This guest post was written by Eva Yayi Mawa, Co-Founder of the GoGirls-ICT Initiative and Lecturer at the University of Juba. She is part of the Global Innovation Gathering, a diverse community of innovation hubs, makerspaces, hackerspaces and other grassroot innovation community spaces and initiatives as well as individual innovators, makers, technologists and changemakers.
When I was growing up, one of my half-brothers was not happy that my dad was spending money to send a girl to school; his argument was that one day I would get married and all the money spent on me would be a waste since I was going to benefit my husband’s family and not my dad. This kind of stereotype has been attached to many women across the globe — and especially in my country, South Sudan. As a result, many women in my country are being left behind when it comes to education and opportunities for establishing a career and independence.
Pursuing my Computer Science degree at a foreign university, I came into contact with a lot of female lecturers who were inspirational and good teachers. This exposure built my confidence to try out new things, and especially things that I had considered to be more masculine. I pursued my interest in computer hardware and software repairs, and had fun playing around with screwdrivers and wires. Though many of my friends and family back in South Sudan at first found it bizarre to see a young lady opening and repairing computers, when they saw what I could do, they encouraged me to share my experience and knowledge with students and to inspire other young women to follow this traditionally male career path.
I took their advice and soon applied for a teaching position in the College of Computer Science and Information Technology at the University of Juba, where I became just the second female lecturer on staff. In the classroom, I soon found that many students — but predominantly my female students — were reluctant to contribute to class discussion. Many of them were taking the back seats in the classroom, and their class performance and grades were not very strong. These students were often surprised to see me leading the ICT courses because, to them, these subjects were more ‘masculine’, and were not meant for women. I knew I needed to change these girls’ attitudes, but how was I going to do it without making them lose interest, or become more intimidated than they already were?
Together with another female colleague who shared the same concern, I soon introduced weekend workshops to build the confidence and ICT skills of our female students. We started with more basic topics, like public speaking, to build their confidence to speak up in class. We moved on to teach them more about different technologies, like computer hardware, wireless technologies, and internet use, and introduced them to aspects of programming, including animation with scratch programming. We aimed to make learning technology fun, but most importantly, we made these girls our friends, and served as role models, assuring them that we were there to support and guide them.
The results? These girls soon took the lead in class discussions, their class performance improved, and in many cases, they were actually creating better technology ideas than their male counterparts, bringing creativity and artistry to their ideas.
Technology needs to be inclusive. We are now in an era where the world needs women to create new possibilities using technology. Many fragile countries in Africa, like South Sudan, still lag behind in this area. African governments, especially in these fragile countries, have to support women to take up technology-related careers, and have to help and support them to break mindsets that are holding them back. The world is changing and it is critical that women are able to change with it.
Eva Yayi Mawa is Co-Founder of the GoGirls-ICT Initiative and Lecturer at the University of Juba. She is part of the Global Innovation Gathering, a diverse community of innovation hubs, makerspaces, hackerspaces and other grassroot innovation community spaces and initiatives as well as individual innovators, makers, technologists and changemakers. To learn more about Eva and her work, please visit gogirlsict.org or check out GoGirls ICT’s Facebook page.