More and more, throughout parts of Africa, tech hubs are emerging to help women realise the benefits of digital technology. Created by women, for women, these communities not only train women and girls with digital skills for business and everyday life, they provide an important support network to ensure they stay connected.
By Annika Burgess
As the gender gap for Internet usage stands at a huge 45 percent in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, these networks are becoming all the more important. According to Modupe Darabidan from the Nigerian NGO the Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (W.TEC), these groups help women overcome challenges such as limited accessibility and ‘digital fear’.
“Usually, women tend to believe that technology is not meant for them and attribute its prowess to men; this in itself is a huge problem. So there is still more work to be done to create the right mind-set,” Darabidan says.
“Also, most public schools in Nigeria do not have computer systems in the schools, and the few that have don’t have enough to cater to all the students. This is a huge problem as the boys often see it as their right to have access first making the girls shy away.”
Darabidan was part of the eLearning Africa Supporting Transformation (EAST) programme in 2014. She was awarded a scholarship to attend the eLearning Africa conference where she made valuable connections to enhance the work of W.TEC.
“These connections helped me extend my network and harness the knowledge and resources made available back home. I have also had the opportunity of working with my new connections on new projects and prospective ones,” Darabidan says.
W.TEC hosts technology camps, which offer two-week education and mentoring programmes, as well as workshops in scratch programming, mobile app design, digital photography and digital video production. The organisation also carries out research projects to further explore women’s uses of technology, and offer programmes to help boost business and employment opportunities.
“These trainings are usually tailored to help the women understand why they need technology to improve their capacities and are taught in its barest form by using tools they are already familiar with – mobile phones, tablets, social media,” Darabidan says.
Feedback W.TEC has received from its community is that girls have become more confident on school computer systems and have learnt how to best harness available resources around them; they have been able to integrate technology more in their everyday lives; older women who are more business focused are now using productivity tools to manage their businesses more productively; and school teachers have gained a better understanding of how hands-on sessions can help the students learn faster during their computer science classes.
In addition to the skills acquired, Darabidan says one of W.TEC’s main benefits is becoming part of a community. She says: “Alumni of any of the W.TEC technology programmes are added to the organisation’s network and are privy to first-hand information about grants, business and job opportunities, and scholarships. These are usually posted on the organisation’s social media platforms or sent via emails.”
Similarly, in Senegal, the country’s first female tech hub was recently launched. JJiguene Tech Senegal hosts monthly networking meetings that feature diverse speakers addressing topics such as women in business, app development and ICT careers. It also arranges school and university outreach programmes, as well as programmes for mentorship and training.
“We want to be a role model for girls and for women in tech. They think it’s just for men,” co-founder and app designer Awa Caba told the BBC.
Those involved say it has given them opportunities to speak with girls and women involved in ICT, and has inspired them to follow a career in tech.
The new EAST Women in ICT Programme is developed especially for women who are studying or working with ICT and would like to become part of a similar network of women by supporting them to take part in the eLearning Africa 2015.
This however is only possible with the assistance of likeminded foundations, companies and individuals to allow more people to take part in the unique networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities provided by EAST. Here you can find out more about EAST programmes and how you or your organisation can show your support.