Mind the (Gender) Gap
Today we wrap up week four of The Women’s Group (TWG) program at TYO. TWG focuses on supporting women residing in refugee camps and disadvantaged neighborhoods in Nablus, with a focus on mothers of children in TYO’s Core Child Program. The classes focus on health, nutrition, and exercise seminars as well as IT classes. The IT classes are a critical component of TWG curriculum. Led by a TYO entrepreneur, Sahar, the class offers soft and hard IT skills, but also demonstrates the power of mentorship as women see first-hand that the program is offered by another woman on a volunteer basis.
The majority of the women enter the computer lab unable to even turn on their computers. In just three weeks though, women have begun to shift from an “I can’t” attitude to an openness and willingness to learn fundamental technology and computer skills. The Women’s Group participants remind us of the importance of teaching women in the Middle East and North Africa IT and computer skills in order to make sure they have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
In a March 2015 Microsoft On the Issues blog, Director of Microsoft Research Connections Rane Johnson states that “despite all the efforts, wide gender imbalance still exists in innovation worldwide, with number of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields decreasing from secondary school to university, laboratories to teaching, and policy making to decision making.”
She continues to state that “At the same time, most developed countries are forecasting an alarming shortfall in the number of skilled people to fill these jobs. The International Telecommunications Union predicts that 90 percent of future professional positions will require information and communications technology skills as well as a solid background in science or technology. Developing women’s competencies will widen the pool available to perform these tasks, while opening opportunities for women to pursue their dreams.”
Participants enter The Women’s Group IT classes with limited computer skills. In addition to not knowing how to turn their computers on and off, many of the women were afraid to touch the computer’s mouse, unsure how to grasp and wield it. TYO helps foster skills in not only wielding the mouse and typing on the keyboard but also utilizing Microsoft Suite and creating professional email addresses. Through these skill building classes participants have shown more confidence, and not just in front of the computer. The words, “I can’t,” no longer ring through TYO’s IT classes. Alongside this newfound confidence, our long-term vision is that these fundamental skills will enable women in Nablus to become more employable in fields such as science, technology, engineering, and math.
Upon entering class, the women proclaimed that when at home, whenever they needed to use the computer they would ask their husbands or their sons for assistance. By addressing this gender gap inside the homes of Palestinian women, we will ultimately narrow the divide outside the home in the professional world as well.
Sahar – TYO Entrepreneur
Vanessa – Zahi Khouri Fellow