On Girls in ICT Day, let´s Reimagine Girls´ Education toward STEM and girl-centered solutions

UNICEF works with partners including ITU, UN Women, UNDP and the private sector to promote girls in ICT and STEM and break negative gender stereotypes in learning and training.

Afshan Khan - Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia
A girl is looking through binoculars.
© UNICEF/UN0398127
20 April 2021

With a growing start-up scene and new jobs being created every day in the digital space, the future is looking bright for young people in the Europe and Central Asia Region (ECA). 12% of the total population are between 10-19 years[1], including a vast cohort of girls who could be future tech leaders, engineers and programmers. Yet, girls in ECA continue to be underrepresented, left out and they miss essential learning opportunities in STEM and ICT fields due to harmful norms and gendered expectations of girls as caregivers – and gender stereotypes are perpetuated through generations.

In ECA, girls are more likely to be not in education, employment and training (NEET) than boys (16% for girls, 12% for boys) and youth unemployment is also higher for girls (23% for girls, 19% for boys).[2] Only one third of graduates coming from STEM disciplines are girls, and as 90% of the world’s future jobs is projected to require STEM skills, girls’ employment prospects are reducing.[3] With school closures and scarce connectivity, and increase in the gender digital gap in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, many girls in low-resource and crisis settings risk dropping out of formal education systems forever, making the education stakes even higher.

Girls in ICT Day is a moment to celebrate all the girls who go against these trends, who challenge gender stereotypes, who lead and succeed in ICT and who actively champion for their equality. More girls than ever find innovative solutions to the world´s problems, they access 21st century opportunities and take new economic pathways. 

In ECA, more girls have connectivity, access and digital literacy, but they also need female mentors, role-models, real-life opportunities and networks to support them so they can continue to break barriers, apply new skills learned and remain safe on digital platforms

In ECA, examples shine bright of girls who challenge the norms and break gender stereotypes by using artificial intelligence (AI) for job creation, learning computing in Girls IT-clubs and sending nano-satellites to the stars. The girls in Armenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kazakhstan, and in many other countries across the region, everyday shatter micro glass-ceilings and position themselves in the pipeline for professional careers in STEM and ultimately, economic, sustainable development. They can help boost earnings by $299 billion over the next ten years – the projection, if women participate equally in the STEM workforce![4] Promising at-scale initiatives support this transformation: GIGA partnership, Learning Passport and Generation Unlimited help to close poverty learning gaps, connect and provide girls with the competencies they need to succeed.

A girl is working on computer.
UNICEF/Kyrgyzstan/2020/Dmitrii Galkevich
Gulshan is 14 years, from Ak-Orgo suburb in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Gulshan participates in UNICEF Kyrgyzstan Girls In Science programme where girls learn STEM and digital skills. As a result of the project, Gulshan wants to become a peer trainer and support other girls like herself, and her goal for this year is to develop her first mobile application!

Today, we amplify our commitment to #Generation Equality, to lift girls’ voices and promote technology and innovation as an accelerator for girls´ empowerment and for girls´ own solutions towards the future they want. To leverage the momentum, take promising approaches to scale and to invest in girls´ leadership in ECA, we call for continued collaboration and investments through 3 principles for action:

Reimagining approaches for girls’ skills and learning: Toward girl-centered solutions

No solutions for girls without girls! We must invest and scale interventions that are girl-centered in their design, deliver and monitoring, with a focus on skills that position girls for equal participation and transition to employment.[5] Girls themselves must be in the front seat: They must be solvers of the problems they face in their communities, and shapers of creating the world they want. Girls still need us to support them in their leadership and they are demanding us to take responsibility. The solutions we create for girls must be shaped around girls´ needs and expectations and involve them at all stages, so they reflect what girls want.

 

Partnerships across sectors and systems for all girls: Reaching them where they are, with inclusive, gender-responsive STEM and ICT education

To deliver sustainable solutions for girls, we must leverage the expertise and strengths from each and every partner – from civil society to international multilaterals – to provide girls with gender-responsive ICT & STEM-focused education in schools and through out-of-school platforms. We call for joint advocacy and resource mobilization across political partners and grass-root moments to overcome the barriers girls face in schools, universities and in the workspace. Let´s work to create a cohesive, systemic approach so that all girls have access to quality education and training, reaching them where they are, with transformative and age-appropriate skills and information on multiple platforms.

 

Fostering training and active workplaces to nurture the next generation female leaders

Workplaces must take an active role and invest in the talents and potential of girls. A 21st Century Girl workforce can be shaped and cultivated in the job space, online and offline, through internships, apprenticeships, and hands-on training. Education sectors and industries must come together and shape enterprise-based STEM career programmes for girls connecting professionals with girls in and out of school, for role modelling and mentoring. Financial incentives must be created with school-based scholarships and technology competitions which help girls pursue STEM at tertiary levels. Supporting girls all the way in their transition to the world of work in STEM and ICT ensures sustainability and growth, and a whole new pipeline for the economic empowerment of girls and women.  

Dana Kurmangali, 16 year, a member of the UniSat Nanosatellites Educational Program for Girls is posing to the camera.
UNICEF Kazakhsatn/2020/Kostrykin
Dana Kurmangali, 16, a member of the UniSat Nanosatellites Educational Program for Girls, organized by UNICEF Kazakhstan and the Science and Technology Park of Al-Farabi Kazakh National University. Within programme 20 girls aged 14 to 35 years from different regions of Kazakhstan have undertaken courses on the creation of nanosatellites within five months in the Science and Technology Park of Al-Farabi KazNU.

Girls in ICT Day on April 22 aims to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to study and work in tech. UNICEF works with partners including ITU, UN Women, UNDP and the private sector to promote girls in ICT and STEM and break negative gender stereotypes in learning and training.