UNESCO and BMZ empower rural girls and women through digital skills training


Together we can crack the code, to ensure women and girls, including those in rural settings, have equal opportunities to contribute to and benefit from a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable world.” Saniye Gülser Corat, Director of the Gender Equality Division, UNESCO

Digital technologies have demonstrated their potential as catalyst for the political, economic and social empowerment of women and girls and the promotion of gender equality, whether by enhancing women’s participation in public decision-making, providing access to information and financing, or simply by making the voices of girls and women, everywhere, heard. Despite its potential, women are heavily underrepresented in the digital world, particularly in rural settings where access, lack of skills, cost, and other socio-cultural factors limit girls’ and women’s ability to engage with new technologies.

UNESCO and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), co-organised a side event on the margins of the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women, Cracking the code: Empowering rural women and girls through digital skills. The event explored the factors contributing to girls’ and women’s acquisition of digital skills, and highlighted good practice that empower rural girls and women to be ICT users, creators and innovators.

The role of governments

Part of a full room of over 500 eager participants, representatives from Germany and Ghana demonstrated the fundamental role governments can play in bridging the gender digital divide. Roland Lindenthal, Head of the Unit Education and the Digital World at BMZ shared Germany’s role in bringing this issue to the G20, “[t]he leaders of the G20 endorsed a statement as part of their main declaration [...] which commits all G20 countries to support e-skills for girls and women”. The resulting #eSkills4Girls initiative is now facilitating education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for women and girls in the digital economy, in particular in low income and developing countries. In Ghana, financial investments are targeting women in rural areas, and awareness-raising opportunities such as annual celebrations of Girls in ICT Day are part of a holistic approach aiming to create an inclusive society where no one is left behind.

Role models

Role models took a central place in the discussion as a catalyst to challenge stereotypes and empower girls to pursue in ICT careers. “We can’t overemphasise the importance of role models,” said Chisenga Moyoya from Asikana Network in Zambia, “The girls who have mentors and people who are speaking to them consistently have a higher likelihood of succeeding.” Hemang Desai, Global Program Director at SAP, shared how Africa Code Week, spearheaded by SAP in 2015, offers young people across Africa a platform to build relevant digital skills and access role models, mentors and digital ambassadors..

Believing in yourself

Flexible training opportunities and ICT-enriched formal and non-formal curriculum are increasing girls and women’s confidence, demystifying technology, and helping women to achieve economic independence and self-sufficiency. Barefoot College’s Digital Night Schools, as explained by Lauren Remedios, Global Monitoring and Evaluation Director, are catering to children, especially rural girls, who cannot attend formal education during the day. Twenty-five schools across 10 states in India have been “digitised” with tablets and technology, and 75 teachers trained, supporting learners with blended learning combining digital skills with traditional and practical knowledge.

In Latin America, ProMujer is also applying an integrated approach with Microsoft, merging digital skills training with education, business skills and entrepreneurship training programmes. “We improve income generation for sure, but also self-confidence. Women are realising that they can be role models for their children, especially for their daughters, and [establish] more equal relationships,” shared Jessica Olivan, Director of Strategic Partnerships.

Principles on digital skills training

Through online polling on-site and on social media, participants shared insights on key barriers to girls’ and women’s connectivity, and the most critical actions to take to ensure gender-transformative digital skills and training. Ideas reflected the use of mobile learning projects to bring technology and resources into communities and peer networks to boost interest and build capacity. Other inputs included pairing well-resourced with lower-resourced schools and documenting the social returns on investments in advancing girls’ and women’s digital skills. These insights are part of a consultative process initiated by UNESCO and BMZ, as co-leads of the EQUALS Skills Coalition, to establish Principles for quality and gender-transformative digital training.