When discussing Gender and ICT4D, the biggest theme is of course, the “gender digital divide.” In many regions of the world where women don’t necessary have the same social mobility or financial independence as men, breaking into the field of technology can be quite the challenge. In fact, it’s an issue we still face at home in the U.S. and other “Global North” countries as well. However, with all this in mind, I wanted to focus my post today on one particular woman who has been successful in the tech field. According to eLearning Africa’s 5/29/12 article “For girls, it is possible to dream big,” native Kenyan Juliana Rotich started out as a “lonely, young ‘geek’ with oversized glasses at school. Today she is a highly successful tech entrepreneur who is a co-founder and Executive Director of Ushahidi, a homegrown non-profit tech company that has taken the world by storm.” This e-Learning Africa interview with Juliana is helpful not only because she serves as a positive role model for other girls and women to look up to but she can also provide an insider scoop on what techniques and social barriers exist for women interested in breaking into ICT.
Juliana started off by focusing on her childhood inspirations. She remembered first learning about Mae Jemison and her journey to the moon. Clearly, the emphasis here is placed on dreaming big. Young people often underestimate their potential by thinking they’re not good enough or need to reach some magical age before they can start pursuing certain interests, but Juliana argues ardently against that. Especially for young women to break into the technology which is still considered a “man’s world” is even more difficult.
In terms of the benefits of ICTs for women, of course there are the well-known links to economic growth and financial independence but additionally, Juliana talks about reaching a social and cultural standing of equality. “There is a friend who thinks a good brain is a good brain, either way. Whether it is a male brain or a female brain…” This is the type of change in mentality that needs to happen, not only in Africa but world-wide. Finally, she speaks on the African notion of chama, which is “a group of women who come together, and they put in a pool of money to help each other. Now if we had a scientist within that mix, or a techie within that mix, they could create software to help that chama.” Women, being the social, integrative type that we are, have a huge advantage in acting as instruments of change within communities. Overall, I hope this post can serve as a reminder that women are rapidly expanding and entering the ICT field. Hopefully more examples like Juliana can change the mentality that Technology is strictly a “man’s world.”
Resources: E-Learning Africa