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The future of African women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers

The future of African women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers

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Women worldwide pursuing careers in science are only 28%, and just 30% of professionals in the sciences in Sub-Saharan Africa are women.

These statistics, released by UNESCO Institute for Statistics, bring to light the huge gap between women and men in exploring careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collectively known as STEM.

These male-dominated fields which lack women, due to inadequate encouragement of girls to pursue mathematics and science at the early school-going age, has been a cause for worry to many including the United Nations which was compelled last year to adopt a resolution to establish an annual International Day to commemorate the role girls and women play in science and technology.

More solely girls programmes need to be organised to increase their participation in STEM activities.

This initiative brought to life the International Day of Women and Girls in Science celebrated annually on February 11 to promote female inclusion and participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

Only a year old, the objective has a long way to be achieved especially for Africa where the sciences are still a reserve for men.

This gender imbalance is being challenged by Ghana’s All Nations University College, Department of Biomedical Engineering, where the Head of Department, Mr Archibald Ekow Danquah-Amoah acknowledged the lack of courage on the part of women to venture into the sciences and engineering but believes the trend is changing.

“In our department we have more women applying than men and currently women make up about 70% of the entire students in the department and they perform better,” Mr Danquah-Amoah, who is also the patron of the National Society of Black Engineers (Ghana) in the school, said in an interview with Africanews’ Ismail Akwei.

Mr Archibald Ekow Danquah-Amoah added that girls should be awarded scholarships to pursue science education so as to encourage them to pursue STEM careers which will aid in bringing gender equity in both the academic and professional fields.

Meanwhile, the Ghana Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), an association founded in the United States to promote the engagement of blacks in both academic and professional fields of engineering, has been organising events to draw the interest of students into the field.

A Pre-College initiative (PCI) programme organised by the NSBE to stimulate the interest of STEM subjects in High School students held at the All Nations University College in Ghana in February created an opportunity for some of the women of the biomedical engineering department of the university to exhibit some of their inventions.

“We inspired the children to appreciate engineering and with a little push and support they will grow to help the engineering society of Africa, “ said NSBE President of the university, Goodluck Seiyefa.

Two teams of three women each from the All Nations University College exhibited two projects: Robotic Nursing Bed with Voice Recognition and Urine Alert System for hospital patients with diabetic automatic neuropathy using a telephone. NSBE Ghana Exhibition

NSBE Ghana Exhibition

One of the exhibitors and final year biomedical engineering student at the All Nations University College, Ibeh Chiamaka Cynthia, in an interview with Ismail Akwei, said her interest in science and engineering began since she was in senior high school in Nigeria where she received immense motivation from her family to pursue her dreams despite facing difficulties.

“I am aspiring to be the first engineer in my family and to help my nation and Africa with ideas and solutions to many problems facing the continent,” Ms Ibeh Chiamaka said. She added that the major difficulty facing most of the students like her are financial support needed to expand projects they are working on.

Another exhibitor and final year biomedical engineering student, Rhoda Ajiroba, said biomedical engineering being a growing field motivates her to be able to use available resources in Africa to invent ideas in order to achieve better healthcare systems.

“There is no obstacle right now that we have not been able to tackle eventhough the journey was difficult. With application of what we learn and practice and the necessary support, in the next five years, we will work on major projects with other biomedical engineers,” Rhoda Ajiroba said.

She quickly took the opportunity to advise young girls who are hoping to get to where she is and subsequently pursue careers in sciences and engineering to stay focused and determined in achieving their goals in the field.

The Administrative Secretary and director of Programmes for NSBE Ghana, Dega Billy James, called for more activity-based science events like they do to encourage more girls to participate. “The potential of girls who take part in our initiatives are great and with a little more patience and available materials, they can achieve even more,” he said.

Dega Billy James added that despite the NSBE-PCI programmes that help students discover firsthand the role of engineering and technology in the world and discover the excitement of academic excellence, the ratio of interest between boys and girls is about 1 to 5.

This, he said, necessitated the organisation of solely girls programmes like the Computer Science Camp for Girls held last year in collaboration with New York-based Emerging Leaders in Technology and Engineering (EliTE) Inc. which was a success.

“More solely girls programmes need to be organised to increase their participation in STEM activities,” he concluded.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, during the celebration of the first International Day of Women and Girls in Science called on all governments and partners to “redouble efforts to empower girls and women through and in science, as a foundation to take forward the 2030 Agenda.”