Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Editorial: Breaking the code on patriarchy

Published:Tuesday | January 5, 2016 | 1:00 AM

We are heartened by the initiative at Clan Carthy Primary and other schools in Jamaica which seeks to empower girls with cutting-edge skills to lead a wave of innovation in Jamaica's information and communication technologies (ICT) landscape.

Girls Who Code was founded by Reshma Saujani in 2012 to address the appallingly low number of women in computer science. The movement has mushroomed across the United States and the world, a small but important step towards correcting the gender inequality which characterises the industry.

According to State Minister in Technology, Julian Robinson, Girls Who Code, which is geared towards students between 12 and 15, targets their engagement in software development, which is far more lucrative and transformative than pedantic surfing that fixes the focus of too many youths. Such endeavours allow for widened scope for creativity and the fulfilment of ambitions beyond the maze of numbers and routine clanging of keys and clicking of mouses that bore data processors.

Coding, baldly, defines the capacity to create software, websites and apps. It involves a web of signifiers that give command to the mechanical odds and ends that would otherwise have no meaning. Importantly, it does not only facilitate the operation of computer games but opens a frontier for Jamaican industry and commerce to evolve into a competitive, First World space.

As the state minister observed, the Jamaican tech industry is populated up to 95 per cent by men, an imbalance which has symmetry with global trends. What this means is that women are at a socio-economic disadvantage because of their non-involvement in one of the major breakthrough industries over the past two decades.

This gender inequity fundamentally emanates from systemic and cultural inhibitors that discriminate against the employment of women in technology-heavy fields, perhaps because of patriarchal biases that their role in this emerging sector is marginal, and that the job requirements are outside their competence.

Demanding timelines and the long, grinding hours associated with the programming industry also militate against higher volumes of women in the software-development sector. This, naturally, is complicated by maternal and family commitments.

 

STILL SHACKLED

But we believe that the problem needs to be fixed from the source. Parents, school administrators and teachers must adjust their perspectives of what a girl can do. Too many stakeholders in the education sector are still shackled by traditional models limiting the professional possibilities of women.

That three to five per cent of software programmers and other content specialists are male points to societal norms which channel girls on to preordained paths. This kind of social engineering is rooted in ideological atrophy.

Which is why we applaud the Girls Who Code initiative here and urge the Government to expand it to more primary and high schools. The State should lead the way in toppling retardant philosophies that embolden a masculinist hegemony in an industry that could help to balance the scales of gender in business.

We do not accept that such sweeping reform should be managed and achieved in dribs and drabs, allowing the market to wend its way slowly. The elevation of the presence and role of women in male-dominant industries such as ICT is crucial to the righting of sociocultural wrongs that have undermined women.

Medieval naysayers will argue that women already constitute three-quarters of tertiary students in Jamaica and hold a significant number of managerial or supervisory jobs. That is incontestable truth. But women are disproportionate subjects of unemployment islandwide, are largely discriminated against in compensation, and often pushed to the margins of success.