GoGirls ICT / Juba (South-Sudan)
GoGirls ICT (https://gogirlsict.org) was founded in 2015 by a group of young women in Juba, South Sudan. The triggering moment for the initiative was the international “Girls in ICT day 2015”. The interviewee, who was at that time an Assistant lecturer/Head, Department of Computer at the University of Juba, was asked to invite girls from College of Computer Science & Information technology (CCSIT) lab, at the University of Juba to attend this event. And these girls could not express explicitly was ICTs was. The same applied to the girls from secondary and primary schools together with their female teachers who came to attend the event.
So together with other women in the fields of computer science, information systems, hacktivism and peacebuilding they created the not-for-profit initiative “GoGirls ICT Initiative” that aims to mentor girls in technically oriented areas, like ICT, science, technology and maths. The organisation goes beyond fostering technical skills, aiming to support independent, critical, innovative and confident girls who are amongst the most marginalized groups in the South Sudanese society.
GoGirls ICT follows the philosophy of chain-based-trainings, which means that they train girls to become mentors who then reach out to primary and secondary schools and provide support and training there. In doing so they get engaged in different projects, depending on the needs of the schools they interact with and the funding they can acquire. Funding for these activities is mostly tied to a specific project funding from different public and private sources.
Gender and other inequalities
In GoGirls ICT they take a binary view on gender and specifically address girls and women, as they are extremely marginalized and disadvantaged in the South-Sudan society. GoGirls ICT does not consider the wider concept of gender, as this is still something that is not commonly discussed in their socio-political context. “It comes back to culture and norms. Nobody wants to talk about it. “, states the interviewee.
In their activities they involve girls from all social backgrounds, girls that are still in school, girls that have dropped out of school, girls that are early mothers and of course school teachers and girls from university who act as mentors in the different activities.
Best practices and challenges
When the GoGirls ICT initiators started interacting with the primary and secondary schools, they realized the schools’ lack of doing science, especially practical science. Not only are the resources, like material and labs, missing to perform science education, also the teachers often do not feel confident enough to get involved in practical science teaching. So GoGirls ICT launched the “open science framework for classroom experimentation” and within this framework they established the “Gosanitize” project. Gosanitize is a hand-sanitizer that is made in collaboration with teachers from primary and secondary schools from locally available material. They extract the gel from the aloe-vera bushes that grow locally and collaborate with local female brewers to get the alcohol (Ethanol) they need for the sanitizer. As there are only very few female teachers in South-Sudan and they shied away from practical science projects, the decision was taken on purpose to work with female brewers, not only to establish links to the community but also to encourage girls’ participation in the community by involving local women. Local teachers guided the local brewers on how to measure the percentage of the alcohol they brew, an important pre-condition to create the sanitizer. After a first very positive experimentation phase there are now intentions to scale the project and establish a fully furnished lab, to overcome one of the most important challenges in the process – the missing access to any lab equipment. With this lab and a scaled approach GoGirls ICT also hopes to encourage more teachers and girls to step into science.
Another interesting outcome of the exploration and collaboration with teachers was the “Classroom on phone” project. It was inspired by the observation that during the COVID-19 home-schooling science teachers printed out material and distributed them to pupils to be done at home, but girls never brought back their working sheets to be graded. It was too much workload for them to work with the sheets, next to their daily duties in the households and at the market. So the question was how to reduce the workload and involve the girls into science teaching in more appealing and practical ways. The solution was a podcast series that introduced very basic activities and experiments, which relate to science. “For instance if we talk about brushing your teeth for 8-10 year olds, we could use a white egg with Coca-Cola. So if the egg touches the Coca-Cola we know, the shell changes the colour. So how do you remove that colour from the egg? You maybe need to add toothpaste on your brush and you need to basically clean it. So there are this simple, simple experiments that girls can do at home and explain the science concepts and theories.” Explains the interviewee from GoGirls. Hearing the stories in a podcast seems easier for the girls than reading worksheets and the little experiments help them remember the science content. The underlying technology to bring the podcast to the girls is very basic – the project uses memory cards that many families are using for accessing movies or music.
Another collaboration with schools is happening via the “repair cafés”. “Repair cafés” are driven and organised by female university students with the objective to support schools in repairing their computers, laptops etc. The students visit schools located in their communities, do an assessment of repair needs, calculate the required budget for the repair jobs and then also do the repair work in schools. They apply their knowledge and skills to support their local communities and solve actual problems while gaining experience on the whole process of assessing, planning and conducting the repair work. One of the lessons learned in this project was that the students like to fix things but they do not like to document what they do. Thus, the importance of documentation will be stressed more in future activities. A good documentation of the problem, the solution and how to continue the process could even result in written guidelines for schools on how to solve their problems and keep their technical equipment in order.
One of the most recent projects was related to filmmaking, and here one important lesson was gained from the collaboration with male trainers. In this project girls between 15 and 32 years received training in filmmaking, which was done by men only.
But the interviewee states that you have to understand gender-aspects, when it comes to the timing and the way in which content is delivered to girls and women. Trainers need to understand issues of self-esteem, what to say to encourage girls, as “we are easily motivated, but you have to understand how. Because girls are easily demoralized, if you shout in class one time at a girl they will walk out the door and never come back. Because they feel that their self-esteem has been sabotaged, they feel they can’t do it. And that is one thing that we are trying to fight, that mindset, yes you can do it. So creating that safe space is very important.”
Thus girls find it more comfortable if a woman is talking to them compared to a man and GoGirls ICT decided that they would put in place a set of criteria that future trainers have to follow. These criteria are a result of all the trainings organised with girls for the past years. Trainers will be taken through the process, get an introduction into the challenges and how to conduct the training and have to follow these instructions. Only if trainers agree to these criteria are they selected (men and women alike).
Another lesson is related to the element of competition. GoGirls trainers experienced that girls often compete against each other instead of benefiting from each other’s skills and knowledge. Thus at the beginning of the filmmaking project they asked each girl to name the things she can do well and stressed that the team has to benefit from all these skills to achieve one big goal – to contribute content to the Internet. produces films about issues affecting women within the South Sudan Communities and shares them on the Internet and via social media, as online media content production is still very much dominated by men. The films deal with very critical aspects that young women have to face in their socio-cultural environment: e.g. one film tells the story of a girl who is interested in going to school, but she is constantly exposed to maltreatment at home. Another film tells the story about a young lady who went looking for a job several times but couldn’t succeed; it thereby deals with sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination. As content contributors the girls have to write their scripts, present them to the organisers and prepare a plan on how to collect all the relevant film material. They must build relationships among themselves and work together, reach out to their friends and connect with other girls to get their stories.
Audio content production was part of this training “Amplified Gender Voices *AGV” – the name of the girls podcasting Channel – where these girls will share all their audio content. Thus, they are working as one team and not in competition.
One more lesson learned concerns the way to communicate and collaborate with the local community when it comes to technology. “One of the biggest challenges is that people still have a very negative mind-set when it comes to technology, because teachers and most of the communities think that technology has a bad influence on their children. … and when it comes to women it is even worse”
Therefore, GoGirls successfully organises family visits. They visit the girls’ families and show them what the girls have done. Doing so they try not only to visit the family but find a connection that helps to understand what the girls are doing and learning. Once a connection with the parents has been established via these visits it is easier to communicate with them and expand the networks and relationships that can be relied upon in future projects.
“The same was with the female brewers – going out, building community – this is something that is working very well for us. We can now turn back to a community, which we were struggling with at the beginning. And the community is also seeing that women have capabilities and capacity. “, says the interviewee.
In South Sudan only 8 % of the population is online, amongst them are very few women. There is often no electric power, many don’t listen to or have no access to the radio. So the activities that GoGirls organise are mostly offline and when the Covid-19 pandemic started they worked with memory cards for the classroom on phone project as the simplest way of using media.Nevertheless, GoGirls thought that is important – at least for the girls who can write and read – to become content producers in the online space and contribute to the feminist internet in South Sudan.
““So these girls are young and creative and they should also become contributors to these social media platforms. It is about more women-content being online.“