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Kenyan girls who code: Mentors spur African tech innovations (bbc.com)
73 points by kafkaesq on Oct 3, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments

I want to remind everyone of the article we had some time ago about men failing out of society in the west because they are too lazy and play video games all they. Then predictable we get another article and then another about changing society to better fit women.

The outcome for men is determined by their choices (= they are subjects, actors). The outcome for women is determined by how society acts towards them (=they are passive objects). That dualism is objectifying of women.

the women in this article we are commenting on (both the mentors and the students) have agency, and this is clearly conveyed by the article.

in many societies - traditional and modern - we observe structural discrimination against women. so "outcomes" for women are more heavily constrained by society than "outcomes" for men. if i look up the definition of "objectification" i find one aspect of it as "denial of autonomy – treating the person as lacking in autonomy or self-determination". so it might be a stretch to say that society objectifies women according to this definition, but i'd certainly agree that society tends to restrict/limit the autonomy / self-determination of women more than it does men.

under that interpretation i roughly agree with your statement of "that dualism is objectifying of women", in the sense of that being a crudely accurate description of the reality of what society does, and i'd go further and claim that is not acceptable, and something we should endeavour to change, by changing society: "affirmative action", "positive discrimination", etc.

was this the point you were trying to make, or were you trying to argue the opposite conclusion?

edit: would it make any difference if it were women who were driving the changes to society that would benefit them and other women? would that be acceptable or would that be a case of women objectifying themselves and denying their own agency by taking action?

It would be interesting, and great, if in this culture women did the math. Women used to have the role of doing calculations in the U.S. (and elsewhere in the West), back in the 30s and 40s before computers.

As an example of how gender roles can vary, I was in the Himalayas and in the local culture, the women did the physical labor. They carried our (heavy) bags where we stayed, and I regularly saw them carrying massive loads of firewood, on their backs, bent double, up and down mountain trails. I'm not sure what the men did; I only saw them playing cards and drinking (tea?).

Are there similar programs for engineering? I'd imagine many of the challenges in the developing world require technological innovations that involve engineering challenges, not just mobile apps.

There's this http://imgur.com/a/livAB . They go around schools and get kids to work on simple electronics projects. Just started and only concentrating on primary schools, but I think they plan to expand to high schools(and thus engineering & programming) if they get funding.

Often a talk about better startups coming from a genuine need that started with someone's aggravation about an unnecessary problem. I think people getting robbed during unnecessary queues is an unusual and great example. From a security background, I'm not sure that this would eliminate the problem as crooks might adapt or focus more. It was a really, good attempt. I could see it taking off just from increased convenience and reduced risk of opportunistic robberies. Too bad that team didn't win.

One of the big selling points for mpesa - the mobile money service in Kenya - is that it allows transferring money made in the city back to family in the countryside without risking robbery on the travel home. (And makes the transfer much faster, too.) Reducing queues to prevent robbery is a great motivation for building and using the app.

This is excellent.. with more people here (Kenya) getting internet at home due to falling prices and affordable wifi hotspots cropping up in various locations, I'm sure the next few years are going to be very interesting for tech in Kenya.


> Why is their gender so important?

From the article, "A World Wide Web Foundation study found that only 20% of women from Nairobi's slums - like Ms Wambui - are even connected to the internet. That's compared to 57% of men." That is the premise of the article. Women becoming engaged with technology against the odds.

> Why is there a competition for girls only?

There is an underrepresentation of women in tech [1][2][3]. Regardless of how your political beliefs might sway you to think about this issue, the perception that women are underrepresented in tech will compel people to attempt to solve that problem. An all-girls competition is one approach.

> It saddens me that people actively promote sexism as something to be proud of.

It saddens me that people on the Internet actively water down language in an attempt to espouse whatever banal contention they have to opposing political views. You want to talk about sexism in Kenya, what about the fact that 21% of women in the country undergo female genital mutilation to prevent them from experiencing sexual pleasure [4]? The fact that a women's programming competition even lies within the same spectrum to you is astonishing. But I guess that's the world we live in these days...

[1] https://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/womenint...

[2] https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2016/05/17/women-not-ke...

[3] http://www.wsj.com/articles/whats-holding-back-women-in-tech...

[4] http://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR308/FR308.pdf

Let's use an analogy to explain this. Clearly this competition is selecting for children, and not adults. Should I be allowed to enter it (I'm 26 and I am working towards a Ph.D. in computational physics)? What would stop us from calling the competition ageist? I think what I'd say and what I think most people here would agree is that it is for children because they are inexperienced and this is a way to initiate that interest in these kids or if they already have that interest, to help stoke it. The reason they discriminate, not in the politically loaded use of the term, but say cull amongst the pools of prospective participants is based on the need of these participants.

As supernintendo said, there is a disparity between women and men in their technical literacy in Nairobi, so this competition chooses its focus based on said issues. When one takes into account needs and wants of certain groups, the argument of discrimination (the political kind) becomes harder to make. I'd say discrimination is more like restricting access not based on need of the participants but the preferences of the advantaged.

I think the risk is that we are not prepared to extend the same sort of support to boys as the gender ratio begins to equalize; because women have been disadvantaged for so long we don't have the social and political infrastructure to transition to a more equitable system. Compare the slow development of abuse shelters for men despite the relatively similar gender ratios. I don't think it's out of place to raise calls of discrimination well in advance of the gender ratio balancing out. After all, a proportion of 56% to 20% in internet connectedness by gender is actually a massive improvement on the historical state of affairs. And yet, I'm seeing no willingness to even consider a more balanced distribution of aid - not completely balanced, of course, but adjusted to the actual gender split. Instead, raising the thought gets you labelled as some sort of misogynist. Well then.

I don't want to raise a no-true scotsman (or the negation of it?) but I am not one of those people. For example, there's this[0] that demonstrates how perspectives on male abuse are not fair today.

However, from your bigger point, I don't know what you mean, "because women have been disadvantaged for so long we don't have the social and political infrastructure to transition to a more equitable system." Equalization is happening already.

Also, I really don't think that men will not be freed from gender roles eventually as well on a cultural level. That too is happening already and, well, we can't judge how society will act until we are well near that. The current situation is easily interpret-able so we should focus energy on that until we are near the equal point.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peNe6XUP_y4

Inasmuch as it's happening, I'm glad to hear it. I'm all for help to all who require it in proportion to the urgency of their need; hopefully with an ongoing reduction in scarcity the battle lines about who requires what will start to soften. Right now, I'm just worried about behavior on parts of the internet that seems to be less about helping people and more about protecting the established status of certain disadvantaged groups; compare all the talk about privilege that ignores the nuances of the concept in favor of using it as a bludgeon to shut down possibly-legitimate complaints. (And yes, of course both sides have their assholes, but that shouldn't be an excuse to draw battle lines down the center.) I think the backlash arising from "you're privileged, so we don't need to listen to you" is going to do more harm than help to the social-justice movement in the medium run. That's why I'm very skeptical of trying to shut people up when they explicitly call for equitability in support. I think a lot of people would be far less worried about "reverse sexism" if they saw people in feminism and social justice acknowledge the fact that these aren't hard categories of oppression and disadvantage but instead factual observations of disadvantage in certain categories, which have merely historically fallen more on one side of the gender line.

But of course, the assholes always shout louder than the moderates.

Suppose that both boys' and girls' potential to be good coders are normally distributed. It doesn't matter what the means or variances are of those distributions, really.

Suppose also that due to the structure of how children are socialized and educated, the top (say) 15 percentile of boys end up with training in coding and "the chance" to make it, but only the top 5 percentile of girls.

It is not hard to see how this would lead to an inefficient outcome where we are missing out on some great coders, even leaving aside the aspect in which this situation is "unfair" to the girls.

It is in the spirit of this hypothetical that I judge the aims of these female-targeted programs and female-only competitions, and I think that on balance they are a very good idea. Draining resources from a gender-neutral competition to promote a female-only one is thus only superficially sexist. When the unseen effects are accounted for, it may bring greater balance and efficiency to the field.

Do you know anything about the gender dynamics of Kenyan professionals, or do you just have this comment locked and loaded for any story that mentions "girls" or "women"?

I mean it: after a second and third close reading of your comment, I'm not sure I see anything that Creative Labs couldn't have programmed Dr. Sbaitso to write in response to those keywords.

If you do know something about Kenya that's relevant to this story, could you share it?

As soon as I saw the title, my heart sank a little, knowing that comments like this would soon follow. At least there aren't yet any comments about their looks or why its okay to track them down and harass them because it's just part of Internet Culture. So there is that.

Now, as for your "serious questions". Yes, let's have them. But let's please not pretend that history, culture, and sexism don't exist. And be sure to contextualize your "serious questions", taking into account the specific historical and current challenges facing women and girls in Kenya.

We have spent years trying to get gender equality in the West and now as colonials we expect it just to happen in country X.

How about we start by getting a ecosystem of coders first as 'we' did then specialise on working on gender and other equalities.

I know it doesn't make people feel good but it worked for us.

While we're at it, we should introduce some diversity to Kenya, black people are overrepresented there at almost all jobs.

Getting gender parity in programming happened before a large programming ecosystem was established; more money and structure in the CS education system led to inequality.

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