“If boys can do it, girls can do it, too,” said Asmahan Zein, president of the Lebanese League of Women in Business (LLWB), the organisation behind the innovative Girls Got Information Technology (GGIT) programme.
Zein is adamant that women can excel in information technology (IT) and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields if given the right guidance and proper resources.
“Working women is the name of the game worldwide. Through GGIT, we wanted to reach the girls in tenth and 11th grades to introduce them to future STEM skills that are highly in demand in the workplaces,” she said.
Girls Got IT, an initiative led by LLWB, includes four other Lebanese NGOs involved in promoting digital literacy and empowering women in sciences: Arab Women in Computing (ArabWIC), Women in Technology (WIT), Women in Engineering (WIE) and Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT).
In addition to exposing girls to essential technology skills, GGIT aims to break the cultural stereotypes of women in STEM.
“The percentage of girls who go into IT and STEM fields is only 13%,” Zein said, “so we sought to encourage them to select these fields through hands-on workshops, targeting a specific age group (15-17). When they start to think about what future career they want and which universities and schools they need to enroll in.”
Workshops are customised to address the needs of women in each region, Zein explained. “For instance, in the (underdeveloped) rural Bekaa region, topics may cover issues such as how to set up a company, how to seek finance, how to use banking and in certain cases, if there is a need for it, we teach them how to use a computer and how to write business letters or official e-mails, etc.,” she said.
The initiative began in 2016 and attracted more than 400 students from private and public schools in the first edition. That success drew in support from UNICEF through its youth innovation labs programme. Ensuing editions have been fully sponsored by the UN agency.
Four GGIT events have been conducted in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, as well as the Bekaa, Tripoli and Akkar regions of Lebanon, mainly targeting girls from disadvantaged and poor communities.
“By us going to them, we are giving a unique opportunity to the girls, who probably have not stepped out of their region and their community, to increase their knowledge,” said GGIT Programme Director Grace Harb.
“At the same time, we are raising awareness about STEM fields and giving [the girls] the chance to explore them.”
Workshops at the one-day GGIT events are conducted by volunteers from NGOs and partner organisations. They cover topics such as coding, robotics, gaming, graphic design, architecture, engineering, programming, website development, bridge construction, hardware design, 3D printing, video editing, hands-on object construction using technology, urban planning and software application
“Some 22 workshops are offered per event, each lasting four to five hours. Girls choose among them what best suits their interests and taste,” Harb said.
“The first part of the workshop is about theory and then they have to work and produce something. At the end of the day, they will come out of the workshop with a product in their hand, such as robots, or a programme or a design. We give them the basics of everything, so they can have a taste of the industry.”
The girls hear from “inspirational speakers” from different professional backgrounds who share their stories and serve as role models. They also can network with and select mentors from the membership of the five organisers.
“It is about giving them a push to go into IT and STEM fields,” Harb said, noting that more than 3,000 girls have participated in GGIT events in various Lebanese regions. The next session is scheduled for November in southern Lebanon.
The programme is offered to Syrian refugee girls as well. Workshops are customised, taking into consideration levels of digital literacy and English proficiency.
“They (Syrian refugees) are here for some time and we need to give them a fair opportunity to learn,” Harb contended.
The Girls Got IT programme is involved in the start-up ecosystem in disadvantaged areas, including Akkar and Tripoli in northern Lebanon, said Zein, whose LLWB, an apolitical and non-religious association, groups 270 professional women, including entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, engineers and bankers. “We reinforce the girls’ personality and increase their knowledge to seek higher and better positions; to climb the ladder,” she said.
The GGIT programme encourages girls to test their capabilities in IT and STEM subjects. “I thought only men could learn robotics,” said one GGIT participant. “Now I am able to construct a robot!”
Samar Kadi is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.
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