Gender Digital Divide in Kenya
In March 2022, LakeHub, a “Kenyan tech innovation hub,” partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to equip 300 Kenyan girls with “digital literacy and technical skills.” As the Kenyan government has been making strong efforts to improve digital literacy, this partnership will be useful in bridging the gender digital divide in Kenya.

Digital Literacy in Kenya

In recent years, Kenya has made efforts to grow its digital economy and empower Kenyans with digital literacy skills. For example, in 2016, Kenya launched its Digital Literacy Programme, an initiative dedicated to providing digital devices to primary school children and training educators to give lessons through “digital learning content.”

These devices are “pre-loaded with interactive digital content in Math, English, Science and Kiswahili” in order to facilitate learning. Within the first phase of the initiative, the program distributed more than one million devices to more than “23,000 public primary schools” across Kenya.

Additionally, approximately 81,000 Kenyan educators received through the program. With such progress, the Digital Literacy Programme began its second phase in July 2019.

The Gender Digital Divide in Kenya

Despite the commendable strides of the Kenyan government in promoting digital literacy, there are concerns about equal access to digital devices and knowledge, particularly in the area of gender inclusivity. As the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report of 2019 reports, “women in Kenya are 39% less likely than men to have access to mobile internet” and “are also 23% less likely to own a smartphone.”

Moreover, this gender digital divide appears to be growing with the gender gap in mobile internet use increasing from 34% in 2019 to 42% in 2020.

A 2021 study titled “Kenya’s Digital Economy: A People’s Perspective,” also found that only “35% of women use advanced digital services compared to 54% of men.” The factors that contribute to this gender digital divide in Kenya include “discrimination, harmful social norms, the education divide, geography and lack of motivation.”

LakeHub’s Partnership with the United Nations

LakeHub is one organization that is striving to close the gender digital divide in Kenya. In June 2020, LakeHub launched its FemiDev program which aims to “bridge the gender gap within the digital sphere.” The program provides incentives such as full scholarships to females to learn skills in “back-end web development, design thinking, entrepreneurship[and] graphic design,” among many other skills.

LakeHub’s partnership with the United Nations forms part of its FemiDev program. During the 12-month training program, participants receive “laptops and internet access in order to attend in-person training across three counties in Kenya — Kisumu, Busia and Migori.”

The program recruits participants through an online application that is released every three months “on all social media platforms.” So far, the program has “sponsored 200 girls between the ages of 18 to 35” with 80% of them achieving “relevant job placement and paid internships, both in the private and public sectors.”

The Importance of Gender Inclusivity in Digital Transformation

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of digital technology and connectivity has become even greater. Technology use has become the new normal with digital platforms becoming particularly handy in “facilitating remote learning, work-from-home, business and service provisions such as health, banking, market access and entertainment.”

Thus, for many female workers, the lack of digital literacy skills, to understand and gain access to new markets has led to a loss of income and livelihood. With the majority of Kenyan women working in manual jobs, characterized by “low pay and poor working conditions,” the restrictions and shutdowns from the pandemic hit female-dominated sectors hardest, meaning that women began losing their jobs first.

In addition, the 2021 Finance Corporation report indicates that 230 million employment opportunities in the African region “will require digital skills by 2030.” Therefore, equipping Kenyan women with digital literacy skills will grant them access to new employment opportunities and increase overall gender equality in Kenya.

While there is still work to do to fully close the digital gender divide in Kenya, initiatives like the FemiDev program lead the way to achieving gender equality in the digital arena.

– Divine Adeniyi
Photo: Flickr

Female Solar Technicians
In February 2022, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) teamed up with Renew Power, the prime renewable energy company in India and the Indian Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to train 1,000 women in Gujarat, India, to become solar panel and solar pump technicians. The project provides women who previously worked as salt farmers in India with the opportunity to develop fulfilling, well-paying careers in the solar energy industry. The program may eventually extend to other areas of India and help more women gain financial independence and security. Female solar technicians in low-income communities support themselves, their families and their communities by building infrastructure and promoting renewable energy.

From Salt Farmers to Solar Technicians

Salt farmers in Gujarat, India, endure strenuous physical labor to build huts, dig wells and extract brine they sift through to harvest salt. Female salt farmers rarely receive contracts for their work and earn minimal pay. As an alternative to salt farming, the UNEP, SEWA and the state of Gujarat provided about 1,000 women with opportunities to develop constructive skills and careers as solar technicians. The women learn technical skills at SEWA training centers and Renew Power solar facilities throughout the state. The Electronics Sector Skills Council of India has also provided participants in the program with technical training. As solar technicians, women in Gujarat who previously worked as salt farmers are able to develop valuable skills and develop stable career paths to support themselves and their families.

Sustainable Poverty Reduction

In 2019, 759 million people globally did not have access to electricity, a resource that plays a key role in efficient cooking, access to health care, education and more. Low-income families are often unable to afford electricity, so they live without it or purchase unsafe, nonrenewable energy options. Many low-income families rely on kerosene for electricity because they can buy small amounts of it at a time with the money they have.

However, kerosene can cost up to 30% of a family’s total income, according to a 2012 Yale School of the Environment article and it often pollutes the air passed safe levels for human health. Solar panels, on the other hand, provide up to 20 years of renewable electricity, but the initial 10-year investment is too expensive for most low-income families. Female solar technicians in Gujarat benefit from renewable energy careers not just through incomes but also the ability to help their communities by building a sustainable energy infrastructure that can serve low-income areas for decades.

Energy and Gender Equality

Women and girls account for 70% of people who live in energy poverty. Energy poverty has serious consequences for women, especially when it comes to cooking, girls’ education and the success of small businesses. Energy initiatives that improve access to electricity and train female solar technicians in low-income areas have social, economic and environmental benefits. Women participating in these initiatives attain well-paying jobs, gain access to affordable electricity and promote renewable energy in their areas.

Initiatives to employ women and install solar panels can be highly beneficial in low-income areas. Private organizations, companies and governmental institutions can work together to increase access to clean energy in countries around the world. Renewable energy boosts the quality of life while simultaneously conserving the environment.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

GirlsGoIT Promotes Teaching Girls about Tech
GirlsGoIT is an organization based in Moldova that encourages girls and young women to explore IT careers. Particularly reaching out to girls with disabilities or from rural areas, the organization helps introduce girls to tech fields through workshops, summer camps and large community events. Through the work of the organization, GirlsGoIT promotes teaching girls about tech and helping them see that there is a place for them in the tech industry. The tech industry needs girls’ voices, creativity and ideas to continue to thrive and grow. 

How GirlsGoIT Promotes Teaching Girls About Tech: Work and Events

A major event in the Girls GoIT program is the summer camps the organization holds, where the organization invites girls aged 16 to 20 from all over the country to spend time learning the basics of IT work, how to use different computer programs and how to create their own software. The camps also give young women a fuller scope of tech work by inviting professionals to work with the girls. These include web designers, copywriters and social media analysts. Working with the professionals gives the girls a chance to conceptualize different careers and think of the different possible career paths in the world of tech IT.

The hope with the camps is that the girls will continue to research and practice for a career in tech. The girls will build connections with professionals and peers and will pass on their knowledge to other young people in their communities. In fact, many of the girls become GirlsGoIt ambassadors, where they establish and run local computer clubs in their communities. 

Throughout the year, however, GirlsGoIT continues to have programs to help introduce more girls to the world of tech. The organization often has workshops in the spring and summer and has expanded its work to include creating and programming robotics and learning how to 3D print and model. GirlsGoIT also has many live discussions for adults in which it advises parents, educators and other professionals about encouraging more young women to involve themselves with IT. It often holds informative lectures about what people can do to help create a more inclusive tech workforce.

Work During the Pandemic

With COVID-19 preventing many in-person events, many GirlsGoIT annual events had to reform and take on a new shape. But even with these setbacks, GirlsGoIt was still able to hold successful events and create new opportunities for the participants of its program.

Even before the pandemic, the team at GirlsGoIt was looking for ways to combine in-person education with the digital sphere. So, the organization embraced this and moved its typical seasonal workshops online in 2020. In the autumn workshop in October 2020, around 155 participants joined. For the spring workshop, which was from the end of March to early April 2021, more than 922 people applied. This represents the largest number of applicants the workshop has had. 

GirlsGoIT Collaborations and Campaigns 

In 2020, GirlsGoIT partnered with different organizations to host new events and give participants of its programs new opportunities. One of the organizations was Crunchyroll Moldova. Both organizations host a discussion event about STEM education’s importance in our new generation. In addition, Crunchyroll also offers internships to participants of GirlsGoIt. The internship provides experience and helps the girls continue in their careers with a letter of recommendation and a diploma.

In 2021, GirlsGoIT released a new campaign titled “It’s Not Just About the Code!” The campaign intends to show that people with different interests and fields ranging from tech-based to artistic careers can involve themselves in GirlsGoIT. A variety of professions and fields use IT skills. It also emphasizes that learning how to code is just the first step in working in IT. Other skills include being able to communicate efficiently, creating a good product and considering the customer’s needs that are necessary to succeed in the tech field. GirlsGoIT emphasizes that the program is about teaching all the skills young women would need to be successful in the industry.

Impact and Importance

Predictions have determined that soon, 90% of all jobs will require some form of ICT skills. However, as of 2018, women held only 25% of all tech jobs. Upon further examination, only 19% of entry-level or mid-level tech jobs contain women. Women had 16% of senior-level jobs and filled only 10% of executive positions in the tech industry.

The low women-held tech positions directly tie into young women choosing to study IT or STEM-related fields in the teenage as young adult years. Many young women reported avoiding the subjects because they believed they were not good at IT subjects. The women did not think that the subjects were interesting or did not believe they wanted a tech career.

The fewer women in the tech industry, the more it feels to people that women do not belong in this field. GirlsGoIT’s work is important because of how the organization teaches girls to code, create software and build robotics. The organization is also important because it shows young women and their communities that women belong in the world of tech and that the world needs their voices and ideas.

In Conclusion

Many of the young women who participated in GirlsGoIt and became ambassadors for the program did not know they wanted a career in tech before they joined. Some of the women even said they were sure they were not good at STEM subjects before participating. The program also helped win over many parents. Seeing their daughters participate in the programs helped people realize the importance of increasing the number of women in the tech industry. The women started to encourage other parents that they knew to support their children in STEM and IT subjects. GirlsGoIt promotes teaching girls about tech and is taking an important step to help make the tech industry a more equal and fair workspace.

– Mikayla Burton
Photo: Flickr

Women-Led Tech Startups in Africa
Currently, only 28% of women worldwide pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. This gap is a result of women dropping out of STEM courses based on social, cultural and gender norms. Around the world, girls face limited educational pathways and resources within STEM subjects. To address the barriers in STEM education and the tech industry, many women-led tech startups in Africa are encouraging women to pursue tech careers.

The Rise in Women-Led Businesses in Africa

According to the United Nations Africa Renewal Magazine, “sub-Saharan Africa boasts the world’s highest rate of women entrepreneurs, at 27%.” As part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) to improve clean water and sanitation, it is expected that 2.5 million engineer and technician jobs will be created in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, women will have opportunities to pursue a career in tech. There will also be a market space for women-led tech startups in Africa.

To encourage women to enter the tech industry in Africa, African women have started initiatives that promote and invest in women interested in the tech field. For Example, African Women in Technology, FirstCheck Africa, #HerFutureAfrica and Women in Tech Africa are all notable initiatives led by African Women. Highlighted below are five inspiring women who have contributed to the rise of women in the male-dominated tech field.

5 Women Leading the Emergence of Women-Led Tech Startups in Africa

  1. Nthabiseng Mosia from South Africa: Mosia is an entrepreneur and the co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of Easy Solar. Easy Solar, based in West Africa, is an off-grid solar distribution company. It supplies electricity to communities with little or no access to the grid. As a result of Mosia’s company, more than 350,000 residents of Sierra Leone’s communities have access to affordable energy.
  2. Rachel Sibande from Malawi: As well as a social entrepreneur working in technology and energy, Sibande is a computer scientist. She is the founder of mHub, a technology hub for innovators and entrepreneurs. Offering access to financial and investment support across five countries, mHub is a key resource for women-led tech startups in Africa. From 2018 to 2019, mHub financed $800,000 to youth and women entrepreneurs, which created 304 jobs. In addition, Sibande has established the Girls Coding Club, Children’s Coding Club, a Robotics Club and Machine Learning community camps. These clubs encourage more girls and women to pursue careers in tech.
  3. Farida Bedwei from Ghana: Bedwei is a software engineer and disabilities rights advocate. She is the Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of software company Logiciel. Logiciel develops technology solutions and provides micro-banking systems for more than 600 financial institutions. She was named one the most influential women in business in Ghana and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2016.
  4. Jumoke Dada from Nigeria: Dada is a tech consultant and the founder of Tech Women Network, which provides a platform for women in technology to showcase their skills. Dada is involved with HUE Tech Summit, an event for women of color in tech as well as Techies Who Brunch, which helps women connect in the industry. Her efforts contribute to upskilling women interested in tech, making Dada is a leader and advocate for women in the tech industry.
  5. Rebecca Enonchong from Cameroon: Enonchong is an advocate for technology entrepreneurship and innovation. She is the Chair of ActivSpaces, the African Center for Technology Innovation and Ventures, and the founder and Chief Executive Officer of AppsTech. ActivSpaces is a tech hub in Cameroon that promotes and supports young people to have successful careers. AppsTech provides tools for tech entrepreneurs to grow their enterprises such as license sales, implementation and training services. With available sources like AppsTech, Enonchong’s efforts are important in the emergence and growth of women-led tech startups in Africa.

These five women are making a significant difference in Africa and paving the way for more female entrepreneurs, especially in the tech industry. With these innovative efforts, the number of women-led startups in Africa will hopefully continue to increase.

– Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: United Nations Economic Commission for Africa