Girls In ICT Rwanda was born out of the International Telecommunication Union’s Girls in ICT Day which was celebrated for the first time in Rwanda in 2011. During the planning period for that event, the women entrepreneurs involved formed a group – Girls in ICT Rwanda – which the Ministry of Youth & ICT pledged to support.
The group’s goal is to improve the current statistics regarding the numbers of women in the ICT sector as well as to alter the stereotype held by many young girls that ICT is a man’s field. Girls in ICT Rwanda consists of women of all ages working in the field ICT including entrepreneurs, professionals and university students.
The group has visited a number of schools in Rwanda including Lycee de Kigali and Gashora Girls School. During these visits, the group’s members speak to teenage girls to encourage them to consider ICT as a career option as well help them to understand and appreciate the importance of developing ICT skills in any career.
Recently we organised a Networking Night for female ICT entrepreneurs, professionals and students to network with government ICT institutions, private sector and civil society as well as a host of invited guests from the both national and international community. The Guest of Honour was Ann Mei Chang, the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the US Department of State.
Ann Mei began by telling the group about her background in technology including a story of how, at the age of 24, she became the youngest manager at a tech company. She later worked at a number of companies including Google for 8 years where she managed engineers from all over the world.
Ann Mei highlighted several studies addressing the gender gap when it comes to women’s access to technology, particularly access to internet. She pointed out that ICT is one of the fastest growing sectors and that US Department of Labour projections indicate half of the jobs being created in the next 5 years will go unfilled given current talent growth. She said that women could help fill that gap.
A young lady asked Ann Mei if women have to have an interest in computer programming – specifically coding – and if they have to be tomboys to work in the tech industry. Ann Mei said that women should study and work at what they are passionate about – not simply what they expect will bring in the most money. She also pointed out that women in tech fields sometimes feel pressured to fit in – to be one of the boys. She advised women to be true to themselves: if you’re a tomboy, great and if you’re a fashionista, that’s great, too – just be who you are.
Another participant asked for recommendations for people who have an interest in ICT but who don’t have time to take long term courses. Ann Mei suggested taking short courses in mobile app development.
One woman asked what needs to be done to improve the education system in order to attract more teenage girls to ICT. Ann Mei said that many universities have outdated course requirements and that this needs to change. She also discussed the cultural barriers: because the field remains male dominated, the culture in ICT academic and professional environments has naturally evolved to be more attractive to men and boys.
After the session with Ann Mei, Girls In ICT Rwanda officially launched their calendar, which was presented by Consolata Nakure from the Ministry of Youth & ICT. The most imminent event on the calendar was the upcoming celebration of Girls in ICT Day on 25 April 2013. The group is planning a Career Fair where women, both entrepreneurs and professionals, from different areas of the ICT sector will talk to female students about the various career opportunities in the sector.
The activities on the calendar also included an essay competition for school girls with a focus on ICT as well as an ICT holiday camp for young girls. If you are interested in partnering with Girls In ICT Rwanda for any of the events in the calendar, or if you would like more information about the group visit their Facebook page:facebook.com/GirlsInICTRW, Twitter page: twitter.com/GirlsInICTRW or send an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Akaliza Keza Gara, founder of Shaking Sun – a multimedia company – and a member of Girls In ICT Rwanda.