Apartheid survivor, Baratang Miya reflects on 20 years of addressing the gender gap in tech with GirlHype

Baratang Miya, the founder of GirlHype

Many stories have been told about the apartheid, and they are not enough to describe the horrors that black people faced because of the racial segregation under the all-white government of South Africa between 1948 and 1994.

There are many challenges women face as they thrive for career success, but being a black woman in an apartheid society made it seem like Baratang Miya was living under a rock. Life at that time came with a special degree of confinement, oppression, and limitation.

Throughout her formative years, Baratang Miya faced many adversities, yet she persevered with the support of her family, displaying exceptional determination in pursuing her education amidst societal resistance. She claims to be the first woman to teach other women software development in Africa. The world she grew into is different from the world she is building for other women and girls.

Baratang grew up with dreams despite the limitations ahead, she aspired to become a lawyer but the stereotypes against women in the corporate world killed that dream before it took off. Like a phoenix rising from its ashes, her career rocketed from that setback to birth a feminist, a coder, and the founder of GirlHype – a community that has trained over a million girls and a tech entrepreneur with work experiences from Blackberry, Adobe, Mozilla, CiTi, etc.

How Baratang Miya's late start in coding led to the launch of GirlHype

Defying the odds

Baratang Miya applied to become a prosecutor after completing her high school education. She had a successful application, interviewed for a position, and was invited for a uniform fitting. The series of events that brought so much joy took a sour turn when the interviewer discovered her pregnancy and decided that she could not get the role.

While the apartheid has ended and racial discrimination has reduced, women still face bias in today’s society. Pregnancy is often viewed as a taboo in the corporate world, exacerbating the existing gender disparities. Despite the setback, Baratang Miya refused to be defeated, instead determined to forge her own path. She ventured into the field of interior design, dedicating herself to acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge in this industry.

After completing a one-year entrepreneurial course organized by the government, Baratang Miya embarked on her formal journey as an entrepreneur, capitalizing on a small government grant to establish her own interior design business. By the time she turned 27, she had grown a successful business while simultaneously raising two children as a proud mother.

How Baratang Miya's late start in coding led to the launch of GirlHype

Baratang Miya enrolled in the Bachelor of Social Sciences program, specializing in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at the University of Cape Town because she sought to deepen her understanding of society and its dynamics,

The white males who are protected by the law, protect their women, protected by the law. There are black males protected by patriarchy and the system of Africa as it is (women have to be subordinates) and there are women.

It was her university experience that birthed feminism in her. During her time at the university, Baratang Miya co-founded the Women’s Movement, an advocate for women and gender equality, particularly for black women who have long been marginalized and underestimated by society.

I guess it is because I was a feminist on campus and I knew that the challenges facing girls are more than the challenges facing boys. Also, the opportunity for girls to choose education. Way back, parents will invest in a boy’s education time more than a girl’s education time. I decided with my feministic belief that women should be given rights, women should be equal.

Juggling motherhood and learning coding at age 33

How Baratang Miya's late start in coding led to the launch of GirlHype

Balancing the responsibilities of being a mother to two children and pursuing her studies presented numerous challenges for Baratang Miya. Her younger son, who was below the age of three at the time, had to be placed in the university children’s care facility while Baratang attended her classes.

However, a fortuitous discovery altered the course of her routine. Encountering a postcard advertising a venue that offered remuneration for children playing computer games, Baratang’s interest was piqued, especially given her family’s affinity for gaming. Recognizing her son’s familiarity with computers, she made the decision to entrust him to the venue’s care for the ensuing two hours, enabling her to tend to her academic responsibilities and errands.

On the following day, upon returning with her son, Baratang was advised to accompany him during his allotted gaming time. This experience marked her first exhilarating encounter with the immense capabilities of computers. While her son immersed himself in gameplay, Baratang observed other individuals engaged in activities that appeared to involve binary codes, momentarily sparking her curiosity.

Nevertheless, she refrained from pursuing further exploration in that area, perceiving it as an intricate field of study. At the time, there was no opportunity to explore the wonders of technology like computers and no such thing as free internet access. Google, Facebook and all other big tech giants present today had not even been formed at that time.

We use to use research links, there were things that looked like Facebook but they weren’t Facebook because they were for internal academia. So, I knew then and there that technology makes life easy and the internet was gonna be a big thing.

Two years later, Baratang Miya met a guy who wanted to teach her how to code and make a website design. She was 33 years old at that time when she partook in the tutorial and learned how to code a website within a single hour, utilizing the prominent front-page application—then considered the fashionable coding platform for website creation.

How Baratang Miya's late start in coding led to the launch of GirlHype

Baratang Miya found this intellectual journey captivating, prompting her to make a resolute decision: to share this fascination with girls. Consequently, she embarked on an in-depth exploration of various programming languages, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. During that same year, while still honing her coding skills, she established GirlHype—a community dedicated to empowering girls and women who sought to acquire computer literacy.

Recognizing the limitations placed upon girls in society at that time, Baratang Miya’s personal experience, starting computer usage at the age of 33, underscored the urgency to educate girls about computer usage. She foresaw an increasing significance and reliance on technology in the years to come, as it permeates our daily lives, and took the initiative to prepare girls for the impending technological revolution.

There was just something about the internet that spoke to me... When I started, tech was not this big even though there was money in it, it was mostly professors, academies, and tech startups were very few. In South Africa, I think there were like 10 or 12 of them and they were all new. We all knew each other.

Ignoring the perception of “women can’t win”

I don’t focus on that. Literally, I don’t remember the haters. If there was someone standing in front of me saying you can’t do it, I don’t care. I didn’t see them or I didn’t pay attention to them because my life is built around being resilient to many things that I had to overcome. 90% of the time, I don’t pay attention to them.

As a female professional, she has acquired the ability to effectively handle and dismiss detrimental remarks that could potentially be interpreted as gender-biased.

Moreover, she has come to realize that as a woman in tech, particularly in software programming and platform development, instances of gender discrimination and bias are bound to happen at any time. that could impact her level of optimism.

What has worked for her and should be applicable to other women in the same space or girls looking to break into the space is having a robust network, fostering collaborative opportunities and a sense of sisterhood, in order to provide mutual support and solidarity.

Baratang Miya’s next move with GirlHype

If you don’t know how to use a computer these days, you are not normal. Just like you don’t know how to write.

Although at the inception of GirlHype, the internet was not as pervasive as it is today but through through unwavering commitment, GirlHype has successfully trained over one million girls and women worldwide since its establishment in 2003.

Baratang Miya’s remarkable efforts in empowering women and girls with technical education have been recognized with a prestigious Tech Woman award bestowed by the US State Department.

Despite operating as a non-profit organization without seed funding, GirlHype has secured financial support and forged partnerships with international entities and government bodies, thereby enabling the facilitation of their initiatives.

Celebrating two decades of remarkable progress, GirlHype is embarking on a strategic rebranding endeavour, with plans to officially expand its footprint to other African countries.

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