If you are reading this, you belong to that half of the world to whom technology and access to the internet is a central part of our daily life and underpins many of our interactions at work, at school and at home. Our use of it has become so instinctual that it has developed into something of a second native tongue.
Yet, another half of the world remains cut off from the internet. This is especially true for girls in marginalized communities whose access is ever more limited when compared to their male peers or family members. This creates a technology gap, which both parallels existing inequalities and has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And the opportunity cost for those not online is set to grow. Beyond the public health crisis, one of the most significant impacts of the pandemic is the massive learning loss across low and middle income countries where students don’t have access to any online learning. As professional and personal lives become increasingly facilitated by technology, it becomes ever more crucial that girls have access.
Here are just 4 ways technology can empower girls.
Technology can serve as an educational lifeline. In regions where girls face structural and cultural barriers that limit their ability to participate in education, technology could enable them to overcome some of these barriers. The pandemic has clearly shown us that nothing can replace the educational experience of students in a class with a teacher. Even so, some online learning could give girls access to formal education from wherever they are. An estimated 20 million girls are at risk of never returning to school due to the disruptions of the pandemic – and it is unclear how many more may never get the chance to go. That means distance learning through technology (radio, television, internet/mobile) could give some girls new opportunities in the event of another pandemic.
But it’s not just ‘delivery’ that is important, it’s quality. Technology can also provide new means for teacher training, support and educational tools. This has the potential to have a profound effect on educational outcomes.
In a societally proclaimed ‘information’ age, to have power today is synonymous with access to technology – especially in the labor market. Over 90% of jobs today have a digital component and most will soon require digital skills. Entire industries predicated on digital literacy are emerging, while traditional roles are increasingly becoming automated. Girls with job specific skills related to technology will be able to more equally participate in the workforce, improve their employment mobility and gain agency in their careers.
We can also empower girls through technology by seeing them as more than just users, but developers and creators too. Given their limited chances to act or be viewed as thinkers or innovators, technology gives girls the chance to introduce their voice and skills to global conversations and innovations – acknowledging and accessing their potential for the benefit of all.
There is much progress still to be made before marginalized girls are equal creators and contributors to society and technology could play a significant role in opening the aperture for girls’ opportunity – giving them access to two of the most powerful tools today – a voice and information.
Technology empowers girls by allowing them to contribute to the global conversation especially regarding issues that affect them, interacting with peers or simply just being aware of what is going on. Rather than watching life happen around them, they have a role in shaping their experience. What’s more, it grants them the opportunity to see and engage with female role models, so that they can grow up knowing and believing that gender isn’t and should not be a barrier to anything they want to become.
For girls facing geographical, structural and cultural isolation, technology can provide support in more rudimentary, day-to-day living and psycho-social support. Technology can give girls access to peer support networks, offer them access to banking and both confidence and competence through education and, crucially, can help them to develop health literacy. For example, mobile phones can be loaded with apps that provide a generalized education on health and wellbeing, preventative health care knowledge or interventions and support for specific health care challenges. And for girls who are at high risk of child pregnancy, information sharing on sexual and reproductive health can be both life changing and life-saving.