Teaching Girls in Kosovo to Code

Aug 1, 2016

 

The story was originally writen for the online magazine, Spotlight: Gender Equality in Europe and Central Asia

Blerta Thaçi and Zana Idrizi were brought up in Kosovo thinking that education is the key to a successful career. But as young women, they soon realized that some professions are more difficult to pursue because of persistent traditional gender norms. Lucky enough to have the support of her family, Blerta was able to study and work in the field of computer science. Zana was able to balance her interest in technology with her studies in economics and public policy. Now they both want to help other young women and girls interested in coding and programming and have launched a pioneering movement to do just that.

Blerta and Zana founded Girls Coding Kosova (GCK), an NGO dedicated to empowering and training women and girls in coding and programming. GCK immediately resonated with Kosovar women. Since it was established in August 2015, more than 500 women and girls have become active members of this rapidly growing community.

Even though the number of women enrolled in the Faculty of Computer Science has been steadily increasing to about 30 percent in recent years, there is still a high degree of discrimination against women in programming, engineering, and computer science, particularly because women are disadvantaged in the labour market after they graduate. “This is why we are helping young women get some working experience in IT and doing what we can to cultivate their interests,” Zana says.

The goal of GCK is to act as a bridge between the university and the workplace. The team assists young women increase their IT experience through collective and individual skill development, workshops, and hands-on experience. “Women make up a low percentage of the IT workforce in Kosovo, so we are aiming to increase this number in the following years,” says Blerta.

Currently, GCK is also planning coding summer school programmes and developing scholarships for Kosovan women who are interested in coding. . “We want young women to realize that computer science is a real option for them and encourage them to follow this path if they are passionate about it,” Blerta explains.

However, setting up this initiative was not without challenges. “We were only two young women –  students at that time – with no funds, no office, and no staff,” Zana remembers. “So we started by conducting workshops in local coffee shops. But we soon realized that as our ideas developed, we desperately needed external funds.”

UNDP was the first organization to support GCK. In collaboration with Open Data Kosova, GCK produced data visualizations for UNDP mapping corruption risks related to gender equality in the Kosovar civil service. Their biggest project at the time, it helped put them on the map. “The public and the sponsors learned about the work we were doing and started offering financial help or in-kind contributions, like spaces to hold workshops,” says Zana.

GCK’s proudest accomplishment is the development of the Ec Shlire (Walk Freely) app, a tool aimed at fighting sexual harassment in Kosovo. Co-developed with Open Data Kosova and supported by the Kosovo Women Network (KWN), the project involved 30 young women coders and developers. After the completion of the project, 13 of them found jobs in the field and 3 of them started internships at different tech companies.

“At the core we are a peer-to-peer support group, where women draw from the knowledge of their peers and existing resources to improve their skills and solve IT problems,” says Blerta. “We are lucky to have such a great community of passionate young women and we are going to prove to the world that women in computer science are a real thing.”

 

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