Podcast #84: Girls who code can change the world

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© UNICEF/UGDA2011-00104/Yannick Tylle
Young Ugandans gather around to use UNICEF’s unique innovation the solar-powered Digital Drum, at Bosco Youth Centre in Gulu, Uganda. The Digital Drum chosen as one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2011. About 10 per cent of Ugandans currently use the Internet, and a majority of Ugandans live in rural settings with little to no access to information across areas of health, education, job training, and protection from violence and abuse.

International Day of the Girl Child is 11 October 2013. This year’s Day focuses on innovating for girls’ education. Smart and creative use of technology, policies, partnerships and, most of all, the engagement of young people, themselves, are important for overcoming barriers to girls’ learning and achievement.

UNICEF talks to Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, about engaging young girls in technology directly in order to achieve gender parity in the computing fields.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 10 October 2013 – On 11 October, UNICEF and its partners around the world will celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child, a day dedicated to recognizing girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. This year’s theme is innovating for girls’ education, in recognition of the importance of fresh and creative perspectives to propel girls’ education forward.

To mark the day, podcast moderator Alex Goldmark spoke with Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, a non-profit organization that works to reach gender parity in the computing fields.

Listen to the Podcast in Streaming MP3 Format


Three-pronged approach to twenty-first century skills

According to Girls Who Code, women today represent 12 per cent of all computer science graduates, a significant backslide from 1984, when this figure registered at 37 per cent. Ms. Saujani says that there are many reasons behind this decline, mostly related to cultural barriers entrenched in our society. “When we think of computer science, we think of a guy typing into a computer, locked room,” said Ms. Sujani.

To change this mindset, her organization is working in three main directions – training girls and building their skills in computer science, exposing girls to progressive technology companies and introducing them to mentors in the field. “Our goal is for girls to realize that technology and coding is a skill that they will absolutely need in the twenty-first century, whether they want to be Beyoncé or Barack Obama,” said Ms. Sujani.

© Photo courtesy of Girls Who Code
Reshma Sujani founder of Girls Who Code

Focusing on the community, filling new jobs

But what would be different if there were more females invested in the computer science?

Ms. Sujani believes that the nature of products developed by girls is different, more often focused on community needs – be they in the medical field, fashion, law or others. To support the argument, she shared examples of girls who have developed apps that distinguish malignant from benign tissue, help parents find bully-free high schools for their children or simply locate the nearest bathroom available on a particular street.

Furthermore, according to Ms. Sujani, the United States Department of Labor projects that, by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings – but United States universities are expected to produce no more than 30 per cent of the graduates to fill these jobs. “As consumers, and as a nation, we are missing out in innovation because we don’t have enough women in these fields. I believe that this is the most important domestic issue of our time in the United States. We are in a place where the majority of our jobs will be in the computer-related fields, and only about one third of our existing talent can solve them,” she said.

Inter-country collaboration, international sisterhood

Drawing parallels with other countries, Ms. Sujani pointed out that some of the challenges that girls face are global, and there is a lot of room for collaboration with countries such as China, India and Viet Nam, all of which have made strides in closing the gap towards gender parity in computer science.

Commenting on the International Day of the Girl Child, Ms. Sujani said that, for her, the goal of the day is to celebrate the innovation of young women, to showcase their incredible work and to inspire other girls around the world. “So, for me it’s building an international sisterhood and supporting young girls that are committed to changing the world,” she said.

Learn more about the International Day of the Girl Child and how to celebrate.

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