Bridging gender gap in science

Maureen Agena 

What you need to know:

  • Excluding women from this growth is detrimental to the economies of Africa. 

February 11 was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an annual observance adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to promote the full and equal access and participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. 

However, despite the progress made over the years, there is a significant gender gap that has persisted throughout the years at all levels of STEM disciplines, globally. The day recognises the critical role that women and girls play in science, innovation and technology and calls for strengthening their participation in various scientific fields, including research.

The need to build a critical mass of experts in Science Technology and Innovation (STI) and provide equal access for both men and women cannot be overemphasised.

However, there is evidence that the number of women who pursue STI programmes in higher education institutions are significantly fewer than men. It is further documented that the ability to retain the few women who embark on training in science disciplines is hindered by discrimination and suppressed motivation. 

Yet, women are a cornerstone to Africa’s economic development and constitute half of the world’s population. Studies show that women account for nearly half of the world’s smallholder farmers and produce 70 percent of Africa’s food. Women are, therefore, a key driver of Africa’s growth and development. 

The Unesco Science report of 2021 states that globally, women accounted for one in three (33 percent) researchers in 2018. They have achieved parity (in numbers) in life sciences in many countries and even dominate this field, in some cases.

However, they make up just one-quarter (28 percent) of tertiary graduates in engineering and 40 percent of those in computer sciences and just 22 percent of professionals working in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) are women. 

Advancement of gender equality, and equitable science, technology and innovation are explicit objectives under several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but they also underpin all of them.  Economics literature further highlights STI as a key masterpiece to growth and transformation of the continent. 

Among the potential determinants of the projected growth are factors such as human capital formation, labour, and a composite, including managerial skills and organisational culture. In Africa, this potential has been hindered by the limited number of individuals engaged in scientific activity per capita on the continent, the most affected being women. 

Women must be judged on the basis of competency by paying attention to the barriers that stand in their way; gender roles, mobility constraints, access to timely and relevant information are some of the things that impair their capacity to competitively participate and make important decisions. 

We can start this investment in women and girls in science, through higher institutions of learning where returns on investment are highest. We cannot experience true transformation if we continue to downplay the role of an important demographic in STEM-Women. We must tap into the opportunity of girls in science and by extension, women scientists. 

Africa must now determine that it is human capital development that drives its economic strategy and Uganda is no exception. There is an urgent need for governments and other stakeholders to focus on bridging the gender gap in science by increasing female participation to support African Union’s Agenda vision 2063, of quality education and gender equality. 

For Africa to move forward, there is a need to empower women not only through affirmative action but competence as well because excluding women from this growth is doing a disservice to our economies. Leverage on the population of women and make the most of their contribution to Science, Technology and Innovation. 

Ms Maureen Agena is a technologist & Development Communications Consultant. 
X: @maureenagena
Email: [email protected]