Omolayo Samuel: Climbing above the stereotypes
By Katherine Walraven for APCNews
MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE, 22 October 2007
The 2007 Global Information Society Watch report identifies Nigeria as the fastest growing ICT market in Africa. Despite this, women remain severely under-represented among the country’s ICT professionals. While many of the factors that prevent women from entering the field also affect men – such as living in rural areas where access to, and knowledge about, ICTs is low – widespread attitudes towards the social roles women should adopt, as well as their capacities work to maintain the gender imbalance in the ICT field.
As John Dada of APC-member the Fantsuam Foundation pointed out in a recent interview, while about 80% of its microfinance department is female, only half of the staff members in its ICT department are women. He explained that “the prevailing male-dominated culture [t]here is so pervasive that many women believe that certain careers are meant for men.” And yet, one young woman in Fantsuam’s ICT department became a role model for women in ICT when she became the first woman to climb a communications tower in northern Nigeria, and quite likely even in the whole country, on August 1 of this year.
Omolayo Samuel is completing her National Youth Service, a one-year work placement in which most Nigerian university graduates participate in order to gain professional experience. She is doing this with Fantsuam, after having completed a degree in ICT. She has become a trainee-engineer working in Fantsuam’s Rural Community Wireless Networking (RCWR) programme, which has been supported by APC, the International Development Reseach Council (IDRC), and Microsoft’s Unlimted Potentials. When asked if she would like to climb the communications tower to tune the radios, a task which had until then only been taken up by men (and only those without a fear of heights), Omolayo rose to the challenge – literally.
The young climber told APCNews that she felt on top of the world when she reached the top of the dizzying 45-metre tower, having overcome her own fear of heights and proven to herself and others that women can perform tasks typically done only by men. Fantsuam recognised her climb by giving her a medal, which the governor of Kaduna State presented to her at a ceremony officially commissioning the RCWR programme.
Omolayo plans to continue climbing the tower, enjoying the thrill of the climb and the cool breeze at the top, as she continues to work with Fantsuam. Soon to complete her internship, she will remain with the organisation as a permanent member of the communications team. Omolayo hopes that her climb will spread a message about women’s potential in the ICT field and that more women will consider ICT as a fulfilling career option. She encourages women who are considering an ICT career but either doubt their capacity or are afraid to challenge stereotypes to draw inspiration and courage from her example.
APC congratulates her on her groundbreaking climb. May many women follow her footsteps, both into the ICT field and up the towers previously reserved for men.
Photo by Fantsuam Foundation