Girls Code Their Way Out of Nigeria’s Slums and Into the Tech Sector

Nigeria’s tech industry may be booming, but the sector is still dominated by men.

A coding program aimed at girls from a Lagos slum encourages them to pursue careers in computers and teaches that tech could help life them and their communities out of poverty.

LAGOS, NIGERIA – Twelve-year-old Miriam Matti beams with pride as she runs her index finger over the homepage of the website she has been building for a year now. The site, called Food Insecurity, allows visitors to give money, time or equipment to help struggling farmers. It targets people looking to make charitable donations, but also volunteers who can teach farmers how to use and maintain their tractors.

“I want to get donations such as money and tractors for our farmers, because a farmer using a tractor can farm a large amount of land in one week and produce more food,” Matti says. “A farmer using a hoe and cutlass can take one month to farm their land and will get only a small amount of crops.”

Matti is building herwebsite as part of a coding class she takes through the GirlsCoding program run by the Pearls Africa Foundation, a nonprofit located in Yaba, the tech district of Lagos, Nigeria.

The tech scene in Nigeria is booming. Investment in the country’s industry averaged $73,000 last year, up from $57,000 in 2015, according to VC4A, a platform that connects funders to startups in Africa. And the contribution of the information and communication technology (ICT) sector to Nigeria’s GDP rose from 5.46 percent in 2011 to over 9 percentin the second quarter of last year.

But the industry is still dominated by men. While there is no reliable data on how many women in Nigeria are studying or working in technology, figures do show that women are the minority in all the sciences: Women pursuing careers in science constitute only 17 percent of all science researchers in the country.

The lack of female role models combined with cultural biases that dictate women should be at home raising children are major factors in discouraging Nigerian girls from getting jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), experts say. At the same time, Nigeria continues to wrestle with high early pregnancy rates, with 23 percent of teenagers having their first child before the age of 19.

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