In this century, more than any other, great strides have been made in computer training and technology. Women globally rank among top ICT managers, trailblazing in training and technology. In Africa, we are seriously lagging behind, however. I started off as a young girl playing TombRaider during school computer lessons, or should I say, watching the boys show off their fancy tricks and shying away from playing the game myself. In some ways today, I am still shying off, and taking the back seat when it comes to issues in upgrading and technology, whereas in others, I am going higher and higher. Most recently, however, I ventured into a comprehensive course for non-computer speakers, which allowed me the learning opportunity, required machinery and software to prepare for work in web and multimedia applications. I continue to build on the creative technology that I learned.
Thinking back to the cybercafes in Kenya, which are clusters of commercial stores where people can pay about $1 an hour to go online, there are more women in adjoining hairsalons, than inside the cafes. I frequently changed my web surfing venues in Nairobi when I was there, too randomly survey services and service attendants, and found the same scene elsewhere. The overwhelming majority of task and maintenance staff were male, while the cashiers and ‘soft’ staff roles were female-based. It seemed normal when I was younger, and living in Kenya, but as I learn about the accessibility of Open Source Software, the mindboggling array of applications that are out there for the ordinary end-user as well as the training tools that are a few keystrokes away with the connectivity in the West, I realise that there is a problem. In a nation where ther are reportedly three women to every man, we live in an age where women in technology are still as rare as mountaineering women on the slopes of Mt Kenya, a feature we are yet to see in any form of regularity and we who leave are responsible for changing the chronic disparity through our newfound awareness.
For many women, the career choices that we make are in the Information Technology field in auxilliary capacities that do not involve direct coding, hardware or other ‘hard tech’ descriptions. Most recently, however, I ventured into a comprehensive course for non-computer speakers, which allowed me the learning opportunity, required machinery and software to prepare for work in web and multimedia applications. I continue to build on the creative technology that I learned.In December, I met a number of young ladies who had just completed their final year high school examinations who wanted to learn what useful things they could do as they awaited their final year examination results. I jumped at the chance to tell them about the amazing power of the Internet, only to be silenced by one of their chaperones, a mother who believed that the gambling, porn industry and general ills available online for free would corrupt her girls. It breaks my heart that such a myth still prevents so many people from benefitting from the Internet. needless to say, she halted my enthusiastic description with the words, “You are telling these girls too much, and they do not know what you are talking about” in response to my step-by-step guide to opening an email account. The girls gave me a knowing look, the kind you give when someone over a certain age rises to speak about something you know they are unaware of. For those of you who juggle five or more email accounts and use the acronyms POP, SPAM( maybe not that much of an acronym) and variations of the words net, web and messenger, pick your jaw up from where it dropped. This was 2006 people, and we are still shutting young ladies interested in ICT use down.
I wanted to work in a cybercafe once, and the owner thought I was pretty enough to make a good receptionist, or possibly a great personal assistant. I remember using Opera in its formative stages and chided for ignorance when a failed page popped up as a result of a bug in the version at a cybercafe computer. Beauty is no curse, nor can I neglect to mention that Opera has improved considerably since then, but I digress for that disclaimer. After discovering more about the power of the entrepreneurs especially in developing markets, I now want to own a series of cybercafes, nee, become a premier ISP provider in the style of Africaonline.
I foresee a time when the fastest medium of connectivity in Africa will mature and we realise the incredible potential of this mobile phone age, in a country where there are over five million mobile subscribers and less than 100,000 active landlines (approximately), we have walked into a time of innovation and must work to find solutions to the social networking needs of these customers.
On a more positive note, I learned of the first Bar Camp in Kenya, where there was a gathering of intellectuals and techies interested in sharing ideas, networking, blogging and as well as exploring new technology in general. While we celebrate this inaugural event, and I plan to attend a similar future event, I still searched the presenter roster for a lady speaker. Whereas I I know several women personally who were trained in computer science at home in Kenya and abroad, we were missing in action. One cannot fail to notice the dearth in the blogosphere as well, for African women in ICT blogging or otherwise sharing about their work. Kudos to the team behind the Kenyan Bloggers Webring and African Women Blogs, for their efforts to reverse the downward trend and having support teams and bloggers who have expanded in number considerably.
I have no doubt that there is set to be a dramatic rise in the number of podcasts, blogs and writings that emerge from African women and Kenyan women in particular. Before that happens, more little girls have to have computer lessons, realise that this arena of computing, information technology and web 2.0 is theirs too, and pursue studies in computing to their highest potential. I hope to find examples of Kenyan tech blogging that highlight the few, the strong and the proud. Viva la techie femme!
(Picture : Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research)