The Caricom Secretariat on Thursday hosted a celebration of ‘Girls in ICT Day’ to encourage the empowerment of women in the information and communication technology (ICT) industry.
The day was dominated by the interactive presentations of accomplished female panelists in the industry whose careers are either based on or involved with ICT. Panelists as well as youth ambassadors from other Caribbean countries joined the event at the Turkeyen Secretariat via Skype and videoconferencing and they shared their experiences in the industry and the hurdles they cleared in order to achieve success.
‘Girls in ICT Day’ has been an annual observation by International Telecommunications Union (ITU) member states since 2010 to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider careers in the growing field of ICTs.
Chairperson for the event, Deputy Programme Manager of ICT for Caricom Secretariat, Jennifer Britton emphasised the need for young women to enter the industry. She declared that young women should not be intimidated by the perception that ICT is a male-oriented field.
Deputy Secretary General of Caricom Manorma Soeknandan expressed her concern over the lack of women in the industry, especially given the fact that young people are now referred to as “digital natives.” She insisted that women are capable of playing key roles in the industry and the perception that technology is for “geeks” is simply untrue. She said that if more women were involved in the industry it would be a step towards women empowerment and “ending unfairness.”
Tahyra Noel, Youth Ambassador of Grenada, spoke about ICT and its role in current and future social and economic development. Noel, who joined the event via Skype, reminded the audience that they were in fact surrounded by ICT as it is integral to social networking, entertainment businesses among other industries.
The panelists participating in the event brought with them their experience, knowledge and encouragement to those who may be thinking of a career in the field of ICT. Camille Abrahams, animator and lecturer at the University of Trinidad and Tobago also participated via videoconference.
Her presentation, which was assisted by Surinamese photographer Riane De Haas, showcased the creative nature of animation. Abrahams related that she always had a love for art and never thought that being an animator would have been a career option for her. She said that while majoring in video production, she encountered an animation course and it just stuck. As a woman in the industry, she said that the only thing she suffered from was the lack of knowing that these opportunities existed. Her presentation highlighted the different aspects of animation, making clear distinctions between 2-D and 3-D animations. Within the presentation short animations depicting these concepts were shown, as Abrahams explained how the animations were created and their effectiveness. According to her, being an animator is an experience which she truly loves and it is only enhanced by the fact that it pays lucratively.
Dr Pauline Yearwood, an aviation engineer also shared her experience in the field. She recounted her five years in Slovakia where she was responsible for five territories as a part of an airspace project. She related that it was by far her most enjoyable experience in her career as they were tasked with interlocking the airspace of the Soviet Union with Britain. She explained that ICT made all of this possible and that with this knowledge one can flow seamlessly from one career to another, as she is now Caricom Secretariat’s Deputy Programme Manager of Transportation. She said she hopes to see future developments in navigational technology in the Caribbean, especially in Guyana.
Head of the University of Guyana’s Computer Science Department Lendalar Singh expressed his concern about the lack of girls in the department. He asserted that based on his analysis, even though the females in the program graduate with higher GPA’s, they are still outnumbered by the males at a ratio of 5:1.Singh related that he intended to conduct some more research to ascertain the reasons behind this imbalance in the programme.
The panellists also included two programmers from the BrainStreet organisation, Sonya Yacoob and Anusha Foo-Singh. The young women related that being in a male-dominated profession is a challenge but it is one that they are up to. Yacoob, who expressed her interest in writing code for games relented that sometimes the task becomes over whelming especially when there are ‘bugs’ that are difficult to fix.
Other panelists included journalism students Candace Benn and Nadine Sanchara, and computer science students Candace Nelson and Rose Ferreira.
The message of female empowerment and encouragement to enter the technological industry was central to the entire event. It had a significant impact on the youth in attendance. These included young women from the Bishops’ High School, Cummings Lodge Secondary, Christ Church Secondary among others. The young women who were very shy at first became significantly more involved in the proceedings and even exhibited their intellectual prowess in a jeopardy-like segment. This segment engaged the audience with the members on Skype also participating. Afterwards, the winners received prizes and all of the students were encourage to take part in an animation competition held by the secretariat. The five winners of the competition will be granted an opportunity to participate in an animation workshop next month.
The celebration of girls in ICT was not over with the interactive presentations as there was also an exhibition in which members of the panel participated.
Nelson, well equipped with her laptop and a projector, demonstrated to students a few simple programmes she had created. She explained how the programmes work and the types of coding necessary for each programme.
The Communications majors from the University of Guyana also presented an interactive display. With their lights, camera and microphones at the ready they encouraged the young women to participate in mock announcements and interviews. Their exhibits were aimed at educating the participants about the basics of communications and how entertaining it can be.
Apart from the two exhibits by the panellists, there were also displays presented by the secretariat which demonstrated the evolution of technology.