New programme in Pakistan aims to empower women through digital skills bootcamps

Published: January 20, 2017
Tech in Asia
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Women looking to boost their digital skills have a particularly difficult time of it in Pakistan. There’s a critical lack of bootcamps that teach things like coding, digital marketing, and product design. To aggravate the situation, conservative attitudes mean some women aren’t allowed to attend mixed classes or venture too far from home.

Of course, there’s the option of learning online but many prefer a classroom environment, which gives the necessary impetus to stay on course.

SheSkills is launching the first of what it hopes to be many digital skills bootcamps aimed at women. The driving force behind the project is Saad Hamid, a self-described digital evangelist and an influencer in Pakistan’s tech community.

“The concept of SheSkills came during a recent storytelling workshop which we conducted exclusively for women,” he says. “At the end of it we were overwhelmed with requests from girls who wanted to learn skills like coding, digital marketing, and design.”

This woman has been making the internet a safer place for Pakistani women

Saad says one of the reasons they’re embarking on this initiative is an overall drive to get more women into tech. Not only is that better for diversity and output, it will also help participants pursue freelance work and entrepreneurial endeavors.

study conducted by the Pakistan Software Houses Association estimated that in 2012, women made up only 14 percent of the tech industry in the country. There are even fewer in senior management positions.

“Other than the stats, it’s also something I’m extremely passionate about,” he exclaims.

The program has been developed with assistance from Ladies Learning Code and Women Techmakers. It’s open to women across ages and backgrounds looking to boost digital skills.

It’s a six-week long bootcamp, with a blend of online and offline learning paradigms. There will be physical classes once a week, in the capital city of Islamabad, but also daily activities and assignments as homework.

Onwards and upwards

“What we’re trying to do is teach them basic digital skills first and upskill later. The aim is to help them build businesses, either by developing their own products, or working on behalf of clients,” outlines Saad.

A new module is taught each week, starting from helping them understand the program and moving on to things like HTML & CSS, digital marketing through Google and Facebook, as well as storytelling.

“One of the things we wanted to do is help teach women how to put together a decent website within a couple of days without extensive coding experience. That’ll help them get freelancing contracts or start their own products,” says Saad.

Internet rights activism

The latter half of the course will teach participants how to use software like Canva and Photoshop, as well as the nuances of writing great content.

Saad says the cost of attending the bootcamp will be US$20 per week or US$120 overall. Each week will be taught by a different mentor – who will be paid so that standards are maintained. Future editions of the program might also incorporate networking with sponsor companies and corporates.

“The whole point was to start somewhere. We’ll experiment and see what works and what doesn’t,” he adds. “At the end of the day, we want to give women options so they can understand what they’d like to do on their own accord. The goal is for them to be financially empowered.”

This article originally appeared on Tech in Asia.

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