In communities all around the world, the girl child has been continually suffocated and suppressed from pursuing and achieving goals beyond social norms, prejudices and discrimination. Often dejected and rejected from aiming for the sky, traditional roles and ‘rules’ that have barred women and young girls are slowly being dissolved and the box is certainly being effectively shaken up.
“We educate women because it is smart. We educate women because it changes the world,” Drew Faust, the President of Harvard University quotes. And she, as well as many who adopt this view, are not only right but portray a very powerful standpoint which needs to not only be embraced worldwide but fully supported. And why not?
Every year, on 11 October, the world opens its arms and celebrates the International Day of the Girl Child. The day is usually accompanied by a different theme each year that propels and excites awareness, discussion and attention to matters at hand that are affecting girls worldwide. It gives a voice to young girls who have to fight and stand up for their rights when they already deserve them. My Voice, Our Equal Future is the robust remark that is leading this year’s theme. A strong statement, heavy with the intention to empower and motivate young girls to adopt and learn the necessary skills and education to usher in a new wave of ambitious and inspirational go-getters who aim high and dream even bigger. To lead by example and use their voices to carve out a space that fiercely nurtures the growth of the girl child and uplifts her regardless of any challenges.
As we move into a more digitally advanced world, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are ever more integral and young girls are now being motivated and inspired to not only go for the sciences but to also break the gender gap barriers in these sectors. The sciences are no longer a male-dominated corner but rather, more women are coming out ahead and leading the path, working against the discrimination and the social roles and standing out as role models and encouraging examples.
CIO East Africa’s HerNovation which holds a series of events for women in tech throughout the year, held a successful webinar to commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child. This was the result of hosting an array of enlivening and inspirational panellists and speakers, all from the world of tech. Cutting-edge women who broke down stereotypes and dissuasion, just to stick by the passion and love of technology and effectively bulldozed into a world of opportunities and success. As they shared their stories, truly motivated attendees felt honoured and encouraged to dream big.
One of these empowering speakers at the webinar was Ruth Kaveke, Executive Director of Pwani Teknowgalz. Her journey and success is truly one to aspire to. “My aim is to encourage attendants to love and leverage on technology to advance their personal aspirations and career goals,” she says.
Having a passion for technology is what drove her to grow her skills and follow the voice of her excitement. Delving into Computer Studies in high school, as many young girls have experienced, she was discouraged by those around her, not to follow this voice.
“Girls in Form 3 and Form 4, would discourage us, saying that it’s difficult and that we’d fail, But I was really determined. It was something I really wanted to do,” she noted. And determined she was as she took her studies to the university level, and was perplexed at the 6:60 ratio of women and men in the class. Through using her voice, intellect, education and drive, she and her colleagues, Aisha Abubakar and Joan Nabusoba, co-founded Pwani Teknowgalz. The organisation’s mission is to “equip girls and young women in marginalized communities in Kenya with employable practical skills in STEM with the aim of empowering them economically to be sustainable and contribute to the digital economy.”
Since their start in 2015, the women-led organization has deployed several projects and programs, aimed at arming women with the technological and scientific skills needed to contribute to the upward progress of the digital economy and thus the enhancement of society from a macro perspective. They have managed to work with over 5,000 young women and continue to reach greater lengths to inspire and attract young women into sharing and growing within the technological space. They oversee several programs such as STEM CAFE Kenya, Technovation, Codehack, Africa Code Week, Mombasa Girls in STEM and Django Girls.
As a result of the pandemic and lockdown as an effect, Pwani Teknowgalz continued their efforts and projects to ensure the continuance of collaboration and participation with young girls in the community.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic started, we began to provide free technology skills in Mobile and web development, graphics and leveraging social to scale market reach and impact to the public weekly on Tuesday. Secondly, we moved our physical web development classes online and this resulted in us training local and international students from Kenya and Texas,” she commented. An organisation whose values embody the drive to move forward despite current challenges.
Ambition and tenacity are two of the major takeaways from Ruth’s journey. “I want to inspire the young girls who are in university and college, whatever you do, you can use your voice to be able to provide an equal future for other girls,” she remarked. “You have to work for it, all these opportunities are there, you just have to take an initiative, apply and join,” she urged on. Owing to the fact that it’s not only possible to go for your dreams and aspirations but also to grow and expand in them as well because as long as you go for it, it’s already yours.
She emphasises the importance of leveraging your skills to propel, create a new path for other girls to follow, and to slowly melt the gender gap that holds young girls back from realizing and actualizing their careers and goals. “Seek for advice and mentorship, if there’s an opportunity you always wanted in life, go for it as a girl, as a young woman…in life, you will always get a response of either yes or no and the word No will not kill you,” she confidently stated in her closing remark. A confidence that I am sure pierced through all attendees, solidifying how possible of a hurdle it is to jump for women who feel squandered and discouraged from going for the jugular when it comes to opportunities.
The largest takeaway from the event, in line with the theme of My Voice, Our Equal Future, is urging, encouraging and welcoming young girls to dream up a successful future version of themselves and to just go for her, regardless of and no matter what. To embody a fierce fire that blazes through the field of gender gaps and discrimination and comes out shining and bright enough to lead the way for future trailblazers as well. You have everything, within your means, to go get her.
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