When Pamela Araya was a young girl in rural Costa Rica, she enjoyed taking computers apart. As she grew up, she realized she wanted to create computer programmes. Araya went to study computer engineering at the Costa Rica Institute of Technology in the northern area of San Carlos. Coming from an impoverished rural area, social pressure on her to pursue a “more feminine” career was intense. But Araya refused to back down. Today, the 22-year-old has an internship in a software engineering company as a junior software developer. “I feel powerful, like I am able to do a lot of things,” she says proudly.
Pamela’s path to empowerment in the male-dominated world of technology was eased by the Technological Café, an event organized by the Cooperative Sulá Batsú, through support from UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality. It drew together a host of dynamic women entrepreneurs and technology leaders to mentor young women like Pamela. Inspired to pursue her own dreams, she now participates in an ongoing series of Technological Cafés as a leader and mentor in her own right. “It is hard to know other women studying technology because there are so few of us. Having the chance to meet and talk is wonderful. There is nothing a woman cannot do; those are myths from the past.”
Particularly in rural areas, Cooperative Sulá Batsú has engaged students, parents, teachers, ICT professionals, entrepreneurs and academics in northern Costa Rica in challenging stereotypes that prevent girls and women from pursuing technology-related studies or professional careers. Besides the Technological Cafés, it has sponsored Central America’s first female Hack-a-thon, where nine groups of young women, testing their skills in a 36-hour programming marathon, developed software and apps to address the social problems that confront rural women and girls. By organizing public debates and outreach activities, a network of women and girls from the programme promotes rural women’s involvement in ICT.
As a global grant-making facility, the Fund for Gender Equality backs the economic and political empowerment of women around the world. It finances high-impact initiatives by women-led organizations that deliver concrete results, especially for the most marginalized women and girls. In 2015, the Fund disbursed USD 7.6 million to 53 active programmes, and awarded USD 7.3 million in 24 new grants after a rigorous selection process involving 1,400 applications. The Fund’s total portfolio now includes 120 programmes worth USD 64 million. An expanded geographical reach to 80 countries includes activities launched for the first time in Albania, Armenia, Benin, Haiti, Honduras, Mali, Samoa and Turkey.
Programmes in 2015 reached 218,000 beneficiaries. They strengthened women’s leadership and political participation; enhanced skills for quality employment; facilitated access to land rights, credit and social protection; and bolstered abilities to influence public policies and programmes. As a strong proponent of civil society’s transformative role in achieving sustainable development, the Fund provides continuous assistance that helps grantees pursue more efficient, results-oriented initiatives.
Other recent achievements by grantees include the 50 peer support groups established by KWIECO in Tanzania. Through them, 1,155 women have been able to pool their savings and take loans to start small businesses. A portion of the savings is reserved for emergency needs, such as medical treatment. By the end of 2015, the groups had saved nearly USD 673,000 and provided more than 3,500 loans. Over 950 women had increased their income. Women have also improved their understanding of their rights and legal protections, with 200 of them able to move forward in filing legal claims, such as to resolve land disputes and secure child maintenance in divorce cases.
The Salheya initiative—led by Egypt’s Ministry of Manpower in collaboration with the American University in Cairo—has prompted the establishment of a specialized unit in the Ministry to conduct gender audits of private and public firms, mainstream gender equality principles in the workplace and train more than 400 ministry employees on gender equity in the labour market. The programme has also helped more than 1,300 women enhance their productive skills, while 500 more have found jobs or established their own businesses through several private sector partnering models. Four mobile units were established to ensure continued technical training for women in remote areas in the Sharqia governorate while two permanent exhibitions were established as marketing platforms for women’s products.
A regional initiative in South-East Asia—led by the International Women’s Rights Action Watch—boosted the capacities of 90 young women activists to influence national and regional policies. Results have included Viet Nam’s national CEDAW Committee recognizing dating violence as a form of violence against women. In Timor Leste, the CEDAW Committee recommended action to assist young women dropping out of school due to pregnancy.