Choose To Challenge The Norms.

ElizabethOnyemowo Agbor & Chiamaka Mbah (Semicolon Natives).

Our modern-day existence is being challenged by some of our age-old practices that have informed our culture and led to the silent establishment of certain norms. While we must celebrate our heritage, it is essential for us to also reflectively consider some of our cherished norms that may have resulted in unintended effects. International Women’s Day (IWD) is yet another opportunity for that critical, self-reflective evaluation that each one (individual and organization) must undertake. We however want to ensure that IWD is not yet another cultural norm that while seeking to challenge certain practices culminates in just another activity in our annual calendar.

It is time for us, in the spirit of constructive challenge towards the betterment of our humanity, to get comfortable with potentially uncomfortable conversations. Our first step is to celebrate our mothers, sisters, wives, friends and indeed all who have committed to the task of challenging those norms — not in defiance but in collaboration towards that better place that we all know is attainable. We must, of course, continue to applaud the sung and unsung heroes who have paid significant prices over time by upholding the banner of equality which is non-negotiable if we are to achieve the many laudable goals we seek as humanity.

The basic rationale of the IWD movement is to seize the world’s attention and point it towards the countless limitations women encounter as a result of the gender they were assigned at birth. It also seeks to actualize the continuing advancement of women on all fronts — social, economic, cultural and political — while promoting a deeper sense of connection, sisterhood and ultimately, humanity. However, it is beginning to revolve more around the axis of media representation. The hashtags, photographs, and conversations; although well-meaning and progressive are simply not sufficient by themselves.

While we commemorate this special day with a flood of social media posts, conference invitations, and general buzz, the real work begins after the propaganda and excitement of the day slowly gives out like an old lantern wick; when you drive home past the same roads, indulging in the usual drivers’ scuffle as you approach an intersection. If, for some reason, you decided to slow down and take more notice of the environment; you would be greeted with the still-existing gender inequality and the disproportionate opportunities women have in comparison to men. You, perhaps, may even notice the one girl that lives right across the street and how she has been forced to stay back at home or get married instead of pursuing an education or learning a skill like her brothers.

At Semicolon, we are on a journey to build the people who will build the companies that will build Africa. We prioritize learning and skill development through innovative thinking, tech-talent training and deployment. We also seek to bridge the present skills gap in the tech ecosystem, which does not allow for individuals to identify and leverage on opportunities. Most importantly, we place focus on eradicating the marginalization of women in Africa who are seeking to reach heights that have been hidden from their gaze by the blindfold called ‘gender roles’. With our robust curriculum and intensive training program tailor-made to take a complete novice in technology to full-on expertise, we have been able to turn raw talent into intentional problem-solving skills, thereby creating opportunities for women with no prior knowledge of software development or possession of digital skills.

Let’s take a look at Funmi, a young lady who faced pressure to get married or learn what her advisors termed a ‘female trade’. She became a small-scale hairstylist, working to make ends meet. Not too long after, she was afforded the opportunity to enroll for our 12-month training program. Today, she works with Old Mutual Insurance, and supports her family, while contributing to solutions for the insurance industry.

Another inspiring journey is Bisi’s. Bisi’s excellent customer service as a barista at a coffee shop led to a referral to Semicolon that became the start of her journey into software engineering. Bisi is now a practicing software engineer with many more norms to challenge but certainly upbeat and still smiling about the prospects.

Based on our belief that women must be active participants in any true innovation community, Semicolon women in Tech (SWiT) was formed as a community centered on collaboration and inclusivity to amplify our collective voices and directly facilitate access to opportunities for our female natives and citizens. We offer early-stage business support and mentorship to that emerging generation of future female leaders.

Funmi and Bisi are examples of the many stories in our community. We are committed to continue to challenge norms that may unintendedly limit access to opportunities. The task requires collaboration across gender and organizational lines, we therefore are calling for all who also choose to challenge to join us in affording many more opportunities to many more females. Our evolving tech ecosystem is at risk of perpetuating some mistakes of the past — we already see the gender imbalances in

  • Number of females launching or leading startups.
  • Number of females gaining employment in tech roles.
  • Number of females investing in tech startups.

To learn more about how you can partner with us or sponsor a woman through our training program, kindly contact our team via info@semicolon.africa.

As we celebrate the indelible contribution and value of women to human existence; one question must be highlighted, are we truly allies of the women empowerment movement if we do not audaciously walk the talk? Taking a stand could begin with changed opinions and perceptions of a subject matter; but it must end with changed lives.

We hope you have a progressive International Women’s Day as you choose to challenge gender norms today and every day afterward; not only for the sake of challenging but for our humanity.

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Managing the content crew at Semicolon; a social impact training institute and innovation hub focused on solving societal problems with disruptive technology.

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Managing the content crew at Semicolon; a social impact training institute and innovation hub focused on solving societal problems with disruptive technology.

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