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Rosemary McCarney

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The Digital Divide: Why Girls Need Access to Technology

Posted: 05/27/11 10:29 AM ET

There's growing grassroots awareness of both the plight and the power of girls. There's also growing support for taking action to remove the barriers facing girls around the world and benefit from their imagination, knowledge and creativity. You see it on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and many, many websites raising awareness and funds - and challenging others to get involved.

One of Plan Canada's newest initiatives, Because I am a Girl, looks to empower girls, here and abroad, because we know that investing in girls will help alleviate poverty for the girls themselves, for their families and communities and, by extension, for whole nations. An educated girl will grow up to gain her rightful place in society and be a force for social change and will help raise the global status of girls and women everywhere.

Plan Canada's most recent Because I am a Girl annual report, Digital and Urban Frontiers: Girls in a Changing Landscape, finds that digital technology is a potential empowerment tool for girls and young women in developing countries. Access to digital technology, such as mobile phones and the Internet, offers girls unprecedented possibilities to improve their education, their health and give them the chance to grasp life's possibilities. However, prejudice and poverty exclude millions of girls in the developing world from taking advantage of the transforming digital landscape. There is a significant, socially-enforced gender gap in ownership, access and use of digital technology. If girls are prevented from acquiring modern technological skills, they are disadvantaged in the workplace. Our report found that in Indonesia, for example, girls and young women aged 15 to 24 are half as likely to use the Internet as boys the same age.

Plan is helping girls in the developing world become computer literate to help them better their lives and reach their potential. One success story I'd like to share with you is of a young women from China named Guishen Xu. Abandoned by her parents, Xu migrated from her village to work in Nanjing, one of China's biggest cities, when she was just in her teens. After successfully completing a free computer training project organized by Plan and Microsoft, she was accepted to study administration management at the Nanjing Radio and TV University.

The private and public sectors can and must play a leading role in replicating Xu's success millions of times over. But there is a need for political will too. It is important that international, national and municipal authorities make it their responsibility to ensure the digital landscape is accessible and safe for girls and young women.

I am pleased that Canada has taken a big step in recognizing how empowered and educated girls can help their communities out of poverty. On March 24, 2011, a resolution was unanimously passed by all political parties in the House of Commons declaring Canada's intent to lead in the effort for a United Nations resolution proclaiming September 22 the International Day of the Girl. Plan Canada has been actively working towards this goal for some time, and together with our many partner organizations, we can celebrate this step in the right direction.

We invite you to join the celebration by visiting us at www.becauseiamagirl.ca and www.plancanada.ca.