Officials of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) recently gave, on the organization's official microblog, thumbs up to xing.cxy61.com, an online platform dedicated to improving children's sex education. The website, along with the online Course on Gender Equality, is a sub-project of Teach Girls Coding (TCG). Chen Bin, the project's initiator, recently told media many women had increased, through the project, their knowledge about information technology (IT), among whom dozens had landed IT-related jobs, and quite a few had gone abroad to study computer science. "I hope through our efforts, the world will become a more equal, balanced place," says Chen.
Chen had worked, as a computer engineer, for Microsoft and CISCO for seven years before he established a tea park, on the Wuyi Mountain, in Southeast China's Fujian Province, in 2011. In May 2017, he posted the following information on Sina Weibo (China's equivalent of Twitter): "I want to offer (for free) a programming course to females who are aged 14 years or better. Women programmers are rare … If more women are technically competent enough to take the well-paid job, their social status will be improved markedly."
Within a month, the message had been forwarded more than 10,000 times. Chen was pleased to learn many females, including university students, returned Chinese, white-collared workers and housewives supported his plan of initiating the TCG Program. During the following 20-plus days, Chen led his team in developing the program's app.
Chen recently told media his team had designed about 40 subjects for beginners of programming. The team also established an online community, through which learners can help each other solve "technical" problems. "We offer, online, more than 1,000 IT-related work opportunities to our 150,000 users," Chen said.
Sparking an Interest
When it comes to Chinese women working in the technology industry, the numbers reveal a continuing challenge. According to a report recently issued by proginn.com (an online platform that helps programmers find suitable matches for the potential clients), women currently make up 7.6 percent of the total programmers in China. Another report, by Google, indicated 31 percent of the company's employees were women in 2015, an increase of one percent over the previous year.
"Girls usually get fewer chances to explore subjects like science and engineering, in part because of lack of encouragement (from their parents and/or teachers) and a negative stereotype about girls' technical abilities. As a result, few women choose programming as their career path," says Chen. "I hope more women will step out of their comfort zones, to achieve career successes."
Thanks largely to the TCG Program, Zhang Xuan, a young woman from Chengdu (capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province), changed her career path. "Before I attended the course, a tourism website employed me as project-management personnel," says Zhang. "The course is easy to learn, and the online community satisfies our needs for both accomplishment, and for socializing with others."
To express her gratitude to Chen, Zhang in March 2018 sent the following online message to him: "The TCG Program has not only sparked my interest in learning programming, but it has also helped boost my confidence. I hope more young women will attend the course. When they master the programming skills, they will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. More importantly, they might discover their potential as a programmer."
Promoting Women's Empowerment
Zhang Linlin, a 23-year-old woman who helped develop the program, often participates in the program's activities. She and other teammates of the program have committed themselves to promoting women's empowerment, and helping women receive equal job opportunities, especially in terms of programming.
"I hope more women will join our online community, so they will hone their programming skills. I also hope more women will join the programming industry, so they will increase their incomes and will have a greater say in the national political, economic and social affairs," says Zhang.
Chen believes men and women are equally intelligent. "As long as one reads books and teaches himself/herself about programming, and gradually gains some experience in operating the computer, he/she will become a qualified programmer. Seven of my former colleagues, at Microsoft, and I are all our own teachers in programming," says Chen.
Online Gender Equality Course
Many of TCG's trainees have suggested, during online chats, that greater efforts should be made to improve children's sex education. When Chen learned about that, he decided to establish a website dedicated to improving children's sex education.
"More than 600 women trainees helped collect information for the website. The website, which went live to public on December 22, 2017, contains information for both children and parents," says Chen.
Chen on March 1, 2018, posted a message on Sina Weibo, through which he called on people, from different walks of life, to join him and the volunteers in compiling China's first online Course on Gender Equality. Chen wrote, "Moving into the 21st century, China is developing at a steady pace. However, it's not uncommon to see many women fall victim to gender discrimination and/or negative gender stereotypes. Why not join hands and put the things right?"
Yang Chun, a trainee of the program, teaches mathematics at a middle school in East China's Anhui Province. He began examining his own words and deeds, especially as he educated his students, after he helped compile information for the course. "I'll make greater efforts to encourage girls to study mathematics. I'll tell them they are by no means inferior to boys, in terms of science studies."
(Source: Women of China English Monthly July 2018 issue)