Addis Ababa, 29 October 2021 (ECA) - Over two hundred young Cameroonian girls between the ages of 12 and 25 participated in a one-day Connected Girls Innovation Fair organised on 29 October in Yaounde by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in collaboration with UN Women, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and the Government of Cameroon.
The event featured an award ceremony where 22 out of 83 projects were recognised for having demonstrated exceptional skills in robotics and IOT, animation, gaming and web development, turtle stitch,3D printing, business canvas model, and fashion.
Lorna Enow, a group member of one of the winning projects called ‘Learning by Playing,’ said she was “extremely grateful” to ECA for opportunity to train and present their creative abilities to a wider audience, including government officials and international organisations. The team worked on a website with interactive games to help pre-teens grasp basic STEM concepts in line with SDG4.
The Fair was a follow-up of a coding bootcamp organised by the ECA in July 2021 and attended by about 8500 young females from all over Africa who participated both online and onsite in Buea, Douala and Yaounde in Cameroon.
The Connected African Girls Coding Camps offer girls and young women the opportunity to access foundational knowledge, digital tools and platforms to enable them become innovators, entrepreneurs and tech leaders who develop creative solutions to problems in their communities, while contributing to the UN SDGs.
UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the ECA, Vera Songwe, deplored the fact that women continue to be under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). She said affordable, reliable and strong broadband connectivity was crucial to fully unleash the innovative potential of young girls in Cameroon and Africa
“Africa has the widest digital gender gap in the world with only 22.5 per cent of women using the Internet, compared with 33.8 per cent of men. But participants at the Connected African Girls Coding Camp have proven that girls can stand up, raise hands and lead in ICTs.” Ms Songwe noted that “ECA and its partners stand ready to support programmes that enable women and girls to excel in STEAM.”
In the same light, Cameroon’s Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Minette Libom Li Likeng, said her government has embarked on a series of initiatives to empower women and girls in ICTs and bridge the digital divide.
“COVID-19 has served as an eye-opener to the crucial role digital technologies play in Africa's digital transformation, and the urgent need to address the gender digital divide across the world and especially in Africa.,” said Ms Likeng.
ITU’s representative to Cameroon, Jean Jacques Massima, lauded the Innovation Fair, stating “ITU remains committed to advance digital transformation and meaningful connectivity through such initiatives and stands ready to support in the follow up activities and engagements.
The role of Africa’s female entrepreneurs as a driving force for the continent’s digital economy was highlighted by Jason Pau, Executive Director of the Jack Ma Foundation, who “was truly inspired by the young female innovators today in Cameroon.” He said, “the Africa Business Heroes program looks forward to deepening our cooperation with the ECA and others to support, show and grow more African female talents.”
UN Women, through a statement delivered on behalf of its representative to Ethiopia, Letty Chiwara, said it was important to “strengthen partnership with ECA, ITU and the private sector under the leadership of the African Union to advocate for policies that advance the mainstreaming of gender and STEM in national curriculum and ensure that African girls are at the forefront of the continent’s development.”
Ms Songwe said the Africa Business Heroes programme, an initiative of Alibaba Group will be awarding selected girls from the innovation fair, the opportunity to pair with a mentor from various role models and leaders.
She also announced the establishment of an Innovation Center for Girls in Buea Cameroon. The innovation Center will seek to empower learners with technical and soft skills so that they can thrive in an ever-evolving digital technology industry.
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