Empower more women tech creators to make an impact in Africa

Posted on October 31, 2014 11:58 pm

African lives have been transformed through new tools to share and connect, and that has helped millions change the lives of those around them.Enrolments in African tertiary information technology courses have been falling, as local female students recoil from the sector’s masculine reputation. Three times more African female tertiary students were studying IT in 2007 than 2013, despite an average 45 per cent jump in total tertiary enrolments among girls over the same period. According to a study conducted recently, it was discovered there is a prejudice in the way people continued to see information technology and engineering as a “male discipline”. Another factor cited as lack of female role models for girls contemplating IT courses in African countries.But there’s a lot more potential and need for women in Africa when it comes to technology, especially in the field of computer science. In many African countries, too many women don’t even have basic access to technology and the Internet.The digital gender gap is greater across developing Africa than elsewhere.

But as more women in countries like South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Tunisia come online, they could face the larger challenge that women face in moving beyond being just tech consumers, to becoming tech creators. In my knowhow, I know achieving greater gender diversity in computer science requires addressing several fundamental issues. Me thinks girls need to be taught basic digital literacy so that they develop an interest in computing before they reach their teens. Starting young opens minds to the endless possibilities and the ways in which technology can have real impacts on communities. In Africa, just like they’ve done in Western World, there is need to demystify the notion that tech which is often perceived to be a male’s world with formal and informal support structures that work great for men, but not women. The result is that young women don’t get enough encouragement from parents and teachers to pursue a tech career. Research has showed that this is mostly because there’s great misunderstanding about what a technical job really has to offer. Africans must also get better at illustrating how technology is about creativity and the potential to make an impact on the continent.

Technology helps people get things done faster and better. It enables consumers and empowers business owners. These are messages that appeal to women.I know this is what got me interested in tech as a tween and started toiling around with my mother commodore computer in late eighties and early nineties. When I decided to study computer science, I knew computer science was about design, understanding human-computer interaction and applying computers in other fields such as health care or environmental science. Efforts to encourage more African women to develop in the technology field must ensure they have access to the opportunities that they deserve and the support they need throughout their career.Gender diversity in all its forms leads to better ideas and outcomes and tech sector shouldn’t be an exception.As African women shape and create technology, its relevance and usefulness will grow for many more users across the continent of more than 1 billion people.The continent has a huge deficit of those in the business of creating software, mobile applications and web services that play a key role in changing the way African do things.Giving African girls the encouragement and support that they need to build a career in computer science will help empower more women tech creators to make an impact in Africa where it’s needed most.

Contador Harrison