COVID-19 pandemic ushered tens of millions of people to online lives for the first time. The lives of citizens in Indonesia are being configured and managed through digital platforms. The reliance on ICT to support the ‘new norm’ have become evident and widespread. This should, ideally, mean that qualified female students in technical fields around the world would have significant opportunities available to them.
However, as it is true in the rest of the world, gender gaps in participation in digital life persists. The ICT sector is a growing sector for education in both developed and developing countries. Still, highly skilled girls and young women who are a minority when it comes to Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) and ICT. While girls across the world tend to outperform boys in reading and writing skills, they continue to be under-represented amongst top performers in this sector. Closer to home, across all major Southeast Asian economies, females represent more than 50% of all university graduates, whose ratio of graduates is significantly lower than males for graduates of technology-related degrees. For Indonesia itself, they make up 59% of all graduates, but only 35% in technology degrees graduates, and even less, only 18% make it to senior management positions.
In part addressing this dynamic, for the past ten years on the fourth Thursday of April, global communities celebrate worldwide International Girls in ICT Day , to provide an opportunity for girls and young women to see and be exposed to the benefit of ICT in enabling their career and aspiration. It also aims to encourage girls and young women to pursue studying STEM, enhance their level of digital skills, and raise awareness on meaningful and safe use of ICT.
This year it falls on 22 April and is also the 10th anniversary of the initiative. To date, over 377,000 girls and young women have taken part in more than 11,400 celebrations of International Girls in ICT Day in 171 countries worldwide.
The Indonesian Context
The government places the development of digital transformation as one of the strategic sectors in the 2020-2024 National Medium-Term Development Plan (RPJMN). Out of the development agenda, there is an agenda for strengthening economic resilience for quality growth as well as for justice and strengthening infrastructure to support economic development and basic services. This is to be attained through, among others, the development and utilization of infrastructure for digital transformation. The contribution of the digital economy is targeted to increase from 2.9 percent to 4.7 percent in 2024, and GDP growth in the information and telecommunication sector to increase from 9.3 to 11 percent.
The economic case for girls inclusion in ICT is clear. Bridging the gender divide, also in the digital world, can provide new sources of global economic growth, support the implementation of the RPJMN 2020-2024 targets and the Sustainable Development Goals. These targets would be elusive if the digital gender divide is left unaddressed. There is no reason for girls and young women to trail behind in the digital transformation. The cost of inaction is high in the face of the pandemic-induced sluggish growth.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDC) and Girls in ICT
The United Nations in Indonesia has started to implement the UNSDCF (2021 – 2025) in January 2021. This five-year programming cycle captures all programming initiatives of the UN in the country around 4 outcomes areas. One outcome area is specifically dedicated to adopting innovative and integrated development solutions to accelerate the advancement towards the Sustainable Development Goals. This Outcome is based on the premise that if Indonesia succeeds in fully harnessing the potential of people-centered innovation then the country will be in a stronger position to accelerate sustainable development progress and be competitive in the regional and global stage so that all Indonesian citizens experience transformative changes in all aspects of their lives.
For this to materialize it will be essential that girls are exposed at an early age to the added value in pursuing a career in Information and Communication technologies. The UN aims to ensure that all girls in Indonesia are informed about the ICTs and its benefits as well as its risks regardless of background or geographical location.
2. The purpose of the series of events to celebrate Girls in ICT Day is manyfold:
● to inspire Indonesian future generations to become technology leaders and active participants of the digital world regardless gender, race, background or preference;
● to create a meaningful shift towards addressing the gender digital divide; and
● to promote the meaningful utilisation of ICT for progress while mitigating its perils, particularly among girls and young women.