By Sharon Atieno

Though science and gender equality are important in achieving the sustainable development goals, women continue to lag behind their male counterparts in the field with less than three in ten researchers being women.

According to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2014 – 2016), only around 30 per cent of all female students select science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related fields in higher education. Globally, female students’ enrollment is particularly low in information and communication technology (ICT) (3 per cent), natural science, mathematics and statistics (5 per cent) and in engineering, manufacturing and construction (8 per cent).

To address the barriers that hinder women from venturing and progressing in the field, Andrea Johnson, Program Officer in Carnegie Corporation of New York’s International Program speaking during a webinar convened by African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) said there is need for commitment from all stakeholders including the governments, private sector and the public at large to prioritize education that is fit for purpose and widely accessible.

“The larger the pool, the more people including women will be able to go into science and research careers,” Johnson stated.

She added that applying a gender lens throughout to identify those changes that do the most to increase opportunities for women to contribute to research will help to ensure that the available resources.

Johnson said making the work of female researchers visible creates role models so that girls can see research as a viable occupation and highlights the distinct contribution that female researchers are making in solving societies’ problems. “Both can help to change attitudes about women and their place in science and research,” she said.

Reiterating the need to recognize women in order to inspire others, Dr. Anthony Egeru, Senior Lecturer, Makerere University said: “We need to profile our own women in the African context so that people can believe and see the value, that it is possible to make it.”

Dr. Egeru said that there is need to include women in leadership within institutions not just as part of affirmative action. It has to be a deliberate effort to ensure that women in learning institutions are part and parcel of the conversation in the leadership process, he noted.

“There is need for a stronger group of female mentors that are willing to walk the journey with female colleagues in various levels,” Dr. Egeru stated. “Therefore, mentorship becomes a very strong strategy for getting young people to believe in themselves and in their ability to pursue a STEM career.”

Dr. Moses Osiru, Manager, Regional coordinating unit PASET Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund noted that institutions should support women to finish their postgraduate courses on time as some who don’t finish end up lagging behind and eventually dropping off.

Dr. Osiru added that there is also need to sensitize people who are managing post graduate programs within higher learning institutions to overcome unconscious bias which often plays out against women especially during recruitment and selection.

Observing that lack of familial support leads to women lagging behind, Nathalie Munyampenda, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Kepler said to enable women to finish their programs, there is need for family orientation events where women can showcase and share their work with their families for them to appreciate the value these women are making in their different fields.