Day of the Girl

Day of the girl: innovation through education

ICT access alone won't empower girls, unless it is made part of a holistic strategy that tackles gender discrimination, poverty and all barriers that prevent girls from going to school
girls mobile
New technologies help engage more girls, increase their access to knowledge and improve governance and service delivery. Photograph: Linda Raftree, Plan International
In rural Cameroon, two teenage girls are doing their best to access a computer in a poorly equipped computer lab in their school. There are 10 computers for 1,000 students, and only five of them work. Girls end up fighting with boys to use the functioning computers. "When a girl succeeds to sit at a computer ... a boy will raise his voice ... saying 'why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will hold a baby's napkin,'" says 17-year-old Fabiola.*
The second International day of the girl on 11 October, focuses on 'innovating for girls education.' Innovation is often used interchangeably with information communication technologies, and any programme that involves a computer or mobile device is mistakenly touted as 'innovative'. Although new technologies hold great potential for empowering girls and supporting their education, one cannot ignore the barriers many girls face in accessing and using ICTs.
These include girls being discriminated against because they are seen as a burden and inferior to boys.
A new Unicef report (pdf) supports the premise that innovation should look at more than just the means of implementation. Innovation should, instead, be evaluated in terms of outcomes. The report suggests that when measures are taken to overcome the barriers girls face, the inclusion of new ICTs into proven communication for development (C4D) strategies can help 1) expand and extend girls' connection, engagement and agency; 2) increase girls' access to knowledge; and 3) improve governance and service delivery.
U-Report, for example, works through partners in Uganda to reach a network of youth reporters who share their views on a variety of topics by answering a survey sent to them via mobile phone. Information is used to orient government responses. A girls security mapping initiative, implemented by Map Kibera and supported by Unicef, enabled girls to use digital mapping as a way of identifying places where they felt unsafe. They then engaged community leaders in addressing their concerns. The Rural voices of youth programme in Nepal added SMS as a new option for young people to join discussions on issues affecting them and saw a large boost in participation from populations outside of urban areas.
Though including ICTs in programmes has enhanced girls' access to vital information and offered new channels for them to participate, many causes of girls' low access to education can be resolved only through long-term initiatives to promote gender equality and reduce poverty.
As part of the report, Plan International conducted a 'fast-talk' consultation with adolescent girls from several countries to get a better idea of what they see as the innovative and empowering potential of ICTs in their lives. Their responses inevitably tied back to the importance of education and holistic programming: "Girls are still treated as second priority … in our community. Once both males and females get the) same opportunity to get (a) good education this problem will be solved forever," said Minakshi, 15, from India.
A core tenant of C4D is to work with all the orbits of influence that surround adolescent girls, including individuals and institutions such as family, community and policy makers. In this way, C4D strategies create spaces for dialogue and participation that transform these systems of relations, ultimately allowing girls to develop in a supportive environment.
In order to transform the lives of adolescent girls, a holistic approach is needed — one that takes into account the many obstacles that the most marginalised adolescent girls face, such as low rates of schooling, early pregnancy, sexual violence, disability, low availability of ICTs in schools and communities, poverty, discrimination and the heavy burden of household chores. Once these challenges are accounted for, the added benefit of integrating ICTs into development programming can be truly transformative and earn the term 'innovative'.

Unicef recommendations

Girls as active participants in programme design
Understand local context and ensure communication channels are accessible. This will often require multi-channel and multiple platform approaches that reach more marginalised girls who may not have access to or use of ICTs. Programmes should be community driven, and real-time feedback from girls should be incorporated to adjust programmes to their needs and preferences. Mentoring is a key component of programming with girls, and holistic programmes designed together with girls tend towards being more successful.
Privacy and protection
Every programme should conduct a thorough risk analysis of proposed approaches to ensure that girls are not placed at risk by participating, sharing and consuming information, or publicly holding others to account. Girls should also be supported to make their own informed choices about their online presence and use of ICT devices and platforms. A broader set of stakeholders should be engaged and influenced to help mitigate systemic and structural risks to girls.
Research and documentation
The evidence base for use of ICTs in C4D programming with marginalised adolescent girls is quite scarce. Better documentation would improve understanding of what programmes are the most effective, and what the real added value of ICTs are in these efforts.
Capacity building
Because the integration of ICTs into C4D work is a relatively new area that lacks a consistent methodological framework, organisations should support a comprehensive training process for staff to cover areas such as programme design, effective use of new ICT tools in combination with existing tools and methods, and close attention to privacy and risk mitigation.
One policy recommendation for these types of programmes is the use of free and open source software. In addition, child protection policies, measures and guidelines should be updated to reflect changes intechnology, platforms and information sharing.
*Girls' last names have been withheld
Linda Raftree blogs about ICTs and development at Wait... What? and works as the senior ICT4D advisor at Plan International USA
Keshet Bachan is a consultant specialising in gender equality, girls' empowerment and girls' rights
This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more articles like this direct to your inbox, sign up free to become a member of the Global Development Professionals Network
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