Encouraging Women In STEM Industries

Encouraging Women In STEM Industries


Historically, gender imbalance has been a cancer that has plagued almost every aspect of life. In the education sector, nowhere is this more evident than in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, collectively known as STEM.

The STEM fields have always experienced a woman problem all across the world, but more so in Sub-Saharan Africa. Men tend to dominate these sectors, and the numbers continue to look grim for women.

A recent report from the World Bank noted that if African economies are to meet their promising economic potential, ‘smartly targeted investments’ in higher education are essential. This smart investment should embrace (in a prominent way) STEM fields which can be absolutely transformational as economies evolve.

The same report acknowledges that research in these areas has doubled on the continent over the last decade (and vastly superior in quality) but it is still wanting. This is especially so considering the region’s share of global research output in physical sciences and STEM-related areas is slightly less than a paltry 1 per cent, a meagre sum considering the continent’s share of global population which stands at 12%.

At the heart of this expansion will be a need to bring female students into the fold. And it has to start at a lower level before they proceed to enroll in the growing number of colleges and universities all across the continent.

Indeed, UNESCO is of the view that targeting young women and equipping them with the necessary skillset needed in the 21st century will not only help bridge the gender gap, but also make of them powerful agents of change.

And they are putting their money where their mouth is.

During the WiSci (Women in Science) Girls’ STEAM Camp held in Rwanda between July and August 2015, the UN arm joined forces with the United States mission to UNESCO to impart upon female students skills in Computer Science, Robotics and Design/Art/Culture. This saw 30 female students from high schools in the U.S. study alongside 90 female students from various African countries. The objective was to address gender inequality at the high school level, and the importance of making good education decisions with regard to college and career, as well as encourage the girls to venture into the male-dominated STEM fields.

The UN Women, the United Nations’ chief arm is tasked with promoting gender equality and women empowerment and continues to put a strong focus on guaranteeing the development of the next generation of women leaders in the fields of STEM through its numerous initiatives targeted especially at less privileged countries in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.

The Working to Advance STEM education for African Women (WAAW) Foundation also warrants a mention for the major advances made towards reducing the gap between the number of African girls venturing into STEM fields in relation to boys, its efforts to encourage young women to pursue STEM careers and ensure they are engaged in Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship to benefit Africa. The core target of this non-profit organization – which runs multiple STEM hands-on programs – is sub-Saharan African girls aged between 11 and 30 years, and particularly those who hail from underprivileged backgrounds: the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalised; not forgetting disabled girls.

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WAAW Foundation has firmly stamped its mark in countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Kenya so much that its College-to-secondary Outreach and mentoring programs have impacted over 20,000 secondary school girls to date. Thirty-one college scholarships awarded, over 200 college fellows trained and over 198 secondary students participated in STEM Camps.

A Lot of Potential

Because, as we can all agree, buy provigil india there is much that African-country economies and society in general stands to reap by bringing the African woman – a previously marginalised group – in from the cold.

For starters, it is good to note that there exists a direct correlation between increased female labour force and faster economic growth: economies grow when more women work. And if evidence from multiple countries in Africa is anything to go by, increasing the amount of household income controlled by women (whether through cash transfers or their own earnings) alters spending in ways that benefit children.

Globally, there exists a gender wage disparity, and on average men are paid more than their female counterparts. However, pursuing career and leadership in STEM disciplines ensures this wage gap is drastically reduced because, apparently, these careers have greater gender parity when it comes to pay.

When it comes to STEM skills, African states that make it a priority to ensure more women acquire these skills would only be doing themselves a favour. Reason being STEM and economies are closely woven together. It results in job creation and the butterfly effect can be felt in other sectors such as – in addition to cornerstone pillars such as agriculture and health – housing and community development.

Speaking of agriculture…

Long gone are the days when African economies used to rely on agricultural produce as their main offering. As much as it remains a key cog in the wheel of many an economy, it is not lost on anyone that diversification is the key to the future. And acquiring skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will determine how bright that future is likely to be.

Because let’s face it, Africa can only move forward in earnest if Africans are the ones who provide solutions to their own problems and issues. Not the United States. Not India. And definitely not China.

Perhaps it would be nice to highlight the fact that the under-representation of women in STEM-related fields is not due to a lack of aptitude in math or science. Multiple studies have shown that girls in secondary schools perform just as well in STEM subjects as boys.

The real problem lies in the fact that they are less inclined than men to seek a career in STEM. That’s right. A World Bank Report on Digital Dividends has shown that the number of women in STEM drops continuously from high school to university, teaching, laboratories, policy drafting and decision-making.

The underlying reasons for this vary from gender stereotyping, to support structure, to lack of female role models. Hence the burning need to step on the gas with regard to implementation of all the recommendations and commitments from the various bodies.

Last Word

The fact is STEM transforms the world and shapes our future. You need not think far from the changes brought about by the discovery of penicillin, or the invention of the light bulb, or airplanes, or computers. We need to see more inclusive measures taken to make women part of the future.

STEM is the key to solving many problems plaguing not just Africa, but the world as a whole – from filtering drinking water, to utilising cleaner sources of energy, to finding a cure for cancer. It is imperative that we get women in on the act too.

Innovation is the keystone of economic development of any nation, and investing in human capacity with relation to STEM is critical to this. If the African continent is to thrive economically, it is important to have many more women participate in innovation and STEM in general.

Unoma Okorafor

Dr. Unoma Okorafor is the founder of WAAW Foundation. She is a passionate social entrepreneur committed to empowering girls in African through STEM focused education.

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