DAKAR, Senegal — Women hold less than 30 percent of Information Technology jobs around the world. Policy makers, organization leaders, politicians and women alike are addressing this statistic with a new energy, aiming to increase women’s role in the technology sector.
In Africa, a growing number of women are entering the tech industry due to outreach efforts by nonprofits and companies. More and more women are becoming tech professionals and seeking opportunities within the sector- on their own terms. Jjiguene Tech Hub, an IT startup run by women in Senegal, is doing just that.
Brightly colored sketches bloom across white sketchpads in a five-bedroom tech hub in Sacre Coeur, a suburb of Senegal’s capital city Dakar. There, a group of women who are primarily in their 20’s, are working on entrepreneurial projects, sharing ideas and learning about the IT industry.
“We want to be a role model for girls and for women in tech. They think it’s just for men,” said Awa Caba, one of the four co-founders of Jjiguene in an interview with BBC.
Jjiguene Tech Hub is Senegal’s first tech hub run for and by women. The word Jjiguene means “woman” in Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal.
The tech hub offers training courses at its headquarters, but also teaches at elementary and secondary schools around Senegal. Courses range from basic introductions to IT and other applications to more advanced coding languages such as HTML and CSS.
Jjiguene Tech Hub hosts a monthly meeting on a number of topics, often involving speakers who provide information regarding audience specific issues. Common focuses are often entrepreneurial and IT education.
Younger members can also get hands on experience and advice from senior members of Jjiguene. There is a structured mentorship program, along with an application and business development training program, for girls ages 13-25.
Due to sponsorships from local businesses and Microsoft, Jjiguene is able to provide its services free of charge. Microsoft, along with other international IT companies, has had a strong presence in Senegal in recent years.
According to a 2013 study by McKinsey Gobal Institute Think Tank, computer and IT related business made up 3.3 percent of Senegal’s gross domestic product, more than any other African country.
Though Senegal’s technology sector is substantially expanding, many women grow up seeing IT has a career path only for men. Jjiguene aims to change that with mentorship, collaboration, development of new technologies, preparation for jobs and education.
Beyond just teaching women about coding, the organization is also focused on finding women working in IT and creating a global network for these women to use.
“Initially I wasn’t excited about it, but I changed my mind because I realised that technology is very, very interesting, particularly for girls,” said Kate Manon Sio in an interview with BBC.
Sio was originally interested in studying languages or communications, but since joining Jjiguene Tech Hub, she has learned coding and become a tech convert.
“Before, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with girls and women involved in this field. Even though I use technology and a computer, I thought it was for men,” she added.
In the less than two years since its beginning, Jjiguene Tech Hub has grown from its core group of four to now reaching 65 women. Attendees range from 18 year olds beginning their professional careers, to those who are heavily involved in the field.
Jjiguene also provides coaching in confidence building and workshops for women attendees. The tech hub believes that an essential part of increasing women’s presence in the IT industry is instilling confidence in interested women.
“Here at the hub they have really pushed me. I learned how to be confident as a girl,” said Aminata Balde, who regularly attends the center. “[Before] I was always afraid to express myself or to handle stuff.”
Senegal’s IT industry is evolving forward, with an increasing number of jobs available. Much of these are taken by men- but Jjiguene hopes to provide the skills and base for women to confidently take on jobs in the technology sector.
Providing IT expertise and training for women creates a channel for change and poverty reduction— altering the success stories that have primarily been focused on men.
“All the success stories [in Senegal’s IT sector]have been about men,” said Jjiguene co-founder Coudy Binta De. “But we have always known that there are a lot of women who are perfect [for the industry].”
– Julia Thomas