Sometime ago in Abeokuta, Ogun state of Nigeria, I had an encounter with Tola, a 15 year old girl. Tola shared how passionate she was about technology but had been sternly warned by her parents that women Engineers are not fashionable. Upon further enquiry, she confided in me that she thought it was true because there are not many role models.
To think that the most arduous task of propounding a complete theorem for the moon landing exercise was done by Katherine Johnson was totally forgotten while the “one small step for man” speech by Neil Armstrong has been the mantra of the space journey. It was only recently that a motion picture “Hidden figures” was made in Katherine Johnson’s honour. This brings to bear the dichotomy between man and woman and more specifically, the marginalization of woman in the Technology sector in Nigeria. For purposes of clear understanding, marginalization entails deliberately making someone or a group less significant.
Marginalization can be done in different forms; the most brutal and very less palpable is Systemic Marginalization, which is naturally put in the consciousness of many a young girl in Nigeria that technology is not for them.
A detailed study by M.A Anagbogu of Nnamdi Azikwe university published by the Ghana journal of development studies, 2008 carefully shows the trajectory of the the drop in Number of females in the study of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. The study carefully shows a considerable drop in the number of women in STEM subjects. Some of the factors itemized in this article includes the role of ladies as home makers. The fact that they lack role models, the biological clock palava and other niggling challenges like the “hazard” and the “risk” attached to technology based jobs. For instance, the number of female geologists has dropped considerably in Nigeria with just about a 10% intake relative to male counterparts in Nigerian universities as asserted by several journals.
For Nigeria to meet development milestones in tandem with various sustainable development goals set by the United nations, there must an accelerated dialogue as regards this subject matter
Amidst all of this, I must say some women have decided to upset the status quo and these women I call the outliers. When I speak to them I sense that ‘can-do’ spirit to constantly do the impossible. Past federal minister of ICT, Mobola Johnson, Google Nigeria country manager, Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor, CEO MainOne Funke Opeke and GirlsCoding convener Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin, celebrated developer Ire Aderinokun, Nkem Begho, Women’s Technology Empowerment Centre (WTEC) founder, Ore Somolu etc, are a few examples that immediately come to mind.
I once asked Funke Opeke of MainOne what her journey was and she retorted, “it’s been tough”
Her tenacity, however has produced groundbreaking results – raising close to 300 million dollars to start MainOne was no joke! It needed a great level of belief and breaking one more layer of the glass ceiling as Hilary Clinton calls it. While I am excited that the outlier list is fast growing in Nigeria, I maintain women are still marginalized. The basis for this is the ratio of female to male tech start ups in Nigeria. What is the ratio of female to male programmers? Even at very progressive startups like Andela; what is the ratio? How many startups are owned by females? How many female CTOs are there?
Looking at the Outlier list above, it is easy to get carried away by the positions some of these women hold which makes us so quick to fall into a common Nigerian trap of some women doing great forgetting or deliberately unconcerned about their number.
Other Silent Killers
It is regretful that while we throw so much light on the US’ Silicon Valley and Hollywood sexual harassment issues, we forget that there is a lot of sexual predation against women in the Nigerian tech space and bullying. A young, very attractive developer once confided in me that most meetings turn into a “touching session” and she would be forced to vacate the scene. She further quoted one investor as saying she “would make more (money) being a sidechick than this coding thing.” This leaves the adoption of technology especially among women in a dire space.
Without doubt, quite a lot of intervention has gone into encouraging women in technology at the most minimal level; communities like Women in Management& Business (WIMBIZ), Technovation (which I am a part of), She Leads Africa (SLA), to programs by Intel endorsed by Titi Sonuga (an engineer by training but a poet by practice), I believe these interventions and more of such are needed to shore up the potential of women in this sector most especially because women have more aptitude for technology skills.
The Way forward
One way to benefit from the country’s relationship with China in this regard would be enlist members of the Beijing conference protocol function in tech companies by way of quota system. Also, women’s right issues have to be revisited from the angle of government’s willingness to encourage women in technology. In Burkina Faso today, women are considerably more respected because Thomas Sankara championed women rights and declared days where men and women swap roles to ensure that a man knows what a woman “feels”.
In essence, societal values have to be revisited as a panacea in curbing this trend but most importantly the buck stops with everyone.