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Millions of Girls Face Barriers to Getting an Education. How Can We Help?

Right now, 66 millions of girls around the world dream of going to school.

Educating girls can break cycles of poverty in just one generation, yet millions of girls aren’t in school. Educated girls stand up for their rights, marry and have children later, educate their own children, and their families and communities thrive.

Yet millions of girls around the world face barriers to education that boys do not. Removing barriers such as early marriage, gender-based violence, domestic slavery and sex trafficking means not only a better life for girls, but a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for all.

Lack of access to education for girls is a real issue, but I must admit I often don’t think of it. Yes, in my daily work with the Cisco Networking Academy I am constantly reminded of the lack of females studying IT, and am involved in projects to help increase these numbers worldwide. But I often forget about the issue one step back. What about the girls who don’t have the luxury of choosing what to study? Those girls who just want to go to school, but can’t?

A few months ago I was reading our Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility newsletter when I saw a post about this very issue. Cisco offices around the globe were showing a documentary called Girl Rising. I was curious and asked for a copy. A few weeks later with a group of co-workers in our Barcelona office we were moved by the story of 9 girls from around the world portrayed in the video.

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Children Learn Coding and Collaboration at Cisco

“If you want to use the music from Frozen in your game, do you know how to download a gif to match?” Not the average question I have heard in a conference room at Cisco headquarters in San Jose, California, especially when asked to 7-year-old girls! The girls were part of a group of 14 children participating in a coding camp held at Cisco and put on by Embark Labs. The goal of the event is to teach 7 to 10 year olds to have fun while learning how to program.

Teacher Brian VanDyck and Embark Labs Founder Jessie Arora watch as the students work on their coding projects

Teacher Brian VanDyck and Embark Labs Founder Jessie Arora watch as the students work on their coding projects

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Cisco Offices Worldwide Celebrate International Girls in ICT Day

Even though I grew up surrounded by engineers and technology in Silicon Valley, I didn’t decide to seriously study science until my freshman year in college, when I switched my major from economics to theoretical mathematics at the suggestion of my calculus professor. That was the first time a teacher told me I had a strong aptitude for math and encouraged me to expand my idea of what kinds of studies and careers to pursue. Mentors are widely recognized as being a key factor in helping girls decide to study science and technology. This is especially true in developing counties where there are traditionally fewer professional female role models. Cisco is a champion for educating girls and women in technology and understands the importance of mentors early in a girl’s academic career. This is why 70 Cisco offices in 52 countries are putting on events for International Girls in ICT Day, introducing students to successful professionals and encouraging them to study science and technology.

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Cisco Celebrates International Girls in ICT Day

Women earn 57% of all U.S. undergraduate degrees but only 18% of undergraduate computer and information sciences degrees, according to the National Center for Women in Technology. Yet according to U.S. Department of Labor estimates, more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings will exist by 2020, with only enough computer degree graduates to fill 30% of them.

And globally, women comprise less than a third of workers in the computer science, engineering, and physics fields in some of the world’s key emerging economies, according to a report by Women in Global Science & Technology.

Attracting more girls and women to the technology field benefits women, their families, their communities, and the businesses they work for. Women are powerful catalysts for change in any society: When women are able to earn an income, they typically reinvest 90 percent of it back into their families and communities.

To help tap this valuable talent pool and attract more women to careers in the information and communications technology (ICT) field, Cisco is participating in Girls in ICT Day – an international event organized by the by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

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How Access to Broadband Can Remove Barriers to Education and Empower Women

This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post

Research resoundingly reveals that when girls and women are educated, the income they earn is primarily returned to their families, which in turn helps build stronger families and more stable communities. But can something as simple as a dirty bathroom break that positive cycle?

Unfortunately, in some countries it can, especially when adolescent girls reach puberty. UNICEF finds that 1 in 10 school-age African girls “do not attend … or drop out at puberty because of the lack of clean and private sanitation facilities in schools.” Girls’ attendance also drops dramatically if they are not well because of disease or poor nutrition, if the school is far away and parents are concerned for the child’s safety, or if families don’t see the value in spending limited funds on their daughter’s education.

To help more girls become educated, we must first remove these and other barriers that prevent them from attending and staying in school.

Many organizations are doing that — they are building schools in impoverished or politically and socially turbulent regions, establishing schools just for girls and women, and providing qualified female teachers to underserved communities, particularly in developing or underdeveloped countries.

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