Yeshimebet Werku, a 12-year-old girl from Bahir Dar, has been lucky enough to be a part of a Smart-up project Coding Skill training organized by Plan International Ethiopia, in collaboration with Bahir Dar University.
The fifth grader, who aspires to become an engineer, is among the young girls the program helps, by familiarizing them with current technological advancements so that they would join Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields in their pursuit of higher education. Yeshimebet said the training has helped a lot to improve her English, reading speed and calligraphy skills.
However, girls residing outside city limits are not as fortunate to get opportunities like the smart-up project. In a country where 70 percent of higher education fields are in STEM, women make up only 22 percent.
Plan International, in collaboration with the Ministry of Innovation, held a day celebrating women in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). The event featured women who are currently thriving in the field of ICT and young girls that aspire to pursue careers in ICT and STEM.
The event specifically addressed the growing disparity and gender gap in higher education enrollment and completion of women’s educational studies.
“The international day of the girl in ICT exists to encourage young woman to pursue careers in ICTs. The visible gender disparity is alarming when STEM courses are often referred to as jobs of the future, and also jobs where men are disproportionately presented. Within the work force of Ethiopia, only 28 percent of women are able to have careers in STEM subjects,” said Mudesir Sedik, Country director of Plan International Ethiopia.
A lot of women that manage to complete their studies and pursue a career in science and technology, are faced with more hardships, skeptical environments and stigmatization from a society conditioned to associate the field with males.
The founder and co-owner of the ride hailing app, Ride, Samrawit Fikru, reflected on how it was difficult to put her foot-in in a competitive sector, as a woman, before her business got its current acclaim and success.
“I had developed two systems prior to starting Ride. The first system I developed was a short code for a fundraising and I proposed it to the Abay Dam project but they rejected it. I went around government offices, organizations and associations, and they all rejected it,” said Samrawit.
“Back then, I was a 23-year-old girl who wanted to contribute but they all saw my proposals as a joke and they didn’t take me seriously as an owner and developer of my own system,” added Samrawit.
Indicating the same thing happened on her second project as well, Samrawit said she launched Ride and kept her identity a secret until the business picked up because people found it easier to invest in her business, when they didn’t know a woman was behind every aspect of it.
Education for girls is not just about enrolment. It is also about career paths that determine future incomes. Even though there is a minor increase in enrolments for girls, still, fewer girls choose career paths in STEM fields. Many girls are deterred from entering the STEM workforce due to outdated stereotypes that exist to this day.
These stereotypes are not only inhibiting women in developing countries but even high-income countries that promote gender equality practices, have a shortage of women in STEM education. In the United States, between 2017 and 2018, only 36 percent of students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in STEM were women.
Education plays a very important role in eradicating poverty and improving health and sanitation, leading to better economic and social development and higher living standards.
In a developing country like Ethiopia that has a population of 110 million, only 17 percent of its women are literate, while according to a report released by the Borgen project shows females only make up 27 percent of the university population, a quarter of whom will drop out before graduation.
Understanding the need for more women in these fields, Plan International Ethiopia is working to find young women through creating an enabling environment where women and adolescent girls are safe, valued, equally cared for, and have equal opportunities.
In their strategic period 2020-2024, Plan International Ethiopia aimed to reach 2.1 million girls, adolescent girls and young women directly, and an additional 6.3 million beneficiaries through its interventions. It has managed to teach young girls and boys basic computer skills, even piloting out a project in remote areas using solar powered tech schools with equipped facilities to teach kids who otherwise wouldn’t get the access to those technologies.
The project aims to reach more girls and boys to prepare them for the fast growing and ever-changing world of technologically advanced workforce.