terms of developing and actualising their ideas in the digital space. Through an initiative called Women Developers, Huawei intends to empower many women," says Hansen He, Huawei Zambia Director of Public Relations.

Mr He also urged women to take advantage of other ICT related programs such as the Huawei ICT competition and Seeds for the Future programmes.

Despite the current gloomy picture about women in ICT, it is comforting to learn about corporates taking keen interest in integrated talent development.

Through such programs, women especially in Zambia should not be afraid to put themselves forward and prove that they can defy odds and break through that proverbial glass that espouses that ICT is a male field.

Research reveals that the ICT industry lacks enough women. If women do not share their narratives and do something about them and shine light on inequalities, things may pretty well remain the same and the local scene definitely needs more of such initiatives.

On the other hand, some women groups are already determined to make the change they want to see in the future ICT industry. Asikana (women) network is a bonafide Zambian women driven group that aims to empower young women and equip them with ICT skills. Since 2012, Asikana network has definitely been a point of light in the dark spots of women. It has an on-going goal to advocate for policies and legislation that endorse the active involvement of women in the ICT sector.

What I find interesting about this organisation is that it was founded by young women who were pursuing their studies in technology, an indication that women can thrive in ICT too.

With women coming up and taking the bull by its own horns, the glass ceiling in technology and STEM may eventually be broken. There is need to intensify advocacy on riding- off barriers and biasness especially in work environments. The world will be better off when we carry ourselves together without leaving anyone behind.

The cutting-edge era demands collective development because technology has potential to give humanity with a much more smart and sustainable world. In fact, major global ICT players are already predicting that the world is moving towards having almost everything smart in it. Technology will power smart healthcare systems, smart homes, smart factories, smart Governments, smart heavy construction projects, smart transportation systems and smart cities among others. Women should not to be left behind in ICT.

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