UWC’S “WOMENS MATTERS” EVENT
by Tatenda Watungwa
South Africa celebrates the month of August as women’s month, which is a national tribute to commemorate the 20,000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws that segregated the population according to race. In light of this, South Africa declared the 9th August as a public holiday to celebrate women’s month. With the aim of encouraging young women into the field of technology, the Information Systems department at University of the Western Cape (UWC) celebrated women’s month with young females from township high schools who included members of the UWC Mozilla Clubs for young women and girls within Cape Town, to encourage them to take an interest in STEM (Science, Technology and Mathematics) related career paths.
The “Womens Matters” event, hosted at UWC by the IS department in partnership with the UWC Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation , was a weekend event which took all participants by surprise with the range of events planned for them. It consisted of a “Bring a girl child to ICT related work” day on Friday 19th August 2016, followed by a hackathon on the 20th and 21st of August 2016.
On the 19th, 120 high school girls who included girls from our Mozilla girls clubs were invited to participate in workshops and listen to presentations from industry representatives from various companies such as Metropolitan, The Foschini Group (TFG), Khanyisa Real Systems (KRS) and Sanlam. On Saturday and Sunday, a Hackathon was opened to the general public as part of Open Design Cape Town Festival, where 5 teams involving of men and women worked on designing and pitching tech solutions that addressed women’s issues. Here is a summary of how each day went:
FRIDAY: “Bring a girl child to ICT related work”
(school girls and Mozilla club members from the surrounding Cape Town schools)
The aim of this day was to educate and inspire girls aged between 13 and 16 years mostly in grade 9 to the life of a women with a technology qualification. 120 female students in grade 9, from high schools in Crossroads, Belhar, Khayelitsha and Mitchels Plein spent the day at the University of the Western Cape learning and programming finch robots, developing websites for their schools and listening to women working in industry telling them about their journeys in their careers. The girls who attended were in a position where they would soon be choosing the subjects they wish to continue with in their last few years of high school and possibly take further at university level.
(Robyn taking the girls through what her job entails)
The day started off with a motivational talk by Dr Jantjies, Head of the Information Systems Department, explaining the objective of the events and highlighting the need for women in science and technology careers in South Africa. This was followed by an exciting presentation from Robyn from Metropolitan presenting, “a day in the life of a process engineer” which was explained in great detail. What was covered was not expected from such a job title, the girls were left intrigued and with many questions as to what they need to do to land in such a position.
Following this the girls were involved in workshops where they dived into programming without having any technology experience. The first session was one where they learnt how to create their own website. For some of the girls this was their first experience using a PC but they were excited to learn as the workshop went on. By the end of the session the room was buzzing with conversations about what they had just achieved. These are the experiences that will make a difference in their future career choices.
The second workshop was where the girls learnt how to program a finch robot. This was by far the most popular workshop of the day. It was evident that the girls were not aware of the fun, interesting and stimulating side of ICT related careers.
(Rushen guiding the girls on programming Finch Robots)
To end off the day, the girls experienced an extremely inspiring presentation from Celeste from TFG. The presenter discussed her field of work and also explained what it took for her to get there, from both an educational point of view and a personal perspective. The whole room was deeply touched and motivated; she proved to the young girls that the struggles you experience will never determine your success in life. To close off the event, Prof Visser the Dean of Economic and Management Sciences congratulated the Department on their inaugural event and motivated the young girls to come back after 4 years back to take up STEM courses at UWC.
(Celeste talking about her life and career journey)
SATURDAY & SUNDAY: The Hackathon
(Ms Fazlyn Peterson opening up the Hackathon)
On Saturday and Sunday Ms Fazlyn Peterson kicked off the Hackathon through a range of activities, which was opened to the general public as part of Cape Town’s Open Design festival. There were 5 teams consisting of men and women working on designing and pitching tech solutions that addressed women’s issues. THE Sisterhood, a group of four UWC female students won the Women Matters Hackathon for a safety app they designed. The winning team were four Bcom Information Systems students; Yandisa Citwa, Janine Anthony, Noluthando Ntshaba and Sibabalwe Kweza.
(Dr Jantjies presenting the Accenture sponsored prizes)
The winning idea was an app based on a number of safety and security issues students have at universities. Some of the features include:
- SOS button that will be linked to campus security
- a device that alerts campus security to an emergency whenever female students tap on the SOS button
- “Help A Sista Out” icon that leads to a donations corner (If any lady needs an essential item like sanitary pads or food)
- A page called ‘Sistahood Rocks ICT Network’, where the latest trends, articles, tech devices will be uploaded to keep each other updated about the industry and opportunities that arise
These two days were an opportunity for all the participants to showcase their ideas however, they were unaware their ideas wouldn’t go unnoticed.
“We were blown away by the talent and ingenuity of not just the Sisterhood but the other designers as well. There were no losers as the other participants will be aided in developing their solutions by industry insiders,” Dr. Mmaki Jantjies (Head of IS Department, UWC)
(Teams who were part of the hackathon)
(UWC IS graduate volunteers and Mozilla Club captains)
It is vital that such events are held, to bring about awareness to young females and to educate and inspire young people into STEM related fields. The result of the event denotes an achievement, as it was not only the high school girls but also older students and members of the public getting them to have a conversation about careers in tech and issues that affect women.
The student volunteers from the IS department and the teachers from the high schools who accompanied the girls, also agreed on the success of the event. The “Womens Matters” event lead to everyone involved leaving the event feeling empowered and inspired not only by what they had witnessed from the participants, but also from gaining knowledge themselves. The whole weekend went far past any of the assumed expectations that formed when planning for the event and the department aims to continue to engage and inspire young women and the public about careers in STEM and finding ways of addressing social challenges using technology.
A special thank you to our sponsors: Metropolitan (Kathy, Shabnam, Robyn and Tamlyn) KRS (Pateka and Mihlali), TFG (Celeste), Sanlam (Delina), Accenture, Axiom, Spur, Corporate Renaissance Group, Santam and UWC staff from IS department and volunteers and Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.