UNICEF: Tech Trailblazers (2021) 

Mary Gelman/VII


In this UNICEF project, VII Photo contributing photographer Mary Gelman captures the stories of eight young women spanning Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South America, shedding light on the opportunities available for women and girls in the technology sector.

Generation Equality called “for greater amplification and investment in adolescent girls’ voices, leadership, and solutions for social change — especially at the intersection of the digital revolution.” Gelman’s brief was specifically complex. After receiving the assignment, COVID-19 struck, and the world went into lockdown. Prevented from international travel, she developed a documentary concept that would enable work on the project to continue by engaging with her subjects through remote camera direction. She used video calls to connect with young women who followed her directions, and together, Gelman and the subjects created digital composites that celebrated the young women and their IT project work.

A conceptual collage of Louise, 16, in her home in Salvador, Brazil. The overlay showcases prototype designs for her app, Conecta Elas. April 17, 2021. Louise is a Club Leader for the Salvador chapter of “Girl Up.” She and her friends are developing an app to help promote gender equity in technical fields. “Women face a lot of hardship in the workforce, especially when entering a male-dominated field. I want to create a safe environment for women to enter the job market.”

A conceptual portrait of Nina, 25, working on the phone. The overlay represents her original coding and YouTube channel. "Depending on your social class and skin color, you will face different obstacles. For me, the greatest difficulty was accessing courses and tools," says Nina, 25. "My mission in making the world better is to teach people the concepts of computing in a more accessible way."

Sally smiles for a remote portrait in her home in Irbid, Jordan. The overlay showcases her schoolwork on digital skills training. Sally, 20, a Yarmouk University student majoring in Sociology and Social Work, enrolled in the UNICEF-supported Digital Skills training. She took five courses that helped her strengthen her digital literacy, cybersecurity, and professional development skills. Her future dream is to become a UN Youth Ambassador and continue her higher education in social work to help women and girls. April 27, 2021.

A conceptual portrait of Yasmeen, 13, in her family apartment in Paris, France. The overlay showcases design prototypes of a website she is building to educate parents on gender education. "Our goal is to provide an online resource for parents to become familiar with the notion of gender education and understand that their children should be given a choice. Gender education might start with toys and clothing, but it also influences the subjects boys and girls go on to study and the careers they pursue," says Yasmeen. April 29, 2021.

Houda, 19, smiles for a conceptual portrait in her dorm room in the city of Grenoble. Houda overcame gender-based stereotypes about STEM subjects in her village to study computer science in Grenoble. "Only two girls in high school wanted to study one of these subjects at university. When I told my friends I would study computer science, they all warned me it was a male-dominated field", she said. May 21, 2021.

Jessica smiles for a conceptual portrait in the Girl Effect office in Rwanda. The collage overlay showcases a screen grab from the Technology Enabled Girl Ambassador app. "Technology devices don't just work by themselves. They need someone to run it," says Jessica, 22, "Why not girls?"

A conceptual portrait of Carine, 21, in Kigali, Rwanda. The overlay represents her original coding. “The core of my excitement about technology is how it makes achieving a task easy and fast and makes almost everything about it more beautiful, contained, and organized.”