"We must urgently invest in our girls and young women."
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We are recently back from Rwanda, where the World Economic Forum Africa took place between 11th and 14th of May. Over 7 head of states and one thousand delegates attended.
Whilst these numbers were satisfying for a small country like Rwanda, one cannot be satisfied with the 65 million children worldwide who do not have access to education. One cannot be satisfied when 29 millions illiterate girls live in Africa, 17 million are missing school, and many will never set foot in a classroom.
The world has been watching Rwanda closely.
No one doubts that Rwanda is a resilient and progressive country, ready to show its maturity, despite all the difficulties its people have been through.
Walking the street of Kigali one morning made me realize how truly remarkable it is to see the progress that Rwanda has made in infrastructure, human capital development, regional integration, women's empowerment and above all in digital technology.
Progress takes time, and patience is needed to make it happen.
Amongst all the investment that was discussed and promised that week, I had my eyes opened on a particular investment focused on young African girls and women in technology. I wanted to ensure that this forgotten demographic was given attention, and that African leaders gave resources, and made commitment towards it.
It is our moral duty to invest in girls and young women, at least to the level that we are investing in boys and young men.
We had the opportunity to amplify our voices in order for governments, businesses and investors to take the lead and support girls and young women, and strengthen STEAMD (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics, and Design) disciplines.
A celebration of a digital Africa is unrealistic if it does not create jobs, teach new skills to girls and women, and also provide for the most vulnerable populations and least coordinated communities.
Our quality education needs reform, but must also include the development of those skills, values, attitudes and knowledge that enable citizens to lead healthy and fulfilled lives, make informed decisions and respond to local and global challenges.
We must urgently invest in our girls and young women who are seeking to improve their lives through digital technology.
From Kampala to Madagascar, girls and young women are trying their utmost to make it in the international scene. In Dakar, young women like Awa Caba are building e-commerce sites, where local fruit is being sold to citizens while also improving their wellbeing.
We must collectively redefine new standards, and review continental curriculums to ensure quality and relevance to the context, including skills, competencies, values, culture, knowledge and gender responsiveness.
A recent find from UNESCO stated: “Despite significant progress since 2000, an estimated 59 million children of primary school age and 65 million adolescents of lower secondary school age – of whom girls remain the majority – were still out of school in 2013. In addition, many of those in school are not acquiring basic knowledge and skills. At least 250 million primary-school-aged children, more than 50% of whom have spent at least four years in school, cannot read, write or count well enough to meet minimum learning standards.”
I know technology is changing Africa, but governments, foundations, businesses and investors around the world are failing short in realizing the inclusion of girls and women, despite all the effort from women empowerment conversations.
According to the World Economic Forum 2016 Gender Gap Report, we won’t have gender equality in the workplace for another 118 years.
Investing in data-driven programs by women can also improve transparency. We should be monitoring and supporting meaningful programs for girls and young women, and insist that they deliver results and create real impact at a grassroots level.
Measuring gender equality through technology in the next 15 years with accurate data could support their sustainability and improve gender equality.
We must tackle inequalities faced by 65 million children, 30 million in sub-Saharan Africa, of which 17 million are young and adolescent girls. We must equip them through STEAMD and creative learning.
We need a direct commitment and action towards a more coordinated effort led by Africans, including transparent monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the investment on STEAMD disciplines.
We should also consider a movement like www.iamthecode.org to call for substantial financing and support through policy and education. To give our girls and young women who wants to become tomorrow’s digital leaders and entrepreneurs of Africa the help needed to achieve their ambition.
The future of Africa depends on technology, and the opportunity it gives girls and young women for greater prosperity.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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