In today’s era, technology defines our very lives. In the past few decades, numerous innovations including computers, mobile phones, and alternative energies have been introduced in our day to day lives, defining not just how we work but also how we live. There however exists a great digital divide – a divide where women and girls enjoy less access to information technology than their male counterparts.
This substantial gap, when it comes to ease of accessibility to information and communication technologies (ICTs), is caused due to various barriers which include low literacy, language barriers, gender discrimination, cultural disparities etc., and these especially occur in developing countries. According to the UNFPA, women receive less formal education than men, and at the same time, women’s own knowledge, abilities and coping mechanisms often go recognized in most regions of the world.
Why is it important for girls to be empowered in matters technology?
• Women need more exposure to technology for the same reasons as men; to access information of importance to their productive, reproductive and community roles and to obtain additional resources. Social media has of late been at the forefront of bringing women’s issues that were previously not discussed into light. Some of these issues include violence against women and children, gender discrimination, sexual harassment etc.
• Access to technology can enable women to gain a stronger voice in their communities and their respective governments. The digital divide brings with it an information divide, one that has set cultures and communities years apart with long-held practices and traditions like Female genital mutilation (FGM) and early child marriages. With the help of connectivity, women in such communities can have their attitudes and mindsets changed, hence empowering more women and girls in those communities.
• Technology can help women with their specific needs. For example, the introduction of specific apps like MAMA, a service that was developed in the partnership with the U.N that gives age-based information to pregnant and new mothers in Africa- letting them make informed decisions about their health. Delivered directly to the woman’s phone, MAMA enabled millions of women to get the information they needed about pregnancy and baby development right in the palm of their hands. Another important invention that can’t go unnoticed is the fertility tracker apps. A good example is Kindara. Used worldwide by millions of women, the app helps women to either get pregnant faster or avoid pregnancy naturally, help them understand their cycles, manage perimenopause, understand PCOS and just generally live in sync with their bodies and cycles
• Mobile telephones, for example, has increased the access, ease of use and coverage among women in rural areas in many parts of the world. Services like our very own M-Pesa have helped empower women especially in the rural areas to help them manage their income and also ensure that even a woman entrepreneur with her own business can still manage the finances of her business and send and receive money all in the comfort of her home
Technology plays a key role in transforming the roles and lives of women and girls globally, not just by empowering them with crucial information but also in helping to change our society as we know it. Right here in Kenya, such a mobile application was developed by students of Precious Blood, Riruta students.
The M-Safiri app which has been designed to ease the process of booking and paying for public transport, emerged second in the 2016 Technovation Challenge, a global contest that recognizes schoolgirls’ technological innovations, that were held in San Francisco, California in the US.
The Precious Blood students, who go by the name ‘Team Sniper’, developed it through App Challenge; an initiative of Safaricom Women In Technology (WIT) dedicated to inspiring women in technology and entrepreneurship and targets girls in high schools for a 12 week coaching period.
This may be a really great step to ending the menace that is endlessly long queues witnessed at booking offices especially during the holiday season. The app is said to provide a reliable and convenient way for Kenyans to book and make payments for public transport, which may be a step to avoiding last minute rushes, inconveniences and misunderstandings that are a common site at booking offices.
The M-Safiri app tied in the second place with ‘Go Green’, an iOS app by New Dork team from USA to minimize food wastage by restaurants. The winning app that clinched the USD100, 000 prize, was ‘OOL’ developed by Team from Mexico to encourage citizens to volunteer in social work.
One of the students from the Team Sniper, Harriet Karanja who is also the Team Sniper Marketing Director pointed out that this would mark a great change in the Kenyan transport industry, one that has received enormous backlash over the amount of economic losses that are reported every year. She also thanked their coach, mentors, teachers and Safaricom Women In Technology who gave them the opportunity to be able to bring necessary change to our society. The M-Safiri developers also hope that the solution will be adopted by booking offices of providers of rental vehicles and limos and as a result raise the standards of public transport in Kenya.
Besides Harriet, other members of Team Sniper are Priscilla Wambui, Laura Ayushi, Victoria Kanan, and Gladys Wairimu and they were coached by Daisy Ndung’u, a student at Multimedia University and mentored by Anne Cheboi, Josephine Kamanthe and Emily Jematia Bett from Safaricom.
Anne Chemboi, a Safaricom WIT member added and said that the achievement of the Team Sniper through innovations such as the Technovation Challenge will go a long way in encouraging other girls in not just kenya but Africa as well to take part in the challenge in the years to come. She also hopes that such innovations will encourage other girls to see themselves not just as users of technology, but as inventors, designers, builders and entrepreneurs.