Meet this Year’s Ms Geek Africa: Salissour Hassane Latifa, 21, of Niger. She invented a device that allows individuals who care for victims of accidents to be in communication with medical professionals. The medical staff will be able to advise them on how to complete basic first aid care until they arrive on the scene.
Latifa demonstrates the need for brilliance over beauty, the tag line of Ms Geek Africa – a competition that was created to combat the traditional beauty pageants that usually dominate female competition.
Ms Geek began in 2014 as the brainchild of a group of female tech entrepreneurs under the original name Ms Geek Rwanda, which later expanded to multiple countries. With the intent to transform Rwanda, a nation heavily dependent on agriculture, to a technologically advanced nation with women at the forefront of the movement.
Who Can Compete?
Young women aged 13 to 25 are eligible to compete for the crown. These girls will give presentations, give oral speeches and utilize their critical thinking skills in front of an audience and panel of judges.
Girls who are inspired by Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields and who want to use their skills to solve the continent’s problems are the perfect candidates for Ms Geek.
“Ms Geek has already changed the perception of what girls can do,” says Esther Kunda of the Next Einstein Forum, a founding member of competition organiser Girls in ICT Rwanda.
Once the finalists are selected, they will undergo a weeklong of intensive training with an already successful female entrepreneur.
After the finalists demonstrate their solution, the winner is crowned by how successful their presentation is.
Female Representation in Rwanda
Rwanda’s government has set goals in achieving gender equality in the information communications sector by 2020. ICT notoriously lacks diversity and is in dire need of female representation. However, the country is determined to change that through education, scholarships and mentoring programs.
“It’s a good place to be a woman in tech right now,” Kunda says of Rwanda.
Prior to the genocide of 1994, it was uncommon for women to own land, receive a formal education or even work outside of the home. However, after the atrocity happened the national population was 60 to 70 percent women.
President Paul Kagame has put an emphasis on gender equality and the progression of women since he was first voted into office in 2000. Kagame understands that the only way for Rwanda and the rest of the world to progress, is for women to lead that advancement.
Because women make up the vast majority of the country, it makes sense for parliament to reflect that. Rwanda now leads female representation in parliament with an astounding 64 percent women as MPs.
What Ms Geek Means to Women
Ms Geek Africa 2016 winner Rosine Mwiseneza entered the contest as a student at Kepler University in Kigali studying business management. She never dreamed that, as a girl left orphaned by the genocide, that should would be a leader in her country.
“It was very difficult to believe,” she says, recalling the moment she won, “I started thinking of everything that had passed before that day and I began to cry.”
Mwiseneza and her partner, Alphonse Habyarimana, won the competition by creating an automatic irrigation system.
Exposure for women like Mwiseneza, Habyarimana and Latifa are crucial for curating the next generation of female innovators in STEM.
Research suggests that role models are a significant factor in building self-esteem and confidence. Lack of female representation in ICT will show young girls that their thoughts and ideas matter too. Ms Geek Africa is already fostering that idea.
“In this country it is still not easy for a woman to stand on her own but the change exists,” Mwiseneza says. “The future is not for men only. It is also for women.”