Digital skills will change the economic security of all children, says IT super girl
“With programming skills, girls can do whatever they want to help themselves and their communities. It gives them the choice to pursue job opportunities that are not traditionally for girls,”
Emina attended her first UNICEF IT Girls workshop at the age of 14. She wishes the opportunity had come sooner.
“The experience expanded my mind in ways I could not have imagined. I met such a diversity of people pursuing a variety of interests, because programming drives everything from basic appliances in our homes to how entire cities are run. All children, especially girls, should be introduced to it as early as primary school,” says Emina.
“With programming skills, girls can do whatever they want to help themselves and their communities. It gives them the choice to pursue job opportunities that are not traditionally for girls.”
With the knowledge and networking that came with this learning opportunity, Emina, now 21, has come a long way. She pitches at IT meet ups and has invented a recycling app for smartphones. The app is currently in use in 14 municipalities around Bosnia and Herzegovina. Next, Emina has her eyes on studying how programming innovations can improve patient access to better healthcare.
In a world where there are 600 million adolescent girls, Emina’s story is one that inspires hope and gives pause for thought. How transformed could our communities be if all girls had access to the skills they need and want in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) to become the leaders of a more inclusive, diverse, and safer digital future?
“Girls who know programming can change the world because the future is digital. They can do whatever they want to help themselves and their communities. It gives them the choice to pursue job opportunities that are not traditionally for girls,” Emina says.
But millions cannot access the opportunities they need to succeed.
In a new study, UNICEF found that 90 per cent of girls and young women do not use the internet in low-income countries, while their male peers are twice as likely to be online. The global digital revolution is leaving girls behind and with that goes their chance to secure their economic future, a key concern addressed in UNICEF's new Adolescent Girls Agenda and Gender Action Plan.
In Emina’s experience, this digital gender divide began in early childhood.
“In primary schools, especially in rural areas, teachers may unintentionally curtail girls’ interest in learning computers, encouraging them to instead pursue more so-called feminine interests. And some of the IT workshops and meetups that exposed me to these new skills were attended mostly by boys. I was one of maybe just two or three girls out of 20 to 30 participants,” recounts Emina.
UNICEF, with various partners, is changing this picture with the IT Girls initiative and the introduction of Arduino sets to 52 schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). This year, the programme will scale up to another 130 schools.
“Emina’s example is a great story of coming full circle. For many years, she participated in UNICEF’s IT Girls programmes and gained an internship with Ministry of Programming, a software design firm and one of several local private sector partners working with UNICEF,” explains Amila Madzak, Adolescent Development Officer at UNICEF BiH.
“I was mentored by one of the senior female employees, Almira Krdžić, at Ministry of Programming. It was a very meaningful experience for me. She is one of the main reasons I am now furthering my studies at university. The company is a signatory to the Women Empowerment principles, promoting gender equality in their workplace and it really inspires me to see how much they and UNICEF are doing for girls,” says Emina.
“Now a university student Emina inspires younger girls to choose IT as their education and career choices,” Madzak adds.
Emina’s enthusiasm is contagious.
“I hope that UNICEF and the government can continue to invest in initiatives that take IT workshops to as many girls in Bosnia and Herzegovina as possible, especially in rural areas. When girls can pursue exciting and innovative career paths in their own hometown, city or country, they are more likely to give back to their communities instead of believing that the only opportunities for them are outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is why I think these programmes are so important for not just girls, but the future of the entire country,” concludes Emina.
This year, UNICEF announced the Game Changers Coalition, a partnership call-out to the gaming and technology sector to equip a generation of girls with art and design skills. Evolving from STEM skills to STEAM (A for arts) adolescent girls can become the coders, designers, and leaders of a more inclusive, diverse, and safer digital future.