I started @FundiBots in 2010, using robotics as a fun and practical way for Ugandan students to experience the magic of science.
But something started to show in our data: we had far fewer girls in our robotics classes than boys. For every 10 boys, we had about 3 girls.
But, as we got deeper into the villages, that number became smaller, with some classes that were filled almost exclusively with boys.
Fewer girls were getting into STEM classes and even fewer were finishing those STEM classes. This meant fewer were doing STEM at university level and so STEM careers had fewer women.
And one of the first questions that popped up was "WhAt AbOuT ThE BoYs? Will there be a Fundi Boys?"
Just like "BUT ALL LIVES MATTER".
Yes, every demographic has challenges, BUT for some, they are deeply rooted systemic challenges that are unique and biased against them.
As an example, let's explicitly explore the deeply biased systemic challenges that most girls in Uganda face.
Why were girls (rural and urban) dropping off so rapidly and so nonchalantly from science classes?
The answers, almost always come back the same, some with more gravity than others.
Here are just a few of the drop-off points.
Everyone can do sciences, but they generally need more time to learn and grasp. But if you're a girl, chances are you're being told to first do chores before doing school work. Before the day starts, you're already behind the boys.
Parents and teachers see them lagging behind and assume it's because they can't manage sciences, so they encourage the girls to pursue arts.
A lot of girls (rural and urban) are constantly told that some subjects/careers/games/ideas are not meant for women. For example, rough, dirty things likes machines. And they are constantly reminded that a woman's place is in the kitchen.
Nearly 60% of girls in rural Uganda miss school once a month because of menstrual health challenges (access to pads, dirty toilets, no privacy, stigma, etc). In a year, this girl will miss a quarter of her classes because of her menstrual cycle.
The majority of science teachers are male. Why? Because girls leave sciences early and never get to the point where they pursue it long enough to become teachers.
So girls have fewer science role models to look up to and get advice from.
Teenage years are rough years in which self-esteem is made or broken. For girls, there are a lot of physical, psychological and academic attacks, and they come primarily from male peers. PS: It's much, much worse in under-privileged schools.
Many rural families marry girls off at an early age. Also, sexual abuse, rapes, pregnancies etc. are tragic realities for young girls.
Inevitable, the first thing that suffers is school, while the boys happily continue onward.
We say things like "well, they should be stronger" or "they should report the rape" or "they asked for it" or my personal favorite "I survived the same system."
That is not how life works; outliers are a statistical anomaly.
It takes tremendous willpower, grit and luck to succeed in a system that's heavily stacked against you.
We're saying, this specific group has this very big problem and we want to address it. Urgently.
And we need to give it urgent attention before it burns out of control.
It really isn't too much to ask, is it?