We turn to technology to solve our problems but most of it is designed by men. One woman believes girls can program their own solutions.

Girls sit in front of computer screens learning how to code.

Girls sit in front of computers as they learn to code. (Photo illustration by News Decoder)

This article, by high school student Ama Okigbo, was produced out of News Decoder’s school partnership program. Ama is a student at The Thacher School, a News Decoder partner institution. Learn more about how News Decoder can work with your school.

At 13, Chinyere lives in Ojoto, a small village in the Anambra state of Nigeria with her parents and three siblings. Her brothers help their father at his farm, and the girls help their mother in her odu afia (village market stall). Chinyere’s father is a subsistence farmer but does some menial work on the side (typically outside the farming season).

Meanwhile, Chinyere’s mother sells things from the farm – like fruits, vegetables and products that can be processed at home, like garri flour which comes from cassava root, in her bustling village stall.

Chinyere enjoys watching dancing masquerades with her siblings during the festive season and plays games around the house. She wakes up early to help her mom prepare the wares for sale in the nearby Eke market as their primary source of income.

Afterward, she walks to the school by St. Odilia’s Catholic Church, hoping to learn how to escape poverty. Her underprivileged background means she has yet to be exposed to the forces technology has unleashed, which will dominate and change her world.

While she may have heard of artificial intelligence and Big Data, she does not know the opportunities they hold for her and the threats they will pose if she is unprepared to harness their power.

Technology as the key to advancement

Chinyere’s story is not unique. It is the story of millions of young girls across Nigeria and other countries worldwide. If Chinyere doesn’t attain a proper education and does not embrace the world of technology, her future might be, in reality, similar to the lost tribes of the Amazon. I am being a bit dramatic for effect, but the truth is that Chinyere faces a bleak future.

This awful reality inspired Chioma Agwuego to start TechHerNG, a nonprofit organization that teaches women and girls about technology.

TechHerNG introduces girls from underprivileged backgrounds to technology’s joys and promises. On 4 November 2023, Agwuegbo became the first speaker in a speaker series started by Girls Across Borders, an international nonprofit I founded at my high school to connect teen girls across the world through live Zoom chats.

Agwuego has dedicated the last decade to working with women and girls who have no or limited exposure to technology and its opportunities. The community creates spaces for girls to learn, connect and be themselves. She made this community because there was a high demand for access to technological equipment by women in her community. And Agwuegbo believes that knowledge is power.

TechHerNG teaches its members to leverage technology to understand global affairs and current events. However, it is also aware of the dangers lurking in the corners of the internet, so it created education programs to ensure young women are safe. It has a program with a cybersecurity focus as well.

Bridging the technological divide

During her talk, Agwuegbo emphasized the importance of technology in today’s world. She highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic showed how technology can be a productivity enabler but can also worsen inequality, especially between the Global North and South.

“Covid showed everyone that there is an entire universe within technology and you don’t just want to consume the technology but to produce it,” she said. “That’s where a lot of the money is but more importantly, that’s where the solutions are.”

TechHerNG stresses that those who use tech should also be empowered to create or advance it. As a result, TechHerNG gets girls involved in technology’s innovative side so they can join in developing solutions to the world’s problems.

Agwuegbo said that men have built many of the solutions to women’s issues. The problem is that those solutions are sometimes suboptimal as the men do not experience those issues as the women do.

“If you are not experiencing, you can’t really solve the problem to the fullest extent,” Agwuegbo said.

Women as problem solvers

TechHerNG seeks to empower women with technology so they can adequately address their problems. She said TechHerNG’s overall goal is to give women and girls the opportunity to learn about the world of technology to, in turn, solve issues using technology as the world continues to advance.

“Being a part of tech is also about solving the problems,” she said.

For now, TechHerNG can’t reach girls like Chineyere, who lack the internet connections to join. Chinyere’s main priority is finishing school, and she may never get the opportunity to learn or be exposed to the tech world.

In contrast, I have that opportunity that she yearns for. I attend The Thacher School in California where girls have the freedom and access to technological resources.

With this privilege, I will continue to raise awareness about the issue of the underrepresentation of women in tech and nonprofit organizations like TechHerNG that are giving girls these opportunities to learn about tech.

Three questions to consider:

  1. What are some challenges girls share even when they live in different countries?
  2. What are some of the problems Girls Across Borders faces in trying to connect girls in different parts of the world?
  3. In what ways might someone who lives in a very different culture understand the problems you experience?
Ama Okigbo
Ama Okigbo is in her third year at The Thacher School. She is a published poet and passionate about gender, climate and social justice.
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