Technology, the African women in it, and beer

I remember a girl from my hometown who went off to UC Berkeley the same time I did. She graduated with a degree in Computer Science. I got mine in English Literature because I was too lazy to do four semesters of calculus which I regret every time I need to brag about just how much math I know. While I ended up learning all the skills I needed to work as a developer, my hometown compatriot now works in some wickedly deep assembly language coding which she enjoys very much. For all purposes, she was a very normal girl who was a geek, but at the same time, an extreme anomaly in the US.
I bring this up because of the cartoon down below and what has now become the general perception of “Women in Tech” not only in North America, but to a large degree in Europe. Gone are the days of Grace Hopper and other normal women doing tech-related jobs, although maybe they were never completely here to begin with. Technology seems to still be very much a male dominated world. Women who are considered tech-centric or “geeks” usually take the form of a girl who can blog or install an App on her iPhone.
And when it comes to journalism, it isn’t much better. I read Cringely a good deal as he’s a guy with a serious background in technology. This is often the case for guys talking about tech in that they need to be geeks. For women (again in North America and Europe) the focus is usually on being some cutesy girl who does the occasional special interest piece, but who has no idea which end of a conditional statement is up. The worst of this type are the Sarah Lacys and Xeni Jardins of the world because they create a perception that if you’re a cute, sexy girl, then that’s all that matters. In other words, style and appearance far outweigh the substance of what they write. For instance, most people probably just think that Marissa Meyer is some blond marketing wonkette for Google that they parade around, when in fact she has a Bachelors in Symbolic Systems and a Masters in Computer Science. She has chops, but then again, like my neighbor back home, she is the anomaly. Most peoples’ in depth questions to them stops at asking where they get their hair done. There is a cult of persona that far outweighs the strength of words whether they be good or bad, which is so much the case when it comes to women in tech.
I bring all this up about America/Europe because it provides a background for how technology-related professions have fallen across gender lines in the countries that are seen as defining a lot of the technology in the world. It just happens to be the case that Africa is providing a much more interesting setting for the woman geek in tech. Off the top of my head, I can name , Juliana, Nadine, Brenda, Maureen, Edith, Ory, and of course the fantastic Rebecca (who also sits on the Maneno board.)
It is by no means a paradise of equality. There still are relatively few women in the field overall, and men still dominate by and large, but I generally feel that for those who are in it, they are in it as equals, not as divas trying to provide a “glamorous” angle to the cable rollout in East Africa. You see, any of the women in Africa I know of who work or write in tech are very normal people. I can have great chats with them on just about anything that’s going on in their countries or tech trends at large. They do not ascribe to the princess, “shot by Annie Leibowitz” avatar, “Oh. My. God.” manner of acting; at least not when we’re sharing a beer.
Why is this? Is it such that technology is in such a massive state of flux and upswing on the African continent at large that the playing field is broad enough to include everyone? Or maybe, if you want to generalize, then you could say that a good deal of life in African countries is traditionally male dominated, so it seems like women would be even less prone to any kind of technology. One premise I thought was that it was due to decades of aid expenditures in Africa wherein aid groups keep pounding the fact that gender equality must exist in society, although ironically, the home countries of these groups most often fail at this. I feel like there is some part of that in it along with other factors, but that isn’t the only thing.
Technology, the African women in it, and beer

5 Replies to “Technology, the African women in it, and beer”

  1. I agree that tech in Africa is still in somewhat of an infancy stage in some sense. If you look at the general pattern of development that tech in Africa is taking you can see certain very significant differences to how the same kind of development took place in other areas such as North America or Europe which you could say have reached some form of maturity. For example, it is interesting to note that much of the really influential tech in Africa is motivated by solving very real human/social problems not really out of R&D which I suspect may have been a greater influence on the same in other areas…

  2. In the Educational Technology Debate recently, we thought about how few women seem to be in ICT (compared to men) and wondered:
    How Can ICT in Education Excite Girls and Boys?
    http://edutechdebate.org/gender-equality-in-ict-education/
    Our take-away: mentors and role models matter most, with professional development a strong supporter of increasing the role of women in ICT

  3. I hadn’t actually seen that yet. Good link and very true. Thanks for pointing to it, Idrissa.

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