SDG 5. Gender inequality continues to hold girls back and deprive them of basic rights and opportunities. Empowering girls requires addressing issues such as unfair social norms and attitudes as well as developing progressive legal frameworks that promote equality between women and men.
According to a 2017 UNESCO report, only 35% of STEM students in higher education are women.* In Ethiopia, where only a third of all higher education students are women, the % of female STEM students is bound to be even lower. The UN agency calls this gender disparity alarming, especially because STEM careers are seen as the jobs of the future. Ethiopian women run the risk of continuing to fall behind in employment, career development and income. For Ethiopian society this means underutilization of intellectual resources, which leads to slower economic growth and fewer technological innovations able to address pressing socio-economic issues. In response, social entrepreneur Masresha Beniam started OmniCoders, an organization that provides girls with interactive and practical training in programming and coding.
*Cracking the code: girls’ and women’s education in STEM (UNESCO, 2017)
In 2018, Masresha and her team measured fulfillment of the targeted outcomes Improved computational thinking, Increased interest in pursuing a career within coding and More positive attitude towards girls’ participation in coding.
“I never imagined I would be able to do all this by myself. My brother is very proud of what I have done and has promised to support me when I pursue Computer Science at the University.” — Rahel
Rahel is a grade 11 student at Bole Preparatory School. She recalls before joining OmniCoders, she used to think technology was something the boys were good at because they were very active during the mandatory IT class that they take at school. Rahel says: “After joining the OmniCoders weekend class every Saturday, I was able to learn what coding was and how I can utilize technology to solve problems in my society. I have developed my first website and I even participate actively during my IT class now, I don’t hate the class anymore.” She adds: “I was also lucky enough to get a scholarship with OmniCoders for the summer class, and this has allowed me to be able to develop an app that provides up-to-date information to users on different matters.”
Masresha looks back at 2018 as the year that she was able to take a crucial step towards full implementation of her program. She explains: “Before 2018, we were in the piloting phase working only in private schools, but this year we started working also in public schools. With advisory and coaching support from Reach for Change, we developed a business model entailing that the revenues from the private schools subsidize the program fees in the public schools. Furthermore we received a grant that helped us get started until we have this model fully in place. Without this funding it would have been impossible to start the program in the public schools and gain the traction we need.”
In order to launch her program in public schools, a key step for Masresha was to get a support letter from government. Masresha explains: “For new organizations this can be really hard, as they lack credibility. However we got a letter of reference from Reach for Change which made it much easier to confidently approach the government and gain their approval.” She continues: “Once we had a support letter from them, the schools were happy to lend us their ICT laboratories and have us provide training to their students.”
During 2018, Masresha operated in seven schools compared to five in 2017, and reached 252 girls.
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