Meet Merjen striving to unleash the power of women and girls in Tech
Marking 2023 International Girls in ICT Day, 27 April
Merjen Saparmyradova graduated from the International Turkmen-Turkish University with a degree in software engineering and system administration. She believes that knowledge in technology and increased participation of women and girls in the development of digital solutions can play an important role in building a sustainable future. “Technology affects everyone's life in one way or another. Being a technical engineer means constantly acquiring new skills and expanding knowledge,” said Merjen. “My academic background in engineering and my rich IT experience empowers me to make an impact in my community through the implementation of innovative projects that help women and girls embrace technology”.
Right now, Merjen is developing the "Sepgit" website, which will be featuring inspiring stories of women and girls informing the world about the achievements they made and challenges they face in the path of their development. “I hope that this initiative will build self-confidence in women and girls, motivate them to actively participate in all spheres of life,” Merjen said. “Sepgit focuses on promoting gender equality and human rights, which are key to building sustainable and just future for all”.
Last year, Merjen initiated and successfully implemented the project "Launch Life" Coding Bootcamp, the first-ever free Bootcamp in Turkmenistan for women and girls established with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan. The main goal of this project is to help girls and women, especially from the most vulnerable groups, overcome socio-economic challenges by increasing their digital literacy and enhancing opportunities for their employment and career growth in technology. “Initiating the project, I strived to introduce women and girls to digital employment opportunities through training and development. My goal is to enable change through education to get more women into technology and strengthen and continue these important efforts in Turkmenistan,” noted Merjen.
Launch Life Coding Bootcamp attendees, learned how to develop websites and mobile applications from scratch during the six-month long programme. Merjen acted as a director of the Bootcamp and hold sessions on coding and programming classes to improve technical skills of women and girls, which in the long term should ensure their financial stability and independence. As a result, 40% of Bootcamp participants started their careers at local IT companies, while about 30% went on to study in IT and started their technical experience by working as freelance developers.
Last year, Launch Life Coding Bootcamp attendees became the participants of Turkmenistan’s first ever Women’s Hackathon themed “DigiWomen STRIVE”, which provided a platform for about 35 women and girls to work together to create tech-driven projects that generate innovative ideas and digital solutions. During a two-day digital marathon, organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) jointly with the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan, nine teams focused on web and application development addressing issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment through increasing employment and learning opportunities.
In line with the UNDP mandate on gender equality the “DigiWomen STRIVE” Hackathon aimed to empower women and girls with digital skills, provide a platform to create innovative ideas and showcase their newfound technical talents, as well as encourage more women developers to pursue careers in IT.
“This event was a great experience for me. It showed that my small steps can lead to success and the realization of my goals. It gave me the belief that I am doing something very important,” said Merjen with a proud smile on her face, demonstrating a sense of deep pleasure derived from the impactful results of her significant projects. “As we continue to support girls and women in STEM in our community, we must understand that they need support to make a difference. They need mentors, leaders, influencers, and role models to create a supportive environment where every woman and every girl will feel empowered to break stereotypes and find a place in a STEM career”.
In implementing solutions that work for both women and men, Merjen often uses the STEM4All platform, initiated by the UNDP/UNICEF on a global level to promote women and girls, share knowledge, raise awareness, and break gender stereotypes in STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The platform helps accelerate gender equality and the representation of women and girls in STEM in the countries of Europe and Central Asia removing underlying barriers that impede women and girls from pursuing professions that were traditionally considered the domain of men. “I find this resource very helpful. This is a great opportunity to learn from the experience of other countries and see how women and girls around the world challenge gender stereotypes and make a significant contribution to innovation and development,” said Merjen highlighting the vital importance of this joint initiative aimed at ensuring that all people harness the power of digital technology.
Current trends within the overall effort to achieve gender equality and women's empowerment in STEM include the desire of society to call for effective action to achieve impressive results. However, Merjen doesn't just call on everyone to help women and girls develop in areas that are usually dominated by men, but she acts decisively and persistently to achieve visible results. Merjen's work has an impact on girls' lives, significantly affecting their future and increases chances for unlocking their full potential for the benefit of the whole society. She is among women champions standing up at the forefront of efforts to ensure a rights-based and gender-responsive approach to innovation and technology and build a more equal digital age. The results of Merjen’s impressive work contribute to thwarting stereotypes that hinder women’s progress. Her story inspires others and gives a hope for a more innovative, inclusive, and just digital future for all, the future where digital gender divide will be bridged, and no one will be left behind.