Webinar on Enhancing access and safe use of ICT for Girls in ICT Day

The International Girls in ICT Day, 2022 has been jointly celebrated through a webinar on “Enhancing access and safe use of ICT for Girls in ICT Day” by UNESCO and ANYVS with the partnership of UN Women and BdSTEM. The theme of International Girls in ICT Day is “Access and Safety”. The webinar started sharp at 2 pm and continued till 4 pm.

The panellists were:

  1. Beatrice Kaldun, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative to Bangladesh
  2. Huhua Fan, Chief of Education, UNESCO Dhaka office
  3. Mark West, Project Officer, Future of Learning and Innovation Team, UNESCO HQs
  4. Sonia Bashir Kabir, Founding Chairperson, SBK Foundation
  5. Gitanjali Singh, Head of Office a.i, UN Women Bangladesh
  6. Professor Md. Roshidul Hasan Dept. of CSIT, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University, and President, Asian Network of Youth Volunteer Society
  7. Professor Dr. Al-Nakib Chowdhury, President BDSTEM
  8. Mhafuza Liza, BPM, Special Police Super (Internal Affairs), Special Branch, Bangladesh Police
  9. Nobonita Chakraborty, General Secretary, ANYV
  10. Success Story Tellers-
  1. Golam Rubaiyat (Moumita Hiya), Entrepreneur
  2. Arnaz Rahman, Student and Small Business Owner
  3. Raunak Jahan Moushi, Former President, Women Peace Cafe, Begum Rokeya University

Nobonita Chakraborty, general secretary of ANYV, started the webinar and welcomed all the panelists. Then requested Beatrice Kaldun humbly to give her welcome speech.

The welcome speech was narrated by Beatrice Kaldum. She addressed all the panelists on the webinar to celebrate the international girls in ICT Day 2022 by ITU which is to promote gender equality, and empowerment of women through ICT. She added, that International Girls in ICT day 2022 is celebrated in over 150 countries around the world today to encourage girls and young women to pursue their studies in STEM and ICT and to pursue studies and careers in information and communication sectors. She said, ” Girls and women face obstacles in the digital environment and try to bring out possible solutions to these challenges.”

She added that according to UNESCO’s Selective publication, “I’d blush if I could: closing gender divides in digital skills through Education” today women and girls are 25% less likely than men to know how to leverage digital technology for basic purposes, 4 times less likely to know how to program computers and 13 timeless likely to file for a technology patent”.

In her deliberation she told “As all technological sectors are dominated by men, women hold only 25% of the technology jobs. In the high schools and university levels, girls are less likely to study STEM-related subjects as it is seen that many girls avoid STEM subjects because they don’t think that they will be able to work with technology. One reason can be that they do not know any female role models in the technology industry.”

She added that in recent years Bangladesh has had remarkable achievements in STEM and ICT and its impact reaches girls and women as well. According to the UNESCO Science report 2021, Bangladesh demonstrates a strong profile in science and technology. There are several national initiatives like the establishment of economic zones, ICT industries, support for small and medium-size entrepreneurs, and many more. So the ICT initiatives are remarkable, especially in terms of grassroots entrepreneurship in ICT sectors with the engagement of girls from urban cities to rural areas.

To support the celebration 48 stories have been collected from 15-29 years girls and young women from all over the country, most of which are about small entrepreneurs in small businesses. As more women and girls are involved in the ICT sectors, it increases the challenges to provide safe digital space for them.

She added that the government of Bangladesh makes STEM and ICT education for girls and women their priority area which is very good to achieve SDG-4. Gender equality is the main priority for UNESCO in STEM and ICT she added. As the Prime Minister is very focused on this issue UNESCO utilizes it to support the government.  This webinar is focused to establish the safe use of ICT for girls. She ended her speech by thanking and congratulating UN Women, ANYV & BdSTEM along with her organization UNESCO Dhaka office to organize the webinar.

After the completion of the welcome speech Beatrice Kaldun, Nobonita Chakraborty explained the purpose and theme of the International Girls in ICT Day, she introduced all the panelists and passed the floor to the moderator Huhua Fan. Huhua next invited Sonia Bashir Kabir to give her keynotes.

Sonia Bashir Kabir is the head of SBK foundation and started her deliberation with her background a little bit. She talked about how Silicon Valley became the leading hub in the tech world. She narrated the inefficiencies in the market in the ICT sectors when she got back to Bangladesh after 20 years in 2006. She appreciated the Prime Minister’s vision of 2041 for Digital Bangladesh.

As Bangladesh has the fastest growing economy we have the passion to ensure that women are included in ICT education. The low rate of participation of women in ICT and engineering is the lack of online security and it is disproportionately low, considering that half of the population of our country is women. She mentioned that last year, the New York Times showed that the largest part of our success story can be attributed to educating girls. Though it’s good that 45% of girls are in tertiary education and 26% of the students are female in the university, which is not good enough, rather more women are neede in technology. The findings of the main reason for the low participation of girls in ICT is the male-dominated workplace in STEM & ICT sectors and the visible role model of women in ICT.

She added that “We need to celebrate the championship and gold up the girls who have broken barriers in this field, we have to promote female entrepreneurship”. She told, “We can’t speak up on the subject by addressing its darker side like harassment, misogyny, violence against women”. She suggested that as girls and women are using online huge, its need to ensure that all the girls have a safe online space. It is found that the girls are being silent on the toxic level of harassment like body shaming, sexual abuse, and many more. So it’s needed to educate them to raise their voices and share their experiences with the minority people.

She had some proposals for the girls in ICT like-

  1. We would like to educate our girls equally to achieve digital empowerment. As technology is completely male-dominated and lack of female role model in ICT sectors they have to educate that gender can not be the barrier for them to achieve anything they want to be.
  2. Closer technology access and usage gap. Many internet cafes and practicing places are not located in an area that is accessible for girls. So make women friendly environment in technological sectors.
  3. Make the digital environment safe for girls.

After finishing Sonia Bashir Kabir’s deliberation, Nobonita Chakraborty asked to play the video documentation which was made from the video testimony of the successful storyteller. After completion of the video documentation, the group photo had been taken. And then the project officer, Mark West was requested to present the selected publication, “I’d blush if I could: closing gender divides in digital skills through education”.

Mark West started his presentation with two questions: “1. Why are there so few women and girls in ICT? and 2. How can we fix this issue, how can we engage more girls in the field of ICT both in the education and professional spheres?”

The primary problems are basically cultural towards Mark. He said if we looked at the beginning of Computer Science, we found that the men were interestingly working with hardware,  whereas women were doing programming.  The girls often say that they are not good at it. But if the examination is held between boys and girls, the girls always score better than the boys. So it can be said that there is nothing natural about gender in technology, all are cultural. Another thing he added was the lack of role models of females in technology, even in many TV shows and movies showing that the women are requesting men to help them with technology though the scenario is changed nowadays.

The education sector can do a lot of things that he suggested, that is the study of computer science should be mandatory, especially in the grade 6/7/8. Everywhere, the job descriptions are completely gendered, and it should change. Mark gave an example of one university in California was able to increase the number of female students by changing the name of the subject from Computer Science to Problem Solving with Computational Process. Finally, he suggested that,  as boys already have advanced knowledge of ICT, the girls should be more focused to take their education in ICT.

After finishing the presentation the panel discussion started and Huhua Fan, Head, UNESCO Dhaka Office, asked to moderate the panel discussion.

Huhuha Fan announced that the selected publication has open access to all and requested Professor Md. Roshidul Hasan, president ANYVS, gave his speech first to discuss the engagement of girls and women in the grassroots level of entrepreneurship in the ICT sectors and what are the challenges and lessons.

Professor Roshidul started his discussion with the qoute from our national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, “Amar chokhe purush romoni kono vedaved nai,

Bisshe ja kichu mohan srishty chiro kollyankor,

Ordhek tar koriyache nari, ordhek tar nor”.

He said that the main motive of ANYVS is to share everything equally and to put the word no discrimination,  though the word is so easy to hear but too hard to maintain. Because most of the time we gendered the work though we believe in no discrimination he added. He gave two examples of tech-based venture projects of ANYVS in Satkhira and Lalmonirhat which is the mobile apps based identification of the disease of prawn and wheat.

They used mobile apps that can identify the disease of prawns and wheat in that particular area. He said “When we work on any tech-based project, we simply define that the female can’t adopt the technology.  But from these projects, it was experienced that the females and girls are more focusing and adopting the technology than the males. The females using the apps were mostly illiterate but they are adopting the apps more focusing than their husbands and brothers and at that time the yield of crops was also increased than the previous time. Also in the Satkhira shrimp project, 100 females used their voices to identify and mitigate the diseases of shrimp.”

To him, the problem of girls not coming into technology is our mindset towards them. He think that girls are needed to bring in the ICT sectors as a creator, entrepreneurs, developers or policymaker rather than being users or beneficiaries. It is not possible to develop a nation while keeping the girls behind.

He believed that it is possible for girls to do better in the tech world because it has already proved that the females of rural areas can adopt the technology. So girls can use LMS, EMIS, and many more while working from home. He mentioned that already we have started blended education at our policy level while many neighboring countries haven’t even started yet. As there is a connectivity problem that many remote areas girls have been faced with, Professor Roshidul mentioned that “we have our last mile connectivity project named ” Enhanced Digital Connectivity Project ” by our ICT division going on and within 3 years we all can connect”.

Mentioned Sonia Bashir Kabir as our role model he finished his speech with the aim of establishment of no discrimination and secularism.

Special Police Super Mahfuza Liza has been requested to share her experience in the field of cyber crime. She gave the example of the help desk, where lots of girls are going daily to report on cyber crime. They lost all their hopes and don’t know how to overcome but they at least have the courage to report and break the social stigma. She mentioned the steps taken by the police department of Bangladesh to minimize cyber crime nowadays, explained how effective the initiative was on the facebook page of Police Cyber Support and more. She suggested to the girls to change their password every 3 months, log out properly from every website, not to share the password to anyone and so many. She ended her speech by  mentioning that the learning should come from the home, and that every parent should teach their son to respect girls.

Then the former president of Women Peace Cafe, Raunak Jahan Moushi was requested to share her experience of the digital literary training which was held by UN Women in 2020. The training was about making concerns about fake contents. They taught to spread positive awareness. She also had the privilege to learn from the e-learning module which is a full package of capacity development courses for the youth to engage them online to understand, identify and counter hate speech, fake news and misinformation. The module ensures safe online participation, she added.

Professor Dr. Al Nakib Chowdhury, president of BdSTEM then gave his deliberation about the activities of BdSTEM. He said that this is the network of major universities for both teachers and students. BDSTEM arranged many seminar, workshops in ICT for the girls and university students for their safe use of ICT. BDSTEM attracted girls of higher secondary levels to study ICT and invited them with the resource materials. The national ICT competition, accessibility and safe use of ICT, design of a model classroom, rural digitized development, STEM based nation, encourage girls to empower them in research and innovation are some activities of BDSTEM.

After the deliberation of Professor Al Nakib Chowdhury the success story teller Md. Golam Rubayet asked to share her journey. She said that first she tried to sell her products online, but she failed and then she started using facebook to reach customers. Most of the time she had to suffer from cyber bullying and harassment. She said that if they get fundings and training support from organisations like UNESCO, UN Women and many more then they will be able to contribute to the country’s economy and could lead a good quality of life. Another successful storyteller Arnaz Rahman, student and owner of a cloud bakery shared her experience of how social media played a vital role in growing her businesse. She shared how cautiously they handle the database and concern about online security.

Finally last remarks were given by Gitanjali Singh, Head of Office, a.i, UN Women. She mentioned that the technology is no longer a luxury its need indeed. Finally Huhua Fan with closing remarks ended up the webinar.