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ICT workforce without women, girls unthinkable – CARICOM Deputy Secretary-General

Posted in: Speeches by admin | 29 April 2016 | 4280

    CARICOM Deputy Secretary-General, Ambassador Manorma Soeknandan, PhD., addresses the opening ceremony of the Girls in ICT event.
    CARICOM Deputy Secretary-General, Ambassador Manorma Soeknandan, PhD., addresses the opening ceremony of the Girls in ICT event.

    Opening Remarks Deputy Secretary General, Caricom Amb. Dr. Manorma Soeknandan At The Workshop To Mark ‘girls In Ict Day’ 28 April 2016 Arthur Chung Conference Centre Guyana

    Hon. Catherine Hughes, Minister of Public Telecommunications and Tourism
    Hon. Nicolette Henry, Minister with responsibility for Youth, Sport and Culture
    Special Invitees
    Representatives of the Ministry of Education, Department of Culture , University of Guyana
    Staff of the CARICOM Secretariat
    Vice – Dean and other CARICOM Youth Ambassadors
    Students and teachers from schools and institutions in Guyana
    Presenters , collaborators and exhibitors in today’s programme
    Members of the Media
    Ladies and Gentlemen

    Good Morning All.  It is an honour and a pleasure for me to welcome you to the 3rd CCS Observance of Girls in ICT Event.

    I take this opportunity to extend a warm welcome to the Honourable Ministers. Your presence here indicates the importance the Government of Guyana places on the development of ICT and the role of our girls and women in ICT.

    This is the third Secretariat observance of Girls in ICT day. The Secretariat’s objectives when we started this and (still remain current today) include:
    o    Reinforcing the concept of "Girls in ICT Day" within the CARICOM Secretariat and within the wider community;
    o    Celebrating and commemorating the International Girls in ICT Day;
    o    Partnering with the public and private sector (some of whom have booths outside) to provide an opportunity for girls to get inspired about the ICT sector by introducing them to topical applications and devices; and
    o    Exposing girls, teachers and staff members to some ICT Career options and existing jobs in ICT.

    In observing this day with all of you, we continue to align the Caribbean Community with the  United Nations and the  International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU’s) call for action on the use of Information Communications Technology to empower women and girls to meet their goals and aspirations. To date, over one hundred and eleven thousand (111,000) girls and young women have taken part in more than three thousand five hundred (3,500) Girls in ICT Day events held in one hundred and forty (140) countries worldwide.

    The annual theme for this observance is: ‘Expand horizons, change attitudes’. This year’s sub-theme which was provided by the CARICOM Youth Ambassadors is “Tech Girls for a Tech World. Girls and women in ICT; beneficial for every country”.  (Please join with me in giving the Youth Ambassadors some applause – I am told they did this in one weekend!)

    ICT workforce without women, girls unthinkable – CARICOM Deputy Secretary-General

    This is a most appropriate theme since an ICT workforce (or any workforce) without women and girls is unthinkable. The non-inclusion of women in the ICT world will put them in an economic disadvantaged position. Women can be denied access to positions of influence in industry and government due to lack of relevant skills and experience. Women’s interests may not be well represented if they are not presented in the decision-making process,  in the products and services produced by the ICT and other key industries. We, women, might have a different approach in conducting activities and when dealing with problem-solving, but it does not mean that we are less capable or that we are not qualified to do the job.

    As the world changes, and as science and technology and media continue to come closer together, women and girls are increasingly viewed as an essential element in a global economy built upon ICTs.

    Another reason for commemorating this day across the world is that an enormous gap exists between the size of the ICT workforce demanded and the current global supply. Simply put, there are more positions available or are in the process of being created than there are skilled workers to fill them. Employers around the world are struggling to fill hundreds of thousands of ICT jobs, and part of the problem is the lack of women and girls trained in these fields.

    The under-utilisation of female talent and perspectives has no doubt lessened the creation of new things (innovation) and slowed down economic development. This, – and a lack of ICT access overall, especially, in developing countries such as those in this Region - has denied women and girls a source of empowerment and opportunity, and contributes to female economic and social marginalization.

    According to the Global Information Technology Report, teenaged girls are five (5) times less likely to consider a technology-related career compared to boys of the same age, even though the way in which girls and boys use computers and the Internet is nearly identical.

    Coupled with the fact that an estimated 9 out of 10 future jobs will require ICT skills, this makes a really good argument about why girls should pursue these jobs, there are enough jobs for everyone!
    Where can these jobs be found you ask? Just take a look at what are some of the things which are topical in our world and Region today.  Climate change, natural disasters, unemployment, energy, agro-processing, aviation engineering, cosmetics, even in family-owned businesses, we need competence in ICT to modernize the family business and to be able to compete and survive.

    We live in a world where young people have their own language made up of acronyms and emoticons – who would have thought that we can reduce whole sentences to three letters such as LOL for laughing out loud, BRB for be right back, TTYL for talk to you later, IDK for I don't know, and TMI for too much information
    Up to five (5) or so years ago, lots of research was done on why young women do not  choose tech careers and number one (1) was - they think it’s not interesting. Number two, girls thought they wouldn’t be good at it. Number three, they think they will be working with a number of people that they just wouldn’t feel comfortable or happy working alongside – not social enough... and women and girls are very social beings.

    Today those views are officially over. Technology careers are interesting, women are great at it, and they get to work alongside extraordinary men and women. Being technology illiterate just does not cut it anymore. It cannot, when so many more job functions require so much more technical know-how.

    Thanks to the ever-present and accessible internet and social media sites like Facebook,  girls just as much as boys, now use laptops, smartphones and other smart devices confidently, taking for granted their ability to use such highly complex technology without much effort.

    What we as policy-makers have to do is to move them through awareness-building, education and hands-on experiences to see these devices as tools and doorways to a brighter future.
    ICT is about Data.  I hope many of you have heard about BIG DATA.  Big data is all around us and creating many jobs and opportunities.  This is made more and more obvious by the fact that we can see what the Pope did last Sunday - taking confession in the Square of the Basilica, read contents of the Panama papers, follow  President Obama’s activities in the UK, etc.

    Data shows that ICTs are important to adolescent girls for some of the following reasons:
    1.    To keep in touch with others and reduce isolation in countries where this is an issue;
    2.    To further their education and acquire new skills;
    3.    To take an active part in their communities and countries;
    4.    To have the skills to find work;
    5.    To build specific skills and knowledge on subjects they might otherwise not know about, such as HIV and AIDS, the Zika virus; and
    6.    In order to keep safe.
    Evidence has also shown that learning to use these technologies can build self-esteem. For these reasons and more, we continue to work as a Secretariat with CARICOM Member States and other countries and organisations to ensure that we keep the conversation going about bringing more girls to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – to help support  social, environmental and economic development for CARICOM.

    At the regional level, CARICOM heads have asked that a Single ICT Space be created by 2019.  This Single ICT Space will allow all of us to have the same ICT experience across the Region with regard to bandwidth speeds, access to information, among other things.  Included in this work are two things which might interest you – the Heads of Government have also asked that we give them ideas about different ways to help young people graduate from high school.  In this regard, I encourage you to investigate the CXC website – they have introduced two new  ICT-related courses (Digital Media and Animation and Game Design).

    The second thing is that the Heads of Government have asked each country to place special emphasis on educating women and girls on various aspects of ICT.  All countries in the Region are looking at Education reform on how to change their education systems to include ICT and to benefit from the many opportunities it presents. Hopefully, within the next year or two, many of you will be participating in some of this training.

    I am sure that we would all agree that there are many things we can do or would wish to see that make our community, school, country or Region better, more developed and more secure.  

    Heads of Government are sure that ICT is one of the sectors which can make a positive contribution to the development of the Region.  There are success stories in every country about the use of ICT – especially in the area of application development or building ‘apps’.
    We need more success stories in our Region from all sectors – in particular, we need many more from ICT if we are going to truly transform our Region.
    One of the issues which is constantly on our mind at the Secretariat and I raise it here, so that the Ministries we have partnered with can help with this as well, is the issue of having data relevant to our Region available for use.  I would like to challenge us here today to begin to do research in Guyana, so that next year when we meet for another grand event, we can present data about the involvement of women and girls in the ICT World.

    This will also help the Region as well as the world. There is not a lot of information on the impact of ICTs on the lives of girls in ‘developing’ countries, especially studies that go beyond establishment of computer centers.  There is anecdotal evidence of positive impact of mobile phones on women. There are studies on the digital gender divide for women; on child trafficking and other negative aspects of the internet; and on the use of the internet and technology among youth in the US, UK, Australia, etc.  It has been (and continues to be) difficult to find a lot of information on the use of ICTs by girls in the “South” or in this part of the world.

    Another issue is meaningful engagement - we must engage girls in ICT long before tertiary education, preferably starting in primary school, and in the right way. It is clear that the focus is too much on using computers, and not enough on innovating through them – help our girls make a difference in their life and in the life of others by equipping them to manage these powerful tools.

    I challenge all of us gathered here, as I did last year to a similar group - starting today to become active advocates of bridging the gender gap across the Region and the world.  Advocate that more girls and women study and train for and go after the high-level, high-paying jobs in every industry especially in ICT since it is part of our future.  This also includes girls and women who are differently-abled – they too have a meaningful place in society and the world of work.

    We need more girls’ and women’s voices in everything that is happening across the Region.  Our skit today is entitled “Speak Out”.  You need to speak out about the things that are needed to make you a better girl, woman, human being. We, women, are valuable in taking our families, our communities into a future where we all can prosper. You are not too young to become involved and to lead the charge.  Use your skills with ICT - blogs, tweets, posts, messages to tell government employers and educators what you need to make you better.  Speak Out and you will be heard by the Secretariat, by me and the Secretary-General, by your Ministers of Government, as well as  the Heads of Government of CARICOM.
    Aim to be technology creators and innovators not only users.  Don’t use excuses like lack of money, mentorship, information and not having the right tools.

    You are the next generation of leaders in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and arts.  Celebrate your right to be here and to be bold, daring and different.  

    The hard-working planning team has planned an exciting and interesting programme for you. I urge you to actively participate in the events.  Take time to make friends with a new girl or woman and keep that friendship alive for as long as you can.  Networking and having friends who support you is one of the main ingredients to successful careers.  Have an enjoyable day!

    I thank you.