I’d wish to see more African women in technology

March 8, 2014

International Women’s Day 2014 theme is ‘inspiring change’ and celebrates the social, political and economic achievements of women and the same time focusing world attention on areas that require collective action. Tech giant Google’s Doodle has marked the day by showing over 100 women from all corners of the globe in a 80 second video. Over the years, International Women’s Day is a day when we are supposed to reflect on the ways in which various developments have changed the lives of our women. As a techie, I will focus on how technology has been transformed women across Africa and specifically East African region.  A decade ago, more than 95% of African women had no basic access to technology and the Internet but as of 2013 it is estimated more than 30% had access in urban areas and 9% in rural areas compared to 39% in urban and 14% in rural areas. Statistics shows that digital gender gap is narrowing across both sub Saharan African and even in North Africa countries. As more women in African countries come online, they still face the larger challenge of becoming tech creators. To achieve gender diversity in technology sector, African countries would need to tackle myriad of issues at hand. In the case of East African region, tween girls need to be taught digital literacy to help them develop an interest in computing before they reach their teens.

Arguably, were it not my uncle who helped me develop an interest in computers at the tender age of nine, perhaps I wouldn’t have been a computer programmer. When I decided to study computer science, my sister thought that my future would be to fix machines in an office. What she didn’t realize is that computer science is about design, understanding human-computer interaction and applying computers in different fields. In my opinion, it is important to introduce young opens minds to the endless possibilities and the ways in which technology can have real impact on societies. In developing regions like Africa, technology is seen as man’s world with formal and informal support structures that work great for men, but not skirt wearers. The result is that girls don’t get enough encouragement from parents and teachers to pursue a technology career. In countries like Kenya and Uganda where the culture and traditions are mostly identical, studies have found out that there’s great misunderstanding about what a technical job really is and what it has to offer. Few women in those countries know that technology is about creativity and the ability to make an impact on the communities. In Australia where women are also still few in the industry, technology has been helping Australians get things done faster and better especially in outback areas. In urban areas like Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra among others it has enabled consumers and empowers business owners.

Across Africa, Governments have embarked on financing programmes aimed at helping girls and women adopt tech solutions in their daily lives. Non- Governmental Organizations mainly from western countries have been offer scholarships and grants to organizations to enable more girls to pursue studies in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. In Kenya’s famed technology hub iHub young budding female entrepreneurs them have been coding and to see themselves as part of those improving lives through real world applications in Kenya. In Tanzania, TanzICT has been putting a lot of efforts to encourage more women to develop apps.  Diversity leads to better ideas and outcomes and the more women join techie world, they would shape and create technology industry in Africa, its relevance and usefulness will grow significantly for many African users. There’s need for African countries to ensure more girls join me the field of computer science, and become part of techies of the future. The trend has been encouraging so far with studies showing that the number of those participating in the creation of mobile applications, software and web services has been increasing over the past five days. It’s my wish to see empowerment of more women techies that would have an impact in Africa where technological solutions are needed most.

Contador Harrison