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Opening the ‘code’ for girls

According to UN Women, the digital divide has become the new face of gender inequality. Global figures show that women are 18 percent less likely than men to own a smartphone, and far less likely to access or use the Internet. Last year, 259 million more men than women were online. 

In the technology sector, women occupy fewer positions, face a gender pay gap of 21 percent, and nearly half of all women working in technology have experienced workplace harassment.

Here in the Philippines — while our country boasts of being a leader in bridging the gender gap, particularly in the Asian region — the digital gender divide has become apparent with our inevitable pivot to digital transformation. It exposed issues faced by women in the use and access of information and communications technology (ICT).

For instance, gender stereotypes still exist in some parts of the country, especially in rural areas. There is still that notion that ICT, and other science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields in general, as a form of productive endeavor, are more appropriate fields for male members of the family.

When I attended the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, I met Karlie Kloss, who — aside from being a famous supermodel — started an initiative that has been helping young women discover more opportunities in technology and computer science industries.

It is not only her interest in coding that inspired Kloss to set up this free coding camp for girls. She wants to remove the intimidation that women feel with the idea of coding and technology in general.

US statistics show that only 25 percent of computer science roles are held by women, of which only eight percent are held by women of color.

Kode With Klossy (KWK) empowers women, as well as nonbinary, trans, and people of color to have access to and enter the ICT industry. It equips its scholars with essential coding skills and a safe community to help them enter and navigate tech-based fields.

In the two-week program, students explore concepts in both front-end and back-end software engineering and app development.

The free coding camp has expanded from a scholarship program of 21 students in 2015 to an international program of 12,000 scholars across 99 countries today. And it has made an impact on the lives of its students as over 78 percent of KWK alumni pursue studies in computer science or engineering, compared to four percent of women nationally in the US.

We can take inspiration from Kode With Klossy whose mission is to close the gender gap in computer science fields and empower girls everywhere to delve into the power of coding.

It is high time that we introduce coding and other technology concepts, subjects and courses in our education system as early as possible. We have to expose girls, and young people in general, to the myriad of opportunities that the digital age can offer so that they can ably and even expertly use technology not only to improve lives, but also to find innovative and sustainable solutions to the challenges that our world is facing today.

Karlie Kloss said, “Doors opened for me and I ran for it.”

Sometimes, even just an open window is enough to show the vast opportunities ready for the taking.

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