This past August, over 80 girls from 34 African countries attended the first Coding Camp in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, for 10 days. The camp launched the African Girls Can CODE Initiative, a joint program of the African Union Commission (AUC), UN Women Ethiopia, and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

According to UN, the four-year program will help young girls with digital literacy, coding, and personal development. The girls will receive training as programmers, creators and designers, and computer experts who will have opportunities in ICT and coding. 

15-year-old camp participant Eno Ekanem, from Abuja, Nigeria, said, “Girls face discrimination in the sector because computer science has always been seen as a course for boys, not girls." She said she often hears, “Shouldn’t you learn to be a housewife or do girly stuff?”

Based on ITU data from last year, Africa faces a huge gender gap when it comes to the internet, with only 18.6 percent of women who use it, compared to 24.9 percent of men. 

Why the disparity? It comes down to expectations and responsibilities. UN Women quoted 19-year-old program participant Colleen Chibanda, from Harare, Zimbabwe, who said that cultural and family expectations play a big role. She said "Most of the time, young girls in ICT get married and their potential is swept under the carpet because they now have different responsibilities."

This program seeks to change that.

Letty Chiwara, UN Women representative in Ethiopia, the AU, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said, "Technology in its various forms, including [ICT], continues to redefine and revolutionize the way we all live and work. Harnessing this technology to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only vital for women and girls but critical throughout the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. If we do not have enough women in the so-called fourth industrial revolution, we will not get the variety of solutions that are needed by women and girls. By teaching coding and other digital skills to young women, we can reduce youth unemployment and also achieve gender equality, women's empowerment and accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The African Girls Can Code initiative will run through 2022. The program hopes to reach at least 2,000 girls through 18 coding camps.