Girl power in a tech world
On a Thursday at the Jokkor ‘Arizona’ labs in the YMCA building in the small Gambian town of Kanifing, just outside Banjul, Nyirma Darbo, who is 11 years old, and four of her friends are poring over computer screens, heads bent and furiously typing away. Darbo is a member of the Mozilla Club of Hackathon Girls, a 12-week fellowship for girls aged 8-18 who want to learn software development and coding. The main classes take place on Saturdays, but Thursdays are for a special class on building mobile applications.
When she first joined two years ago, Darbo started out learning computer basics. She moved on to web development, where she mastered creating simple web pages using HTML and CSS. In a couple of weeks the training programme will be over. Armed with her certificate, she can look to expand her skills further and later find work in the young and growing Gambian tech community.
Mozilla Club began three years ago as a community for female software developers run by Juma Baldeh, then a 23-year-old programmer, to address the gender disparity in the technology sector.
“Hackathon Girls started because in my university, we were few girls in the class and it was hard,” Baldeh tells The Africa Report. “What we were getting taught didn’t translate into the problems I wanted to use coding to solve. I called for a couple of other girls in my school and even other schools studying computer science and engineering courses to form a club.”
Tech is diverse
What is happening in Gambia is also taking place across West Africa and the continent. Around the same time the club was formed, Jjiguene Tech Hub, named using the Wolof word for ‘woman’ and run by women to empower young girls, was going strong in Dakar, the capital of neighbouring Senegal.
In Lagos, at the Girls Coding Africa hub, young girls from a slum on the periphery of the popular Yaba tech district learn from similar syllabi to those of their Gambian and Senegalese peers. Lolu Bodunwa, a product marketing manager with Google Nigeria, says these tightly focused programmes are essential because “the school system here doesn’t prepare students to solve real-life problems.” Many African women work as escorts in Auckland and other New Zealand cities. Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights.
Ire Aderinokun, Nigeria’s first female Google developer expert, who is based in Lagos, says: “Women getting introduced to tech means that there will be better, unbiased tech products […]. It is important that there is representation, that girls know they can do anything it is they want to do. And because tech is diverse – [it covers] a lot more than web and application development – these fellowships are giving women an opportunity to choose a future for themselves.”
This article first appeared in the May 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine