‘Women’s participation in ICT must be increased’

Only 25 per cent of girls take up information and technology as part of their formal education. And this comes down to only 12 or 13 per cent when it comes to their participation in this sector as a profession.

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Girls must be encouraged at a school level to develop interest in technology in order to develop the country’s ICT sector as a whole. Gender discrimination must be decreased in this profession by training in entrepreneurship, incentives and other means, through government and private sector collaboration.

These observations were made today, Thursday, at a virtual roundtable held on the occasion ‘International Girls in ICT Day’.

The speakers said families and educational institutions must encourage girls to take up studies in technology, rather than saying that such subjects were “too difficult for girls.”

This day is observed internationally on the fourth Thursday of every April in order to increase girl’s participation in this rapidly growing sector and to encourage them to take ICT up as a profession.

The discussion, ‘Accelerating Digital Inclusion for Girls and Women,’ was jointly organised by Plan International Bangladesh and the Access to Information (a2i) Programme, with support from Grameenphone. Prothom Alo and Kishor Alo were media partners for the event.

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Speaking as chief guest at the discussion, state minister for information and communication technology Zunaid Ahmed Palak said over a decade ago when prime minister Sheikh Hasina committed to building a Digital Bangladesh, the number of internet uses was 5.6 million (56 lakh) at the time. Today the figure stands at 115 million (11.5 crore). Starting from the union level to all over the country, the number of ICT free lancers is around 650,000.

The state minister said, parents and teachers must play a vital role in encouraging girls to take up studies in ICT from the school level. With support from the UN, the ICT division has created 50,000 entrepreneurs under the Women ICT Frontier Initiative (WIFI). If private sector organisations were included in such initiatives, women could be taken ahead even further.

Country director of Plan International, Orla Murphy, said there is still a high rate of dropouts among girls in this country. It must be ensured that each girl had the opportunity to go ahead with whatever potential she had within. An action plan was needed to eliminate gender disparity in the ICT sector by means of government and private sector partnership.

Chief human resource officer of Grameenphone Syed Tanveer Hossain said, it is being predicted that 65 per cent of the children getting enrolled in school today, will eventually be joining professions that do not exist at present. That is why it is imperative that urgent action is taken now keeping in mind technological and innovative professions for the future generations.

Rather than just keeping women behind on the basis of preconceived notions, they must be taken ahead with just a little bit of effort
KAM Morshed, senior director of BRAC

CEO and managing director of Startup Bangladesh Tina F Jabeen said, women still lag far behind in ICT leadership. There needs to be a change in social mindset in this regard. Girls must now see themselves as reliable consultants in skills development.

Women do not make up even 2 to 3 per cent in the ICT leadership, said Bangladesh Association of Software and Information (CASIS) president Syed Almas Kabir. He said, there is a perceived fear that girls have about ICT, but it is not a real fear. They are conditioned from childhood in this regard. In order to increase women entrepreneurs in the ICT sector, he recommended that they be given bank loans at a 2 per cent interest rate, be exempt from corporate taxes for 10 years, be facilitated with vacant spaces at BASIS for low rent, and that ICT ensure that 25 per cent of their employees are women.

President of the Bangladesh Call Association of Centre Centres and Outsourcing (BACCO), Wahed Sharif, said the government needs to provide incentive to increase women participation in the ICT sector. The scope of working from home and earning part time in this sector should be expanded. This is a 24 hour profession. Women often fall prey to all sorts of harassment when returning home from work late. This too needs to be paid attention.

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Senior director of BRAC, KAM Morshed, referring to recent experience, said that it was assumed that women did not have devices and could not grasp these matters. However, he said, it had been possible to make these women understand the entire matter in just a matter of two day’s training and they are now working competently. So rather than just keeping women behind on the basis of preconceived notions, they must be taken ahead with just a little bit of effort.

Representing youth at the virtual roundtable were Tusabber Muntaha of the Centre for Services and Information on Disabilities (CSID), Asaduzsaman of the Y-Moves project of Yes Bangladesh, and Safa Jarin Sukonnya, contributor to Kishor Bangla and student of Viqarunnisa School and College.

Tusabber Muntaha recommended that 10 to 15 per cent disabled women be given opportunity in ICT training. Asaduzsaman called for special data packages for rural entrepreneurs to overcome the crisis in internet accessibility and also to declare the day as a national day. Safa Jarin said in order to increase women’s inclusion in ICT, initiative was required to bring a halt to women’s abuse on the digital platforms.

The discussion was moderated by professor of robotics and mechatronics engineering at Dhaka University, Lafifa Jamal.

She said 10 to 12 per cent of girls were taking the ICT sector as professionals, but not even one per cent of them were at a policy making level.

Many girls in the villages too now are working with ICT. With proper training and action, it would be possible to increase women’s participation in the sector.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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