Invest in programmes, policies, infrastructure to enable more girls, women to be connected – CARICOM SG

CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett
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CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett, said Thursday that girls and women in CARICOM must have equal, unfettered access to the Internet and all its corresponding opportunities. 

The Secretary-General was at the time making remarks at a Digital Dialogue that the CARICOM Girls in ICT Partnership hosted to observe International Girls in ICT Day 2022.

“If we do not take urgent and coordinated action, the widening gaps across affordable access, skills and trust can undermine the potential for an inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the future. In looking to the digital world as a source of economic productivity and growth, we must invest in programmes, policies, and infrastructure that enable more girls and women to be connected,” she said.

Please read the Secretary-General’s remarks below:

Good afternoon, I am truly pleased to share these remarks with you this afternoon on International Girls in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Day, as CARICOM observes the day with this Digital Dialogue on the Girls in ICT Partnership. 

As the world seeks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, digital solutions are critical to enable economic and social transformation, and resilient, sustainable and inclusive growth, even as more than half of developing countries remain digitally unconnected. 

The International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) theme for this year, “Access and Safety”, is very appropriate for us, given our current issues.  

The CARICOM Girls in ICT Partnership was endorsed in 2019 by the Council for Trade and Economic Development (ICT), as the Ministers recognised that a regional partnership was a good initiative for moving forward collectively in the areas of STEM/STEAM, digital skills, digital citizenship, the digital economy and for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The Partnership is envisaged to help to “future proof” CARICOM development and support the achievement of SDGs 5, 9 and 17. In this regard, it is important to note that last year, the CARICOM Girls in ICT Partnership was recognised as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Good Practice by the United Nations. 

The two-year Action Plan, which was approved by the COTED in February of this year,  will provide support for CARICOM Member States in the following policy areas: 

1. Fostering the partnership as a leading platform and main point of contact in CARICOM ( for girls in ICT activities); 

2. Raising awareness about the issues related to bringing young people into ICT careers and supporting them as digital citizens; 

3. Supporting more linking of ICT, STEM and Arts (STEAM) regionally; 

and

4. Integrating ICT and STEM into a broader Curriculum. 

I take this opportunity to thank the members of the Partnership Steering Committee for their hard work in creating this plan and their ongoing focus on its execution. 

It is no secret that the world was experiencing a global learning crisis before the pandemic. 

Reversing the learning loss and achieving the urgent recovery necessary are inextricably linked to the development of digital citizens armed with the requisite and relevant digital skills. 

Acknowledging this, CARICOM has established a Digital Skills Taskforce which is currently reviewing the many issues, and which should issue its report and policy guidance by the end of this year.  

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our lives and societies are more digital than ever before, shifting the model of our economies from the physical to the digital space. 

 Many of us cannot imagine a life without our cell phones and access to the internet, and it is hard to fathom that a good portion of our world is still without access to these simple but powerful tools. 

On the one hand, COVID-19 not only increased attention and action in digital development, but it also exposed the existing digital divide not only by economic class but also by gender. 

Globally, men are 21 per cent more likely to have access to the internet than women.   In the world’s least developed countries, this likelihood rises to 52 per cent. 

Women facing discrimination and living in communities with lower socioeconomic status have even lower access to connectivity or any digital device. 

Various barriers prevent women and girls from accessing the internet and participating fully online. 

 These include lack of access to affordable devices, prohibitive charges for data, inequalities in education, literacy, digital skills, wages, ‘institutionalised’ social norms that discourage women and girls from being online, and credible fears around privacy, safety, and security- all of which are manifestations of the widening digital gender gap. 

There is also what is referred to as the ‘invisible‘ side of the gender divide – women and girls with disabilities who are marginalised in many aspects of society today. 

 It is said that the digital divide is a technological problem and the digital gender gap is a human one.  

 In CARICOM, our girls and women must have equal, unfettered access to the Internet and all its corresponding opportunities. 

If we do not take urgent and coordinated action, the widening gaps across affordable access, skills and trust can undermine the potential for an inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the future. 

In looking to the digital world as a source of economic productivity and growth, we must invest in programmes, policies, and infrastructure that enable more girls and women to be connected. 

 I urge all of you gathered here today – to support the CARICOM Girls in ICT Partnership and other related initiatives, such as the Digital Skills Taskforce – to implement the Action Plan, to work on truly inclusive policies to help girls and women in CARICOM tap in and exploit the transformative powers of ICT. 

 Thank you and best wishes for an enjoyable event.

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