There is global recognition that our digital world must address the needs of all people – but the digital gender gap remains a fundamental challenge.
To promote women’s equal participation in the creation and use of innovative technologies and digital media, we need to ensure that they have the necessary access, knowledge and support to ensure new technologies serve the needs of both men and women.
There are hundreds of initiatives around the world that promote women’s access to ICTs and that aim to create technologies for women, by women. But what is particularly promising in the field is the work to integrate innovative policies – specifically in Intellectual Property (IP) law and open innovation – with women’s digital entrepreneurship, as well as open education programs that transform technologies through community-led initiatives.
IP Law and Open Innovation
Creators who invent new technologies require knowledge about IP laws to both protect and enable innovations. While always fully respecting IP rights, open innovation offers opportunities to bridge the global digital divide for women. New trends in open innovation provide a space for women to build their creative capacities as leaders and makers.
My experience seeing Harvard’s Innovation Lab and MIT Media Lab in action and attending open invite workshops and events provided rich insight, drawing focus to the fact that the arts and sciences including technology, engineering and math – the STEAM movement – are enabled by IP law. As more women move into the field of technology production, their understanding of IP laws is an especially important component to ensure their innovations are encouraged and protected.
Innovations in Open Education
Few women are involved in designing and building the online applications that have become the new engine driving education, information, science, engineering, art, entertainment and commerce. A few novel ideas developed by young women seek to change that, some based on the principles of open innovation, others inspired by open education:
Rails Girls project is a volunteer-based coding workshop that enables for young women to take part in the digital revolution. Global Chapters, including the first Johannesburg chapter that I helped to organize in 2014, empower young women to become confident about making career choices in the new digital space.
Ruby on Rails introduces young women to creating applications and websites. Though only introductory, the participants enjoy hands-on training under the supervision of local coaches. The success of the programme, now in over 150 countries worldwide, demonstrates young women’s desire to gain ICTs skills and knowledge.
Another example, Chibitronics, co-founded by an MIT Media Lab PhD candidate, makes building circuits and electronics easy through building and creation. This is yet another example of leveraging open learning to encourage innovation.
There is abundant enthusiasm by women and girls to take part in the digital transformation of their societies. We need to inspire them to overcome obstacles and traditional barriers of entry in the digital space so they can strive to make meaningful contributions to the world of tech. We need to ensure that policy frameworks are in place in order to provide an enabling environment for women’s innovations in ICTs.
Note from ITU: The Annual GEM-TECH Awards recognize innovative solutions to bridge the digital gender gap. The GEM-TECH Awards have become a global showcase for policies and projects that promote women in ICT. Nominations are now open until August 15, 2016.
Ayesha Dawood is a South African and Harvard-educated digital media and technology lawyer. She has an LL.M from Harvard Law school and was a recent 2016 Fellow at the Weatherhead Centre for international Affairs, Harvard. She is also is an artist and the author of Little Monk‘s Africa Adventure.