International Women’s Day - cracking the code on a pathway to hope
By DAWN VOLZ
The theme for International Women’s Day this year is ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender-equal future’, highlighting “the role that bold, transformative ideas, inclusive technologies and accessible education can play in combatting discrimination and the marginalisation of women globally”.
This is a theme that resonates strongly with Captain Tara McGuigan, The Salvation Army’s Relationship Manager for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities in NSW, herself originally from Sri Lanka.
Recognising the hard road ahead for many refugees and migrants, Tara says the problems can be far more complex for women who are not used to speaking out, suddenly finding themselves in a new country and culture. “I have faced that and I know how hard it is,” she says.
“Last year I was contacted by an Afghan refugee, Ruqia, who told me in stilted English that her three children were in high school and had no computer to do their studies. The three of them were managing between one mobile phone. I could hear the desperation in her voice and knew I had to help her.
“Digital poverty is such a disadvantage, especially for children’s education, which provides the most important pathway to freedom, emancipation and hope.”
Tara adds that lack of access to digital technology is “like sending a child to school in the past without a book and a pen”.
There’s added poignancy in her observation that, “In Afghanistan girls can’t go to school but here they can, and we need to help support that.”
True to her word, Tara instigated the Digital Poverty Project, reaching out to The Salvation Army’s IT Department who put her in touch with Dell Technologies. The company readily offered to lend a hand and generously agreed to provide $55,000 worth of computers, software and equipment to be distributed to 20 migrant and refugee families identified by the Parramatta-based Community Migrant Resource Centre.
One of the delighted recipients, Naikbakht, came to Australia in 2017 with her parents and four siblings as refugees after horrific experiences in war-torn Afghanistan.
“I came to Australia for a better future,” she says, “and to be the voice of the women and girls of my country through the great opportunity that I received in Australia. Honestly, where I came from, we didn’t really have the knowledge of how to use technology.
“I really appreciate the help that The Salvation Army gave to me and my family. Receiving a laptop helped me to cooperate with technology, and learn new skills from it. I hope to make good benefit from what I have received.
“Since I got the laptop, it was a very easy access for me to work on my writing,” Naikbakht adds. “I am a young poet and I’ve been writing poetry for the last three years. Through this poetry it gives me an opportunity to explore the hardship of the girls and women who were experiencing war.”
Naikbakht personifies the extraordinary benefits of cracking the code and innovating for a gender-equal future in digital technology. “I have a dream to write my first novel with my laptop,” she says. “That’s something which I look forward to.”