This past April, the U.S. Department of State joined the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to celebrate International Girls in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Day with women and girls around the world. Although the COVID pandemic changed how we came together, advanced secure communications technologies allowed us to recognize the day, and provided a lifeline to maintain the cohesion of our societies and economies.
COVID has also accelerated our reliance on digital connectivity and highlighted the importance of communications technologies, including 5G. It has transformed how we work, learn, and socialize. It has also underscored the importance of privacy and security in the use of digital technologies and communications networks provided by trusted vendors. Adapting to these transformations and thriving in this new environment will require new skills for large portions of the labour market.
Before this crisis, the ICT industry, including 5G, was expected to add half a million new jobs in the United States over the next 10 years, with an annual employment growth rate of 12 per cent according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. A shift to open virtual 5G communications networks that allow software to replace the need for specialized hardware could increase competition and create new opportunities for software engineers, cloud programmers, ICT professionals, and entrepreneurs, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises.
New generations, new opportunities
This lends an increased importance on partnerships between all sectors, but especially between employers and educational institutions, as the next generation enters the workforce. As institutions design new training programs, it is imperative they address emerging skills, such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, and include opportunities for girls and women.
Skills including internet policy and governance, economic policies that drive digital innovation, and entrepreneurial ecosystems, will be critical to the recovering economy.
The United States is mobilizing action, resources, and partnerships with the private sector through various initiatives to increase connectivity globally and to ensure those opportunities are available to women and girls in the ICT sector. Among those is the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative launched by the White House in 2019 to advance women’s full and free participation in the economy, including through digital literacy skills for women.
One such program is the W-GDP Women Connect Challenge (WCC) through the W-GDP Fund at USAID, launched in 2018 by Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump and then USAID Administrator Mark Green. The WCC is a global call for solutions to close the gender digital divide by meaningfully changing the ways women and girls access and use technology. Through the W-GDP fund, WCC has awarded nearly $3 million USD to 12 grantees working to bridge the gender digital divide so that women can fully participate in the global economy.
Breaking barriers to equal and safe access to ICTs
However, as technology advances, there is also a dark side that we must address: online abuse and violent behaviour toward women and girls in the cyber world. Preventing violence against women and girls online is a human-rights imperative and a part of our Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) efforts.
The United States’ Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security focuses on improving the effectiveness of foreign policy and assistance efforts across the board by proactively integrating the needs and perspectives of women, and empowering women to contribute their talents and energies to international peace, security, and prosperity. It seeks to ensure online violence does not serve as a barrier to equal access to the ICT sector, or a bridge to real world violence against women.
Women’s involvement in the future of ICT is critical to global peace, economic prosperity, and security. Whether or not a girl or a woman enters the ICT sector, adequate ICT skills and knowledge will be invaluable to her contribution to the economy in every way: as an entrepreneur, developer, or consumer. Countries will not reach their full potential in this sector unless women can reach theirs.
Kelley E. Currie, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues