From where I stand: “Technology allows us to maintain communication, continue education and business“Zerina Mandžo is a computer science engineer working as an IT Girls Project Officer for UN Women Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The initiative focuses on gender equality in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector and increasing women’s participation through skills development, mentorship, economic empowerment and confidence-boosting. Adapting to the COVID-19 crisis, IT Girls has taken its work online, organizing a series of free webinars on a range of topics related to ICT for girls and young women in BiH, whose regular education has been interrupted by the crisis.
By focusing our efforts on improving the confidence of girls when it comes to ICT, and providing them with practical skills, we are aiming to increase their participation in this sector, and enable them to become an equal part of the digital revolution.
The crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on our work with girls and women, imposing social distancing and restricting our physical contact with them. This made us explore new ways to reach girls and continue encouraging them to think about education and careers in ICT. Technology allows us to maintain communication, continue education and business, and it creates opportunities for personal development. Inspired by this, we decided to go online during these challenging times to keep empowering girls and young women.
As part of the IT Girls Go Online campaign, we organized free webinars every Wednesday and Saturday evening, and reached girls and young women in every corner of this country. Since we started in early April, we had over 20,000 live views on Facebook. We organized 13 webinars with experts from BiH – most of them members of our Network of Women and Girls in ICT, which was created through IT Girls. This situation showed women’s solidarity and support, and that we would stand by each other until this situation passes.
Around 300 people took part in the webinars organized through the Zoom platform, a majority of whom are women, and have been able to learn more about topics such as graphic design, robotics, project management and cyberbullying, with communities all over BiH tuning in. At the end of the day, the messages we received from girls who were inspired by our webinars to pursue careers in STEM, are the best indicators of our success.
Reasons for the lack of women in the ICT sector are generally attributed to stereotypes about women’s gender roles, and it doesn’t help that there are few female role-models in the sector. The research on gender gaps in STEM in BiH done by UN Women in 2019 shows that male and female students believe men are better programmers, mechanical engineers, astronomers, civil engineers and electrical engineers, while women are better psychologists and journalists. It’s striking that 33 per cent of girls think that their family would not encourage them to take up university studies in STEM domains.
IT Girls are going to continue fighting these stereotypes and presenting role-models in the ICT sector to girls nationwide. Our aim is to expand our influence on local IT companies and support them in recruiting and retaining more women, as well as to support female entrepreneurship in IT. We know that access to technology is not the same throughout the country, so we will keep working to reduce this gap through online trainings and school initiatives, and to make sure that no girl is left behind.”
Zerina Mandžo, 24, is the Project Officer for IT Girls in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is jointly managed by UN Women, UNDP and UNICEF, and supported by the Government of Sweden. Her work contributes to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5, which includes a target on enhancing the use of enabling technology, in particular ICT, to promote the empowerment of women, and SDG 9, on industry and innovation.