We have all heard the saying, "when you educate a woman, you educate a nation"; I feel like I have heard it so much that, unfortunately, it rings cliché-like. One fact holds true though; it's in our best interest to develop environments that leverage the other half of the population's natural talents -even in technology - so as to grow our economy.
As a country with strong cultural norms still deeply-rooted within society, technology could act as a catalyst to the advancement of women in the economy. This is two-pronged: educating women on tech tools that could improve their businesses/projects: female entrepreneurs can be empowered by mobile connectivity and e-commerce sites. Secondly, is to include women at the forefront of hands-on tech development. The focus of this piece is empowering those already in the tech field.
There is scanty female representation in the tech industry at all levels but female leadership in Rwanda's tech world is even grimmer; there is a handful of women leading tech startups in Rwanda; and how many women do you know of that fill executive office or CEO positions in the tech giant companies of Rwanda? (This is not exclusive to Rwanda by the way: Facebook's board of directors comprises seven men even if the bulk of its users are female).
One key to empowerment is mentoring; younger generations of women lack female role models or mentors and yet it is also true that young women do not actively seek mentorship, male or female, which is half the battle. Unlike their male counterparts barraged by positive male tech industry role models in Rwanda, and around the world, young female scientists have few to look up to. Part of mentoring could include a network of female executives to empower nascent scientists as well as combat gender inequities and gather information about women technologists.
In the entrepreneurship playing field, women need the technology and funding to take their start-ups off the ground. Gender-specific initiatives and angel funding put in place specifically to encourage female tech entrepreneurs could be a start.
I have to add: in a male-dominated tech world, empowerment should come hand-in-hand with protection, and forums to address sexual harassment and discrimination.
Social change takes time - the pipeline from academia is still relatively dry as only a fraction of university graduates in STEM fields are women.
At the end of the day, even as women in industry seek empowerment, more has to be done to have more females graduate in the sciences. Maybe one day Rwanda will produce the next female tech giants, much like Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer and Regina Dugan...