Women’s Chamber for Digital welcomes new Government; Calls for Advancing Digital inclusion for Women

The Women’s Chamber for Digital-Sri Lanka has congratulated the newly elected Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the new parliament and expects Government support to improve female participation in the Tech/Digital sector of Sri Lanka.

Following is the WCDSL statement made by chairperson Jayomi Lokuliyana.

On behalf of the Board of Directors and Membership of WCDSL, we wish to extend our warm congratulations for your new term as the Prime Minster of Sri Lanka. The people of Sri Lanka have entrusted you with the responsibility of continuing successful economic path and stability of our country as you did before. We are confident that under your stewardship, Sri Lanka’s leading role in innovation and aspiration to be the Asia’s techhub will continue to be strengthened.

As the chamber, we are working towards making Sri Lanka’s tech sector to be a leading employer of women and girls and to close the Digital Gender divide we have in the country. During your previous presidential tenure and under the Mahinda Chainthanaya policy framework, you placed ICT skills development a top priority and we are still reaping the benefits of this initiative. We believe you would further strengthen the support towards Sri Lanka’s tech sector whilst deploying policy level focused interventions to increase female participation in the Tech/Digital sector.

If Sri Lanka to pursue a tech export revenue of USD 5 Billion by 2025, engaging and training women to enter and grow in tech related sectors will be crucial.  As the World Economic Forum has pointed out, ‘equipping a girl with even rudimentary ICT skills can make a difference in her productivity when she grows up, and this is especially true in developing regions, and even in jobs that are viewed as low tech.’

Although there are challenges to achieving increased female participation and increasing digital literacy among girls and women, this could be overcome by implementing wholistic systematic changes starting from government policy framework.

These are some of our recommendations for your new Government:

Understanding the context of Digital Divide: gender disaggregated data

Having more detailed and consistent evidence concerning the digital gender gap will facilitate the development of focused policy and strategies to address women’s needs more effectively.

Collect, analyze, and track data disaggregated by gender, age and location, on access and use of technology (connectivity, digital literacy/ fluency, digital industrialization and work participation – including, new digital jobs, digital marketplace, digital restructuring of traditional sectors- the impact of digital restructuring on non-digital work, among others), as well as on the participation of girls and women in STEM careers and in leadership positions.

Integrate a gender perspective into national strategies, policies, plans and budgets

Strategies, policies, plans and budgets that explicitly address women’s needs, circumstances, capabilities and preferences. ICT/Broadband strategies and policies have a gender dimension. Consult and involve women and local communities from the outset in the development of strategies, policies and budgets.

Building skills and confidence for the digital era: 

Increasing girls’ and women’s digital skills through early, varied and sustained exposure to digital technologies. Women need the skills and confidence to engage with digital technologies at every level, from basic usage to professional work and governance.

Invest in education and capacity building initiatives that increase women and girls’ digital skills and confidence, including women and girls across all levels of education, income and familiarity with ICT and the internet. This encompasses the following:

+ Ensuring existing digital literacy and education initiatives consider the needs and interests of women and girls in order to encourage strategic and meaningful use of the internet which maximises its value to women and girls and minimises risks.

+ Teachers, educators and other local leaders must be trained to use digital tools and understand the benefits of delivering digital skills training to women and girls in their communities.

+ Initiatives should also be considered to train teachers of STEAM areas (in all levels of education) in gender perspective, to reduce gender biases which discourage women and girls from studying STEM-related disciplines.

Scholarships & Incentives for Tech/STEM students:

Enrolment can be incentivized through scholarships for women who choose to specialize in Tech/STEM fields at the undergraduate and graduate levels, in order to increase the number of women pursuing technology-related studies at the tertiary level.

Incentives are important to facilitate the transition from education and training to the labour market, since women are more likely than men to drop out of technology related fields after completing tertiary education. 

Establishing targets for Women in STEM:

To help ensure that women participate in the design, development and production of digital technologies and in leadership positions in the digital sector. These can include measuring and tracking progress, creating awareness and outreach programs to supply young girls and women with the skills and inspiration needed to pursue a career in STEM and relevant qualifications, and ensuring that legal and policy frameworks are in place to prevent discrimination.

Address the barriers related to accessibility, affordability, safety to increase female participation in Digital sector

Implement policy and regulatory measures to help ensure that providers can offer data and devices for accessing the internet at prices that are affordable to women and girls, particularly for those with lower incomes.

Support and promote female role models in the digital sector:

including in the design, development and production of digital technologies and leadership positions in the sector.

Addressing this digital gender gap require action by many different stake holders. This will be crucial in enabling the development and delivery of policies that are targeted effectively towards women’s needs. Cooperation between different ministries and departments including ICTA and other relevant departments such as Education department. Government and other stakeholders such as the private sector, professional associations, voluntary groups, research institutions, and the women and men directly concerned.

The Women’s Chamber for Digital- Sri Lanka hoping to play a pivotal role in this sphere and while providing resources, network, advocacy and mentorship support women’s empowerment and equal participation in the digital future.

We therefore very much look forward to your utmost support to strengthen our mission. We are confident that under the newly elected political leadership, Sri Lanka will achieve the set ambitious target making it the tech hub of South Asia.