Initiatives to empower young African girls with technological literacy have been making headway across the continent. The African Girls Can CODE Initiative (AGCCI) is one such major initiative. 

The four-year programme, a collaboration between UN Women and The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), aims to train young women from 17 to 20 in the careers of tomorrow, in 14 coding camps around the region over the programme’s duration. 

Currently, subjects such as coding have remained beyond mainstream curricula but the initiative aims to enable access for the women, to ensure they have a pathway to a better future. 

UN Women claims that the digital divide very much remains a gendered one, and that “most of the 3.9 billion people who are offline are in rural areas, poorer, less educated and tend to be women and girls”.

More notable from the research still is that Africa has the biggest digital gender gap, with 18.6% of women using the internet, versus 24.9% of men.

With subjects including computer programming and design, the AGCCI project is helping to introduce women to new skills which otherwise remain out of reach, with the hope that these pioneers will become the teachers and mentors of tomorrow. The idea is to ensure that ICT and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Design, Mathematics) subjects no longer remain the domain of the young males. 

According to research, in 104 countries, more than 80% of the youth population are online. In developed countries, that figure is a massive 94% of young people aged 15-24 who use the internet compared with 67% in developing countries and only 30% in the least developed countries. 

Unsurprisingly, nine out of 10 youths not using the internet live in Africa, Asia or the Pacific, while 39% of the youths online, are in China and India. 

Cultural expectations remain a challenge. Boys are encouraged to take ICT/STEAM subjects while girls are directed to more gender specific education, and even towards the final goal of being a housewife. But times are changing and these women are demanding more. They want to play a role in society and the economy and they are finally being given a voice. And statistics globally show that having more women in the workplace is good for the economy. 

One of the first coding camps for AGCCI took place in Ethiopia in August 2018, with more than 80 girls from 34 countries attending in Addis Ababa. The 12-day event covered areas not only relating to the technicalities around ICT but more social and soft skills such as mentorship sessions where students developed life skills including communication, leadership and critical thinking. 

With a diverse curriculum, including gaming, animation design and robotics, the camp - though focused on the ICT industry - aimed to help the young women become more employable in their home countries. The Ethiopian project is being supported by the African Union Commission (AUC) and AGCCI is sponsored by the Danish government.

It is part of a wider drive being witnessed including the WiSci (Women in Science) camp in Ethiopia (July 3-16, 2019) bringing together girls from the US and Ethiopia at the International Community School of Ethiopia. The WiSci project, supported by partners including the U.S. Department of State, Girl Up, Intel and Google, reflects the growing appetite of young women in the region towards digital literacy, proving themselves key to the industrialisation of the developing world. 

Last summer, WiSci ran a similar initiative, organised by NASA, where nearly 100 girls from around the continent attended a camp held at Namibia University of Science and Technology to learn how to develop mobile applications, coding, geospatial technology and other skills. The curriculum aimed to draw on regional challenges to connect the young women to the relevance of science and technology to communities across Africa, drawing on the likes of Earth observation data and remote sensing.

Globally, UN research found that this gender gap remains prevalent with only around 30% of all female students selecting fields related to STEAM in higher education, and less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women, with that figure falling to as low as 20% Africa.

This challenge of the gender digital divide is not unique to Africa. It is global, but the UN secretary general, António Guterres, says Africa’s women must not get left behind. In March, he said: “Programmes like this (AGCCI) not only develop skills; they challenge stereotypes that limit girls’ ambitions and dreams.”

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