10 September 2012

Rwanda: 'Technology Won't Find You a Husband'

There are men who, in their leisure time, have a constant habit of checking for new phones, laptops, home theaters and TV on the Internet. And once they get the gadgets, they want to connect them themselves, tweaking all kinds of settings. They are impatiently waiting for next Wednesday - the day Apple will show off the iPhone 5.

Yet this world of "geeks," as they are called, is mainly populated by men, and it is hard to find women interested in technology. "Women like easy things and that's why you won't find many of them involved in technology stuff," says Florence, who works in a local second-hand computer shop. "I've never been excited by having a smartphone, and the one I'm using is a gift from my brother."

In the shop too, her male co-worker is mainly the one dealing with clients because he knows everything about software and hardware. Florence only got interested in technology in May, when she got her job. Before that, she had an inactive email of which she forgot the password all the time.

"I am always thirsty of acquiring new skills but I have a problem of who will teach me," Florence says. "My partner hasn't the will to show me how he does the stuff. He thinks I won't be able to grasp and master everything quickly, because he thinks tech stuff is difficult for women."

Using the Internet, she eventually managed to teach herself the basics of IT such as formatting disks and the difference between the specs of high-end and low-end computers. She even went farther and she's now able to install as well as uninstall applications on her own Nokia smartphone.

The customers of the shop, too, are mostly men; the few women who visit are usually accompanied by male partners, and look uninterested.

This lack of interest seems to be widespread and deep-rooted, as evidenced by the choices made by female students when asked, at the end of secondary school, to list their three preferences for university. "If you choose technology, your friends will do everything to discourage you, saying that you won't be able to even finish the first year," says Carine Mugeni. "So most girls will choose a faculty 'for women,' such as Literature or Accounting."

There are exceptions though, such as Clarisse Iribagiza, the founder of Girls in ICT, an initiative by female ICT entrepreneurs to promote ICT and entrepreneurship among girls. She rubbishes the idea that technology is not for women. "I think it's basically stereotypes in our culture that present anything to do with technology as a man's world that prevent girls from embracing ICT. This also affects the way that it is taught in schools, which results into a vicious cycle and few girls in ICT."

Since its creation in November last year, Girls in ICT has visited schools and shared success and awakening stories with girls. "My advice to anyone is to do what they are passionate about and look at ways to integrate technology into it," Iribagiza added.

She'd better brace for a hard and long battle, because many women are still stuck in the traditional gender roles. "A woman is interested in buying nice clothes, bras and lingerie; she won't hesitate to pay Frw 100,000 for a Louis Vuitton handbag," says Raissa Kamanzi, adding that it would however be useless to spend the same amount on technology gadgets. "After all, technology won't find you a husband."

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