KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
IT ALL started from a two-week mobile application boot camp which was hosted by Bongo Hive.
Three young women – Chisenga Muyoya, Regina Mtonga and Ella Mbewe – were part of 50 others who had gathered for the boot camp.
The three were bothered by the low participation of women in the world of technology and decided to do something about it.
The highly technical workshop held under Bongo Hive’s mentorship was a reflection of the poor levels of women’s participation in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector.
That is how Asikana Network was born, an organisation that aims to increase the interest and participation of girls and women in ICTS, including taking up careers in this field.
The network was established in 2012 with the aim of, among other things, changing the mind-sets of girls so that they could take up careers in technology and science.
“Asikana Network was formed in January 2012 in an effort to address the numerous barriers faced by women in ICT. This was done through the realisation that there are less opportunities for girls in technology,” Asikana Network administration and social manager Thandiwe Mwale said.
Objectives of the network include the provision of ICT skills, training and capacity building, mentorship, facilitation of placement for suitably qualified women and provision of an interactive networking platform for like-minded women.
Other objectives are provision of a forum that promotes women’s participation in ICT and advocate policies and legislation that endorse the active involvement of women in the ICT sector.
Ms Mwale explained that Asikana Network currently operates through online and physical meet-ups.
Online meet-ups are cost-effective and also give women and girls an opportunity to utilise different technologies.
“The network conducts free woman-to-woman training on a monthly basis in an attempt to build their capacity. These exercises are extremely effective in building women’s confidence,” she said.
Asikana Network also profiles mentors who attend the online and physical meet-ups to ensure that role models are constantly visible and accessible to the young women.
Ms Mwale said the target for the network programmes are high school pupils, university or college students and young women working or those seeking work in the ICT industry.
The network has different programmes that involve schools and these include the engagement of 30 rural girls through the Taungana Africa Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fellowship and Taungana Career Guidance Expo.
The expo is an initiative that seeks to give rural secondary school girls in the southern African region an opportunity to connect with STEM professionals, get exposure to lead STEM organisations, career paths and become STEM promotion ambassadors in their own communities.
Ms Mwale said the programme which is hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa, brings together 30 secondary school girls from Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa every year. The programme started in 2014.
During their eight-day stay in Johannesburg, the girls go through a class where they present project proposals based on ideas generated from their communities. They also propose solutions for their identified issues.
Asikana Network also conducts basic computer literacy training with community centres for girls and young women aged between eight and 25.
The network also partnered with organisations such as Lubuto Library Partners to allow girls who use the library to take part in training sessions.
Lubuto Library Partners gender outreach coordinator Chishimba Kasanga said under the Dreams Project, adolescent girls aged between 15 and 24 are trained by Asikana Network in ICT skills.
“Having female mentors has helped our girls a lot as they are now willing and are eager to learn about computers. The training is helping them come out of their shell,” she said.
Asikana Network also offers career guidance in schools.
Over 70 schools have benefited from programmes Asikana Network has implemented so far and over 2,500 young people have been reached.
Some of their activities include working with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) Zambia, over 40 free networking meet-ups, talks and conferences, 50 free training sessions in web development, basic computer literacy, games development training, video production and editing.
Others are one-to-one mentorship of women in technology, computers skills training in over 20 public schools, reaching up to 1,000 young minds as well as launching of the pioneering Women’s Rights App for mobile phones – WRAPP, which was featured on Facebook’s Free Basics Platform.
Ms Mwale said the CrowdMap of African Women in Technology Initiatives has since been created.
“Our recent training was with Chainda community centre,” she said.
But it is not all rosy for the network members, who won the 2015 ICT recognition award from ZICTA.
She said the network is in need of computers for trainees so that they could practise what they learn whenever they can.
Chiluba Fungo is one of the beneficiaries of the Asikana Network who has continued to gain skills from the programmes offered. She has been trained in video editing and web developing.
“ICT is a male-dominated industry and I didn’t consider it for myself. When I started the training, it was a challenge for me but I persevered. It also helps that Asikana has follow-up programmes,” Chiluba said.
Chiluba is happy that the skills she has gained have helped her get a job.