As a recent Mastercard Foundation Scholar and computer science master’s graduate at UC Berkley, Gloria Tumushabe is acutely aware of the inequality between men and women in computer programming, especially in her home country of Uganda. Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields, specifically in computer programming where “less than 5% of programmers in sub-Saharan Africa are women.” To address the impacts of the pandemic on girls’ education in Uganda, Tumushabe launched Afro Fem Coders: a remote program teaching young Ugandan women how to code.
COVID-19 and Heightened Gender Inequality
The COVID-19 pandemic arguably heightened education inequality for Ugandan girls. Once the pandemic hit, many students had to take a step back in their education due to school closures, economic hardships and health issues. The negative repercussions of COVID-19 disproportionately impact girls and women. The Malala Fund found that “marginalized girls are more at risk than boys of dropping out of school altogether following school closures and that women and girls are more vulnerable to the worst effects of the current pandemic.”
Afro Fem Coders
Afro Fem Coders began with Tumushabe spreading the word that she would teach Ugandan girls how to code. Once girls started expressing interest in the program, Tumushabe used part of her scholarship stipend to fund the girls’ access to laptops and the internet. Afro Fem Coders gained support through a GoFundMe and now includes a mentorship program with leaders from Silicon Valley.
The program aims to “create a space that gives women a chance to learn programming in an environment that makes them feel safe, empowered and inspired.” UNICEF asserts that a feeling of safety and empowerment is important for girls to develop digital skills, especially in spaces where gender norms undermine girls’ aspirations to pursue STEM careers.
Eight girls are currently enrolled in the program, with many of them aspiring to be engineers. Student Martha Toni Atwiine endeavors “to build technology for differently-abled people and create more inclusive technology.” Margaret Tendo hopes to “use her computer science knowledge to create applications that create safe travel options for women around the country.”
Revitalizing the Economy Through Women in STEM
Not only do programs like Afro Fem Coders dismantle gendered barriers to opportunity and education but they also tap into major growth opportunities. If empowered young women enter STEM fields in Uganda, they have the chance to transform their nation into a space of growth and opportunity, harnessing the power of technology within the economic sphere.
Coupled with economic empowerment, technological advancement provides new opportunities for careers and breakthroughs that can reduce poverty in a country. UNICEF’s report on girls’ STEM education expresses that “STEM education also has the potential to contribute to personal empowerment, transformation of communities and nations and building economies for the future.”
“The more of us women in this space, the better,” Tumushabe told Berkeley. Overall, the representation of young women in fields such as computer programming actively benefits the economy and combats global poverty.
– Alysha Mohamed