Parents always have the best intentions for their children. Often times they want their children to become the people they never became or just become like them. They have ideas of what one should be. Maureen Agena was a talkative child and her parents thought she would make a very good lawyer.
When she left university with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology in 2008, she joined Women of Uganda Network. Their niche was ICTs for women. That is when she got to experience first-hand the disparity between gender and technology. Her work involved working with women in their communities which exposed her to the wider gap between those who plan and those planned for. She learned that women lacked access to the simple ICT tools like a mobile phone. Their access to finance was limited and they always had schedules which limited them from engaging in “development programmes”.
She went to Canada for her part of masters upon receiving a commonwealth scholarship in Information Systems where she met the shocker of her life. While there together with a colleague Sarah Kiden, they enrolled for two courses where they were the only girls. These were Artificial Intelligence and Human & Computer interaction. The professor came in and asked them if they were not in a wrong class. There had not been girls offering that class for the past six years.
When she came back, she was more curious and open minded looking out for girls in tech. At hackathons, most teams would show up with only one girl in a team of seven. And you would find the girl’s role was very minor. It was rare to find the girls doing the actual coding. This harsh realisation pushed Maureen to begin pushing more for women in ICT. She joined a movement of other women on the same cause of advocating for girls in tech. They would go to Outbox Hub to do map out places that women love going to like salons. In doing that they were both enjoying and learning. The story has changed since but the gap still remains ten years later.
Maureen believes there is need for better policy to advocate for more women in these spaces.
“I have learned to play my small part maybe it will help the other women who will come after me. That is why I keep pushing myself to spaces that have not been known to be occupied by women. I keep looking out for more opportunities in the tech space.”
The question for policy cuts across. It is not limited to gender. Uganda has more than 50 universities but only about 3 have women vice chancellors. There should be policies in place that are cognizant of the gender roles. She adds.
Ms Agena contends that women should not be talking about women issues alone. There should be more men joining in those conversations. She is intrigued by conversations around gender, citizen journalism and development which she talks about in her blog Dignity in Poverty. Poverty is perceived differently by different people. This is the reason she is involved in development communication which revolves a lot around behavioural change. She is currently working with Tune Communications, a company she co-founded to push for this kind of advocacy.