By Christabel Ligami

Gender inequality, unequal internet connectivity is a reason why women and girls in Africa are still under represented in the fields of science and technology, according to panelists at the African

Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) side event at the 53rd session of the Economic Commission for African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development in Addis Ababa.
Jean-Paul Adam, the Director for Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management, UNECA said although the percentage of women in the labor force has over the years gradually increased, it remains significantly lower in the technology sector.

“Women lack equal connectivity is undermining their capacity to reach their economic potential. A situation that urgently needs to be addressed,” said Adam.

“Girls face discrimination in the sector, because computer science has always been seen as a course for boys, not girls.”

AGCCI is a program being implemented by UN Women in collaboration with the African Union, International Telecommunication Union.

The four-year programme initiated in 2018 is designed to equip young girls with digital literacy, coding and personal development skills.
Girls are trained as programmers, creators and designers, placing them on-track to take up education and careers in ICT and coding.

Letty Chiwara, UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, the Africa Union Commission and the UN Economic Commission said 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.

Cisse Mohamed, Director of Social Affairs at the African Union Commission (AUC) said while women and girls are encouraged to take up technology, there is no conducive environment for them to do so.

“African governments should create computer literacy programs, targeting women from rural areas, in particular. Improving access to information and communications technologies (ICT), especially Internet-enabled mobile phones, would go a long way toward supporting these efforts,” said Ms Mohamed adding that data safety and protection is important in this digital era.

Andrew Rugege – Regional Director for Africa – International Telecommunication Union said Covid 19 pandemic is a health hazard but has shown us the importance of ICT.

“More than half of the women and youth are not connected on the internet. There is need to close the gender gap by increasing the mobile ownership and access to internet by women and youth,” said Rugege.

“Young girls should be trained on ICT programs rather than just being the consumers of the innovations.”

Hendrina Doroba, the Division Manager, Education, Human Capital and Employment at the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) said girls who underwent the Africa Girls can code initiative camp already have what it takes to convince the governments to incorporate ICT into the education curriculum.

“We need to engage policy makers at the country level to push for inclusion of ICT in education curriculum in all the countries in Africa,” said Dr Doroba adding that AfDB has created initiatives of expanding the infrastructure on digital learning in various countries including Kenya, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal.

The first group of girls who won the “we can code initiative” competition from Senegal, Tanzania, South Africa presented their programming projects on robotics, animation at the side event.

The African Girls Can Code Initiative is expected to reach more than 2,000 girls through 18 Coding Camps (2 international, 12 regional and 4 in Ethiopia) by 2022.

In September 2018, the programme brought together 88 girls aged 17 – 20 from 32 African countries at the first coding camp. By 2022, 14 coding camps will be organized to take the programme to more than 1,000 girls across Africa.

It was announced at the side event that the next hybrid camps will be held in Cameroon and Congo.