Technology a key tool in recognising Ugandan girls’ right to learn
Day of the African Child
Girls learn how to assemble a Kano computer kit at a Theirworld Code Club in Uganda Picture: Women in Technology Uganda
Barbara Birungi was one of the few women to work at a software development consultancy in Uganda. In Africa, she explains, different priorities are attached to men and women – and it is often the girl who suffers.
Today, on Day of the African Child, we are reminded of the importance of all children’s rights – regardless of gender.
For Barbara the day means “recognition” – to recognise that girls have the right to learn and make their own decisions, without being forced into early marriages or being subject to violation and abuse.
Despite the country’s implementation of the Universal Primary Education scheme to provide free schooling for underprivileged children, the reality is that many parents cannot afford to send all their children to school because of associated costs such as uniforms, books and pens.
Girls’ education is compromised when families are forced to make a choice about sending their daughter or son to school.
These decisions, and many others made throughout a girl’s life, affect who they are and what they want to be.
“Most women are employed in HR, secretarial and administration positions,” says Barbara, “And there is a lot of scepticism around getting girls into technology, especially as it is a relatively new field in Africa.”
A girl at the Theirworld Code Club in Uganda learning how to code Picture: Women in Technology Uganda
But she does not shy away from the challenges and set up Women in Technology Uganda (WITU) to motivate and encourage girls and young women in to the technology sector and to provide them with the support needed. WITU now benefits more than 350 girls a year.
Barbara explains: “It is important for more girls and women to get into technology because there are certain challenges specific to women, that only women are able to solve. If a man tries to solve these, he may not hit the nail on the head.
“Diversity is also incredibly important and by having two genders at the top of an office it is better than just one”.
Barbara believes that technology can help solve some of Uganda’s unemployment issues, particularly as the sector is expanding across the country.
Some of the girls who join WITU have no experience in technology. But, through developing key skills and receiving the support, girls have gone on to start their own companies.
“One of the girls that came to us had dropped out of school and came to us saying she was very good at tailoring, so we taught her about e-commerce,” says Barbara. “She created an online store, has been able to hire other young tailors and see her business grow to become profitable.”
Barbara emphasises the importance of introducing girls to technology at an early age. She says: “it is important to give them [girls] a chance to see that the tech field can be fun and presented in a way that looks attractive to women…it is not true that boys do better than girls, young girls are at the same level – they are curious, want to explore and learn.”
Watch our video about Theirworld Code Club in Kenya
Theirworld Code Clubs are one way in which girls can engage with technology at an early age in a way that’s fun and creative. WITU has partnered with the children’s charity Theirworld to run Code Clubs for girls aged six to 25.
Girls assemble their own kit computers supplied by Kano and they learn coding and programming. But they also go to the clubs and develop their life skills and confidence.
Barbara says: “When a girl is able to put together a computer and the light comes on and it works, that is a moment that you can never take away from her. At that moment, she falls in love with technology.
“The Code Clubs are a safe space where these girls come, learn their rights, develop their confidence… and they aren’t afraid to talk about the challenges they are facing”.
As we reflect on how we can protect children’s rights this International Day of the African Child, Barbara reminds us of the importance of knowing one’s rights.
She says: “Knowing your rights empowers you to be able to fight for them. In this world it’s all about working hard and being who you want to be.
“It shouldn’t ever be that you can’t do things because you are a girl. Being a girl is power.”
Barbara is one of the teachers at Theirworld’s Code Clubs. At the Clubs girls learn how to code, foster creative thinking and develop important knowledge and skills for the future, all in a safe learning space. The Code Clubs are supported by donors including the players of People’s Postcode Lottery. For more information, visit Theirworld.