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South Africa's Techno Girls
Every year, thousands of South African schoolgirls are introduced to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the S.T.E.M. fields — via a job-shadowing and mentoring initiative called Techno Girl. Created by UNICEF in partnership with the Uweso Trust and the South Africa Department of Education, the Techno Girl program places academically gifted high school girls from underprivileged rural and urban communities in one of more than 200 companies over a three-year period.
"I grew up in a very disadvantaged background," says Techno Girl Lerato Mhlongo (pictured below), who is planning a career in information technology. "It never made me feel like I was destined for anything. I thought, 'This is not my fault. I need to make something better of myself, and that will be done through education.' In order for somebody to know that 'This is what I want to do,' you have to somehow explore that thing. This opportunity, I have to grab it with both hands."
"Me, I'm not educated," says Lerato's mother, Julia Mhlongo. "But I can see that education is the key to success. I want to live to see her success."
South Africa has made great strides toward achieving gender equality in education. Yet even though the same numbers of boys and girls enroll in and attend school, girls and young women are less likely to graduate, receive lower wages, face pervasive violence at home and at school and are up to eight times more likely to become infected with HIV than boys.
The Techno Girl initiative is helping to close that gender gap by combining technical learning and mentorship with life skills education and empowering girls to make informed choices to prevent HIV, teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence. "Techno Girl was a mind opener," says student Kgonotso Gumede.
Top photo: South African Nokulunga Dladla decided to go to dental school after joining the UNICEF-supported Techno Girls program, which encourages girls to pursue careers in STEM fields. © UNICEF/UNI195242/Prusent