This year’s commemorations of the International Day of the Girl (October 11th) will highlight the ‘ digital realities and the solutions [girls] need to excel on their diverse pathways as technologists for freedom of expression, joy, and boundless potential’.
The call is for the world to ‘amplify the diversity of [girl] tech trailblazers while simultaneously widening the pathways so that every girl, this generation of girls – regardless of race, gender, language, ability, economic status and geographic origin – lives their full potential’.
As educators, we applaud and celebrate all of the technological advances made by girls and for girls. As educators, we also know, however, that even before the school closures triggered by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the gender gap in internet usage was steadily on the increase. According to data reported by UNICEF, gender disparities in internet usage rose from 11 per cent in 2013 to 17 per cent in 2019; reaching 43 per cent in low income countries. As many as 2.2 billion people under the age of 25 do not have access to the internet in their homes and girls are least likely to have access.
With the massive worldwide shift to online teaching and learning during school lockdowns – which are ongoing in many low-income countries - lack of access to the internet has serious implications for the ability of millions of girls to access quality education online. In countries where schools have re-opened, millions of girls are at risk of not returning – global estimates of the numbers of girls who may never return to school range from 11 million ( UNESCO) to 20 million in low and middle income countries ( Malala Fund). Among the girls who do return to school, many will do so having lost a very significant amount of learning due to their inability to access the internet during and beyond school closures.
Social inequalities and underlying gender norms
Where girls are unable to access quality education, this is generally due to social inequalities including poverty, violence, and child marriage, among others. These in turn, are based on the gender norms that position girls at a disadvantage in relation to their male peers. So, as work gets underway to rebuild education systems and to make them more resilient and better able to withstand crises such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, all stakeholders must consider how best to tackle the underlying gender norms and social inequalities that prevent so many millions of girls from fully enjoying the right to quality education.
With the focus on the importance of the digital lives of girls for this year’s International Day of the Girl, the educators of the world call on all education stakeholders to put gender and other intersecting forms of discrimination at the centre of all policies, measures and tools related to increased digitalisation in and through education.
There must be equitable internet access for all children, especially girls; they must be protected from cyber bullying and other forms of gender-based violence in and around educational settings and beyond; and the necessary resources and financing must be made available to improve and increase girls’ digital literacy.
Ending gender stereotypes in textbooks and classrooms
On Monday October 11th, join the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) and partners for the launch of a global digital campaign calling for the removal of gender stereotypes from textbooks and classrooms to advance gender equality in education. The event will feature Ms Ekka McFee, Branch President of EI member organisation the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) and Chairperson of the TTUTA Women’s Committee. Click here to register; the event will take place in English and French.