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Girls in ICT: Technology lifting thousands out of poverty

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Girls in ICT: Technology lifting thousands out of poverty

Jocelyne Sambira
Photo credit: Akirachix
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon during his recent visit to Akirachix, Ushahidi and iHub. Photo credit: Akirachix

Faced with the growing decline of girls and young women studying technology, an International Girls in ICT Day – marked on 23 April every year – was set aside five years ago raise awareness. Africa Renewal’s Jocelyne Sambira spoke to Judith Owigar, a founding member of Akirachix, which is a training and mentorship programme aiming to increase the number of girls in the technology sector, about the efforts made to get more young women in Africa to embrace such a career. Ms. Owigar was a guest at the 2015 special event hosted by the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva.

Africa Renewal: What is the importance of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Africa?

Answer: ICT is important because it can be used for development, especially in developing countries. It is a tool that can be used to lift most of the population from poverty to a level where they can make money to support themselves and their families.

Can you give us an example?

JO: Our training programme at Akirachix in Nairobi [Kenya] targets school girls from low income areas and slums. One of such students who went through our training programme and majored in graphic design and soon after started freelancing for us as well as other organizations and was able to support herself and her family with the money she earned. Now she is planning to help her mother open a vegetable kiosk and also help her father start a charcoal business.

Why is it important to have girls join the ICT industry?

ICT is a growing industry and it’s hiring a lot of people. Many girls have not taken advantage of this opportunity due to various reasons such as cultural barriers. Others do not have the minimum education required or they just don't think ICT is their thing. We need more women to seize these opportunities because it can improve their lives. 

Why is it necessary to have an official day set aside to celebrate girls in ICT globally?

It is very important to recognize girls in ICT because we are very few. It's good to have this day where the few women in the field of ICT are recognized because we don't feel alone. It creates a sense of belonging and because this day creates an opportunity for women in ICT to meet, it also means we can serve as role models to other young girls who are considering taking up careers in ICT. The day is also a great opportunity to network and encourage girls who would never have thought of embracing this career to join.

Is the tech industry growing in Africa?

Yes, it’s definitely growing. We are seeing more interest in the ICT industry, especially in the developing world. When you consider the lack of good infrastructure in the developing world, ICT provides a way of leap frogging that. A good example is the mobile phone which has demonstrated that we don't really need to go through all the development stages that we have read about. We can use technology to create solutions for ourselves. Technology empowers the people who use it to create solutions for themselves. So we don't have to wait for solutions from another country. We can use the tools we have to create our own solutions.

How many women are heading tech companies in Kenya?

I do not have the actual figure of gender representation in the field of technology in Kenya. Akirachix has been carrying out research but mainly on the motivations and the use of technology by women. What I can tell you is that out of the 12 founding members of Akirachix, eight have gone on to start their own ICT businesses. 

Is it easy, as a woman, to work in the tech industry?

Looking back, I think it gets easier. Right now, I have a whole community of women working in technology. The fact that there is an organization like Akirachix that is supporting and training women in technology and helping to grow the number of women in the industry means that I longer feel I am alone. There is always a whole community that I can ask questions, learn from or just talk to. 

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