This post is part of the monthly group blogging series of GhanaBlogging Group for the month of March.
One of the central themes of the month of March every year is the celebration of International Women's Day (IWD). The year 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of this global celebration. In Ghana, an awards ceremony and a mountain-climbing challenge were some of the events held last Tuesday, 8th March, to mark the day. Commentaries and reflections on the positive (prominent leadership roles in politics and business) and negative (gender violence and maternal mortality) situations of our women folk have been pouring in like torrents of rain in a tropical rainforest. In the spirit of the times, this post seeks to propose some solutions to the low female participation in science and technology in Africa.
Identify the cultural barriers and remove them
Traditional African society discourages girls and young women from scientific careers through deliberate and non-deliberate means. Firstly, societal norms encourage young girls to study "reading subjects" to the detriment of "calculation subjects" in high school. Secondly, girls tend to have more domestic responsibilities than boys, and therefore less study time. Thus prevailing culture is a great disincentive to female participation in science and technology. We must consciously remove these barriers in order to see more female participation in the sciences
Identify the psychological barriers and remove them
A number of psychological problems also stand in the girls' way. One of the most notable ones is the morbid fear of mathematics. Now, mathematics is at the root of all sciences, and it is unimaginable to execute any scientific study without control over math. This puts our young girls in a tight corner. Another obvious one is the lack of self-confidence in young girls. Confidence inspires rigorous critical thinking, creativity, experimentation and problem-solving, essential skills required for scientific and technological excellence. Special strategies must be developed to exorcise fear of mathematics and lack of confidence in African girls.
Highlight achievements of successful female scientists
There are many hidden successful African women scientists and technologists who have excelled in their chosen fields. Some of them are:
- Dr Wangari Muta Maatha- Noble laureate and leader of the Green Belt Movement
- Prof Marian Ewurama Addy- Professor of Biochemistry and President of Anglican University of Technology, Ghana
- Prof (Mrs) Afua Hesse-Professor of Paediatric Surgery and President of Medical Women's International Association (MWIA)
- Silvian Wanjiku Gitau-Mobile Health Software Developer and Google Anita Borg Scholarship Winner
The achievements of these trailblazers must be widely publicized so as to empower aspiring female scientists and give them credible examples to look up to. If these African women can make it, the young girl growing up somewhere in Bawku can make it too!
Scrap affirmative action and quota system
I disagree with attempts to "level the playing field" through the practice of admitting females into science and technology programmes, in high schools and universities, at lower grades than males. Quota systems help to increase female numbers in the sciences, only for them to be intimidated by the achievements of their male colleagues. Some of them even drop out such "overwhelming" courses. Girls should be supported to boost their performances first and then recruited into academic programmes solely based on merit. This arrangement will boost their confidence and make them more competitive in male-dominated environments, since they see themselves as equals and capable to excel.
It is crucial for national development to increase female participation in science and technology. In my opinion, removal of psycho-cultural barriers, identification of role models and merit-based admission systems are some of the methods to close the gender gap in the sciences. Do you agree or disagree with these points? What are some of the problems that hinder full participation of women in science and technology in Africa? What solutions do you think will help to take these problems away? Share your thoughts!