African girl coders are taking the lead in ensuring gender equity and balance in technology on the continent, a field majorly dominated by their male counterparts.
Through Connected African Girls Coding Camp initiative, a joint programme of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in collaboration with UN Women and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), young girls are applying their coding skills that include Animation, Gaming, Turtles stitch, artificial intelligence, robotics and internet of things they acquire through the program training.
The initiative has held training camps for African girls from across the continent in Ethiopia and Cameroon. The aim is to bridge the 23% digital divide between men and women on the continent.
Theresa John, 21, a university student from Tanzania is a beneficiary of the coding camps. With the skills she acquired on animation, she said she is creating awareness and encouraging girls in her community to pursue technology.
“Whenever I am working on an animation a project, I have to involve the girls from my village so that they can see what I am doing and the results of it. This way they get interested in technology and see that it can be done,” said Theresa.
“With my skills on coding I am able to show them that technology is very useful and important, and it applies to real situations in the world. It is a tool to empower young people and create employment.”
She says with the little money she makes from her projects she is able to take care of expenses at the university and pay for her internet.
However, the biggest challenge for Theresa is the fact that she has to use on laptop for a bigger group and access to the internet is limited.
Fatou Ndiaye from Senegal who is also a beneficiary of the coding camp attended the recent camp in Cameroon online. She showcased her online e-shop that she uses to sell clothing and bags online.
“Through my programming skills I was able to create the e-commerce shop by myself where I sell my products and I am able to reach most people including those far away from my town,” she said adding that the idea of an online shop came up after she attended the coding camp.
“Most young people have embraced online shopping because it saves time and gives you access to a variety of products faster. This is where the world is headed and as African girls, we should not be left behind.”
The Connected African Girls Coding Camp Initiative is expected to reach more girls through more coding camps by 2022. This is in line with the United Nations Sustainable development goal (SDG) 5 on gender equity and SDG4 on education and skills development
In December 2020, the programme brought together over 3000 girls aged 17 – 25 from 32 African countries at the first coding camp. By 2022, 14 coding camps are expected to be organized to increase significantly the number of girls across Africa.
Jean-Paul Adam, ECA’s Director for Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management, says to promote gender equity and ensure more girls take up technology, it is important to create platforms for women to collaborate and share their knowledge on coding. This will tremendously have an impact on the economic growth.
“Women can challenge the existing stereotypes on science, technology and innovation if given an opportunity and the right platform to showcase their skills.”
He said although the percentage of women in the labor force has over the years gradually increased, it remains significantly lower in the technology sector.
“The significant lack of connectivity for women is undermining their capacity to reach their economic potential. A situation that urgently needs to be addressed,” said Mr Adam.
Letty Chiwara, UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, the Africa Union Commission and the ECA, said Girls face discrimination in the sector because computer science has always been seen as a course for boys, not girls. Therefore, boosting women’s digital literacy today would have far-reaching inter-generational implications.
“Women are uniquely suited to prepare younger generations to participate in the digital economy, a reason why government should empower more women in the fields of science and technology,” she said.
The third coding boot camp was held Buea, Douala and Yaounde in Cameroon on July 5 – July 17 where about 8500 young females aged between 12 and 25 from all over Africa attended.
ECA is organizing the next Connected African Girls Coding Camp initiative in Guinea in November. There is also an innovation fair scheduled for September in Cameroon where the girls can showcase their projects and win prizes.