There are too few women in the world of information and communication technologies (ICTs), and the numbers are going the wrong way. Girls are not studying, interested in, and in many cases without access to, the core information, education, role models, or reasons why their involvement in ICTs is so important. That is why we have launched the ITU Tech Needs Girls campaign.
The problem is a global one. Many girls in OECD countries appear uninterested in a field they consider boring and without a direct relationship to helping people. Girls in non-OECD countries are often without access to ICTs.
We lose a generation of girls between the ages of 9 and 12 when dreams and decisions about study begin to be made. We lose another group after 14 when girls turn away from a perceived ‘boys’ domain,’ at an age when many boys themselves begin coding, making them experienced hackers by the time they enter university.
The growing number of missing girls in the tech equation is a problem, not only due to a shortfall of potential employees for the sector, but also because the world is being reinvented by ICTs. Many of the important ideas and tools shaping the fast-moving 21st century emanate from this domain. And almost all new jobs and opportunities for wealth creation intersect ICTs with everything from agronomy to healthcare, environmental management to industrial design, education to Internet technology. The future is being invented now, where girls need and deserve to have an equal place. But this will not happen without a high-level effort to create an inventive, entrepreneurial future that is truly inclusive.
Helping achieve that inclusive future is central to ITU’s mission. As the specialized UN agency for ICTs, it is superbly placed to bring together governments, the private sector and civil society to highlight the problem and coalesce thought leadership around finding solutions.
If the lack of girls in technology is solved, it could have tremendous impact on the global stage. As women, they will gain the social and economic empowerment that comes with acquiring new skills — and then share the benefits with their communities. In this way, the Tech Needs Girls campaign is in line with the Millennium Development Goals and their planned legacy after the target date of 2015.
Recognizing the importance of this issue, the ITU membership launched an International Girls in ICT Day on the fourth Thursday of every April. In 2012, more than 1320 national and local events were held to mark the day in nearly 90 countries. These are documented on the Girls in ICT Portal, where there are also links to case histories, training opportunities and much more information.
Tech Needs Girls is a call to action worldwide. ITU wants to spur all players in the world of ICTs — and, most importantly , girls themselves — to do more to ensure that the female fifty per cent of the population takes full advantage of the opportunities these technologies bring.