Developing Digital Skills for Women – UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women

The below is a exert of a talk I gave at the 2016 UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women detailing answers to some of these questions: How should we be defining and looking at “digital literacy”? How do we better promote women as creators of content and services, not just consumers of them?  What more can be done to provide women with opportunities to develop advanced ICT skills and pathways that enable them to build enterprise, innovate, and gain employment and become leaders in this sector?

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Our work at Mozilla Foundation focuses on local solutions to increase Web Literacy globally. At Mozilla we define Web Literacy as the skills and competencies needed for reading, writing and participating on the web. We have spent many years researching and developing our Web Literacy Map that take users from consumers of the web to participants of the web. Reading the web includes understanding the basics of how the web works, building the web is actually creating for it and participating on the web is understanding how to take the first two sections and have a voice online in a meaningful way on issues that matter to you. All of this is baked into the free and open-sourced curriculum, tools, and best practices we provide for anyone to grab and use.

We work on increasing Web Literacy with thousands of community members from 500+ cities around the world. Our community members are made up of educators and advocates who understand the importance of an open web and the value of teaching it to others. Over the past few years I’ve worked with these community members to run local campaigns and movements to teach the web in their communities and after extensive research, development and co-creation we launched Mozilla Clubs in 2015. Each Mozilla Club meets regularly in-person to learn how to read, write and participate on the Web in an inclusive, engaging way. Today we have 200+ Mozilla Clubs in over 25 countries.

As we grow and develop Mozilla Clubs we’ve been eager to launch Mozilla Clubs for women and girls, as we are aware of the many barriers that women face being equal citizens of the web. At Mozilla we advocate for equal access on the web and nurturing spaces where women can develop key digital skills is something that we care deeply about. That I care deeply about.

In alignment with this work, we’re excited to launch our partnership with UN Women this month, among the many areas of alignment being the development of Mozilla Clubs for Women and Girls in South Africa and Kenya. These clubs are in the early stage of development but like other clubs, the clubs for women and girls will be based on these principles:

  • Teach how to read, write and participate on the Web using inclusive and participatory methods. In the past few months we have created many new open-sourced resources that contain best practices on how to teach women and girls. As well as new curriculum specifically for women and girls that teaches them about issues they care about including privacy basics and combatting cyberbullying.
  • Empower learners through authentic making, reflective learning, and meaningful action with and on the Web. Our pedagogy is often what sets us apart as our workshops are learner focus and often require peer-collaboration away from a computer.
  • Continued so individuals can build upon their learning and leadership skills over time. We know that learning takes time and requires application of both theory and practice.
  • Focus on learning through leadership. We ensure that women are gaining leadership skills, mentoring opportunities, peer-to-peer learning and using these skills and opportunities to extend their influence and build a movement.

We’ve already been working with our project leads and the local community in each country we’ve really been able to identify some of the issues facing women in these areas including lack of access to technology, no safe spaces to learn, few to no role models, lack of peer support and a general feeling that women don’t belong in the technology sector.

In order to address this, we’re working with local teams and the community to develop Mozilla Clubs as a place where women and girls can develop their digital skills in a safe, supportive and comfortable environment. As well as create and advocate for the web they want and to build digital skills for personal agency and empowerment across all facets of women’s lives.

The model supports women and girls as active citizens, in life and online. It positions leadership development, not just technical training, as a central element of the work. And it leverages a grassroots model for teaching digital skills in informal spaces while cultivating and preparing local women leaders.

While our work focuses in Cape Town and Nairobi to start, but we know there is a lot of opportunity to expand into other areas. Recently the founder of Mozilla, Mitchell Baker, who is also speaking at the high level panel this week, traveled to many other African countries and explored areas in which similar programs can further increase access to the web for women and girls and that can be leveraged to create economic empowerment. Especially in refugee camps – where women are often required to spend their days at home – there is potential to teach them digital skills which allow them to make income without leaving their homes and really empower them and their voice in a way they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

It’s really exciting to start cultivating these programs on the ground with organization, community members and advocates, and creating these pathways for women to step up as leaders in their lives and on the web. As these clubs are just being formed we’re looking to learn and develop them this year.

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