On Monday 6 March, Soroptimist International (SI) President Maureen Maguire introduced SI’s first CSW67 parallel event, highlighting how technology is essential to everyday life. She argued that digital technology is the future, but it needs to be safe to overcome issues of cyberbullying, cybercrime and harassment which disproportionately affect women and girls. The SI President’s Appeal, “Opening Doors to a Bright Future” (ODBF) facilitates access to education to those disproportionately affected. ODBF has implemented tech projects in Georgia and the Caribbean, teaching 100 girls about cyber safety, adaptable leadership, and digital skills.
The first speaker was Ms. Siti Aishah, founder of the SPOT Community project by SI Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. The educational project focuses on comprehensive sexuality education, removing shame embarrassment and stigma around these topics. SPOT’s key focus is on puberty, consent, periods, and safe abortions, with programs aimed at both parents and teenagers. Siti explains how the COVID-19 pandemic forced the project to shift from in-person to online learning. Embracing the use of technology aided the community as they were able to deliver the program to a wider audience. They now operate in a hybrid mode to ensure greater accessibility to their program. SPOT has had an incredible impact, reaching over 20,000 participants.
Next, we heard from Ms. Irmin McKenzie, of SI Esperance, who introduced how Microsoft’s DigiGirlz program has helped high school girls in rural areas in the south of Trinidad and Tobago access information on STEM subjects. The program aims to expose the girls to the possibilities within the STEM field and encourage them to get involved as STEM jobs offer high wages and are in high demand. The exposure to women role models helps to increase the desire for careers in this field as Irmin stresses that “You cannot be when you cannot see”. So far, 28 girls across rural schools in Trinidad and Tobago have benefitted from DigiGirlz as the program was delivered online through one day long immersive webinars and discussions, leveraging the use of technology to deliver the project to more remote areas.
Ms. Juliet Chan of SI Bangsar, Malaysia, presented the Teenage Survival Kit (TSK) project which she helped develop. TSK educates teenagers on sensitive subjects from an objective lens, stepping away from any cultural or religious stigma or shame attached to topics of teen health, safety, and sexuality. The program is directed at both boys and girls, to educate boys on their shared responsibility for girls’ safety. Juliet illustrates how the program utilises technology to deliver age-appropriate, engaging PR campaigns such as comic strips and colourful social media posts.
Ms. Stacy Ciulik, SI’s United Nations Representative in Geneva, spoke about the ever presence of women in STEM and the erasure of their accomplishments throughout history. She highlighted the need for women in STEM as they bring new and fresh perspectives, noting that female role models are key to the increased presence of women in STEM fields. She urged the audience to “be present, be visible” by engaging communities and promoting collaboration through partnerships.
Ms. Chiara Landi, a role model with a PhD in Mechatronics shares her experience of the STEM field. She stated that she always felt supported and encouraged throughout her education and career, despite often being one of the only women. Chiara is proud to be a female trailblazer for robotics in Italy, and underlined the importance of working collaboratively to ensure more women and girls are a part of the STEM world.
SI President Maureen closed the session emphasising the importance of Member States increasing access to electricity to boost the reach of digital education. Technology and the internet can bridge the gap for those with limited access to in-person learning and education.