By Dr. Hasnain Walji
Across all sectors and demographics, including the Khoja Community, women empowerment is a buzzword today. Many aspire for it, and some drag their feet, but few have been able to make a significant impact changing the status quo. CodeGirls is a transformative female empowerment initiative that facilitates our young women to excel in the field of information technology as well as help cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset for participants.
Established in July 2018, through a partnership of ConsulNet Corporation, United Global Initiative and WomenIntechPk, CodeGirls just held a milestone graduation ceremony at the end of its first year. It just seems like yesterday. when I had a chance conversation with my co-founder Shamim Rajani, on the potential of creating more female tech entrepreneurs like her in Pakistan. “I can do it” she said confidently. It was hard to imagine, that after that very first conversation and further collaboration with our third partner Faiza Yusuf, how quickly that idea, we now call CodeGirls has become a life changing, dynamic women empowerment enterprise. The rest is history – suffice it to say that the original projections and our commitment to fund 100 girls in the first year was grossly underestimated. Thank God for the generosity of Khoja philanthropists like the Jaffer Family Foundation of New York and Haidery Benevolent Trust of Karachi, amongst others, that the Code girls’ team has been able to enroll over 500 girls, of which 411 successfully completed the program.
A game changer for some families
What is all the more gratifying is that CodeGirls project has made a difference in a short span of a year. Almost half the girls are enrolled come from households whose family income is below 50,000 rupees. Contrast that with the fact that some girls soon found jobs ranging from 10,000 to 40,000 rupees ($250) This is a game changer for some families.
What is important is to get a wider perspective on the impact of tech related women empowerment projects such as CodeGirls. In common with most countries in the world, more than half of Pakistan’s population is comprised of women. Yet, statistics show only 22 percent of women officially partake in some form of economic activity in Pakistan. This is one of the lowest rates of female labor force’s participation in the South Asian region. At the other end of the spectrum, information-technology firms dominate the fastest-growing sectors in the world and also the highest paying. Needless to state everyone uses computers, businesses rely heavily on technology and demand for services are growing at the stellar pace
This juxtaposition makes female empowerment projects in IT sector a potent combination toward fast tracking economic upliftment in a society. It can enhance the economic status of a family by putting more women in the work force. Hence closing the gender gap in technology has the power to change lives as it can provide access to a whole new world of opportunities for women and is the first step in creating an inclusive tech economy where everyone gets to contribute and generate incomes for themselves and their families.
Form a cultural context, in Pakistan the prospect of women working outside of the home can be a problem for some families. No other industry has such a huge freelancing potential where women can stay at home and work.
A Unique Training Philosophy
Bridging the gap between academia and the professional world, the CodeGirls philosophy is to involve professional developers as trainers rather than bring in teachers from academia. Here the students are not told, but rather shown, how it is done. There’s a huge difference between learning from textbooks and getting hands-on practice and experience. The soft skills, offered by women leaders in the Pakistani tech sector, on entrepreneurship, financial literacy as well as personal development account for the confidence the girls develop while they learn coding,
The very first step in developing the curriculum was to get feedback from the Industry, locally, nationally and globally to understand exactly what employers want to ensure that that the training given will correspond to job openings for them. The fact that we soon had several companies already offering them paid internships is a testimony to the relevance of the training. In this the support that the Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA) has been critical as it been by encouraging its member companies to offer paid internships to our graduates. Several enterprises in North America and Europe have now begun to hire and the impact would be even greater if the global Khoja Community were to hire Code Girls as freelancers or FTEs in their enterprises.
A Cultural Transformation
Simply put, we need to stop treating girls and boys differently and need to start with values and attitudes in our own homes. As a Community we need to allow women to make their own career decisions rather than imposing ideas on them. More importantly we need to enlighten men, who often don’t let women step into software services positions because they believe that women aren’t fit for this work. It’s time to drop these misguided attitudes and allow women to grow in the same sector. To that end CodeGirls is an exemplary project in shifting the paradigm and has become a trailblazer. Small wonder that now we have had numerous requests to replicate the project form not just Pakistan but also form several countries in Africa and Asia.
Main akela hi chala tha janib-e-manzil magar
Log saath aate gaye aur karwaan banta gaya
– Majhrooh Sultanpuri
Watch The CODEGIRLS JOURNEY
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