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Bridging the gap in tech...

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By Adeela Akmal
Tue, 02, 19

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated each year on February 11th.....

Female graduates, mentors, cheif guests & the ‘Tech Karo’ team smile for the camera.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated each year on February 11th. This week You! highlights an initiative ‘Tech Karo’, launched in Karachi last year, which aims to create a pipeline of women in tech by providing web development and life skills to youth, especially women from the underserved communities...

As we speedily move towards an era of complete digitisation, we see a shift in the type of work that is required to be done. With this shift, there comes a change in the skills required and a change in the workforce. Sadly, when it comes to the field of technology, we have witnessed a noticeable gender imbalance making it a male-dominated industry. Young women often second-guess themselves, seeing the kind of obstacles they would have to face in the tech job market.

Tackling some of the greatest challenges - from improving health to combating climate change - heavily relies on harnessing all the talent we can find. This means getting more women working in these fields, so diversity in research expands the pool of talented researchers, bringing in fresh perspectives, talent and creativity.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated each year on 11th February. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to promote full and equal access and participation in science for women and girls. The Day is a reminder that women and girls play a critical role in science and technology communities and that their participation should be strengthened. The celebration is led by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UN-Women, in collaboration with institutions and civil society partners that promote women and girls’ access to and participation in science.

Keeping this in mind, this week You! takes a look at an initiative ‘Tech Karo’ that aims to create a pipeline of women in tech by providing web development and life skills to youth, especially women from the underserved communities.

‘Tech Karo’ was launched in February 2018 by CIRCLE, a social enterprise led by Saddafe Abid, in Karachi’s Usman Institute of Technology with the partnership of Engro Vopak Terminal Limited, to provide technical training. CIRCLE is focused towards women’s participation in the economy through advocacy, research, entrepreneurship, digital skills and innovative leadership labs in order to support women’s empowerment. Which is why, it believes that the future in new jobs and opportunities lies in technology and wanted to promote technological skills amongst women rather than provide them with traditional skills. “The idea behind this initiative was to utilise the potential of women so that they could contribute financially towards improving the circumstances and lifestyle of their families, and also contribute to the country’s economy,” tells Saddafe Abid.

The programme is designed for the course of eight months which will be carried out annually. It combines programming and web development, and is intended to impart a sense of confidence, and to enable women to find pride in their work. The programme has three components of Web Development Classes, Life Skill Sessions, and Monthly Mentor Meet-ups. The classes consist of four-hour sessions held twice a week with one day for Life Skill sessions. The web development classes teach the participants front-end web development through software such as HTML, CSS3, JavaScript programming, mobile web apps, and so forth.

‘Tech Karo’ students hard at work in one of the classes

Moreover, in order to combat any sort of harassment, the programme also includes courses on self-defence, and life skills for professional use such as communication, collaboration, discipline, teamwork and financial literacy. Mentor meet-ups are conducted monthly and tech companies and technology experts are invited to participate in the initiative. Furthermore, this initiative is heavily subsidised and cost only a nominal 500 PKR a month. Despite this, scholarships are made available to those who are unable to pay even this small amount of money.

“‘Tech Karo’ has created a new category of coders in the market. There is no precedent for a similar web development and life skills training programme - targeting the underserved and non-computer science students - that has successfully trained students in coding and placed them in internships. This has inspired more young people to pursue tech and achieve upward mobility through higher income,” highlights Mashal Mehmood, a key member of the ‘Tech Karo’ team. So far, the initiative has had 50 graduates (62 per cent female) and around 30 placed in internships at leading tech companies. The graduates are given certificates to ensure that jobs as well as freelancing options are made available to those who undertook and completed the course.

Through this initiative, many women have managed to gain useful skills that empowered them to pursue careers in tech and break societal barriers at the same time.

The team behind ‘Tech Karo’.

Syeda Suman, a teacher at Zindagi trust and a student at ‘Tech Karo’, has always been interested in web development. She believes that it’s extremely important for women to be in this field so they can break stereotypes about tech being a ‘men’s-only field’ and prove people wrong about this bias, “The mentor session was extremely insightful and helpful; I learned many new skills and also received constructive feedback on ways to improve my site from mentors from leading tech companies such as 10pearls, Systems, IBM, and many more.”

Similarly, Naureen, who has a degree in B.com, believes that learning coding skills is an incredibly great asset for women. “There are a lot of women who wouldn’t have been able to afford to enrol in a coding programme. ‘Tech Karo’, however, has a lower fee which provides women access to a high quality web development course. Women can learn how to code and develop websites, and if they can’t work at an office for personal reasons, they still have the choice of being a freelancer,” she tells.

Mirroring the same sentiment, Maria Azhar says, “I discovered a new love for coding when I joined here. After eight months of training, I have been offered an internship at IBEX.”

Saba learned about ‘Tech Karo’ from her friends and what attracted her to the programme was that it was working towards women empowerment in a male-dominated field. She describes her experience to be extremely uplifting. “I didn’t have hope that I’d accomplish anything in life. But after enrolling here and learning web development, I feel like I can accomplish something in life and support my family,” she shares.

Shama, who did her inter from Urooj Pilot School, had always been interested in designing websites and chose to start her journey from here. “I strongly believe that this was a great decision I took, as the mentors have been very supportive. They encourage the students to learn from their mistakes which is why I am more confident now. Before this, I used to doubt myself a lot. Now, I know my skills and can leverage them to earn,” enthuses Shama.

Finally, Ayesha, a TCF graduate, highly benefitted from the programme, “I had no computer skills before ‘Tech Karo’. I have learned how to code and have gained so much confidence in my skills that and now I plan to open up a small school to teach basic computer skills to girls from my community.”

One of the main tools for tackling gender inequality in the sciences is dismantling the barriers for girls and women, at home, in the classrooms and at workplaces. This requires a change in attitudes and challenging the stereotypes, which can be achieved with more initiatives like this.