Full name: Utukwa Bemshima Benedict
Date of birth: 25th October, 1984
State of residence: Benue
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Phone contact: +2348165284205, +2348160429146
“The importance of science, technology, research and innovation cannot be overstated, they are critical enablers which shape the socio-economic transformation of Nations. In sub-Saharan Africa, they can drastically improve the living standards. But to unlock this potential, Africa must have well trained science and technology professionals”-Paul Kagame President of Rwanda
One out of every seven persons living on earth is an African. With a population of 1.1 billion, Africa accounts for 15% of the world’s population. It has 54 fully recognized sovereign states and is the youngest and most agile of all the continents, with half of its population 19 years or younger. The continent has an abundant supply of natural resources, and accounts for three-quarters of the world’s platinum supply, and half of its diamonds and chromium. It has up to one-fifth of the world’s gold and uranium supplies, and is fast becoming home to oil and gas production with over 30 countries now producing oil.
However, with these youthful population and array of natural resources, Africa is still referred to as the Dark Continent, not because of the dark skin of its inhabitants, but because of its impoverished masses. It is the poorest and most underdeveloped continent on the earth. Despite its abundant arable land, Africa still relies on food imports and food aid. An average 12 Africans die every minute from hunger and malnutrition, 239 million go to bed hungry every night, while a large proportion of the children have stunted growth. With an average life expectancy of 60 years (WHO 2012), the continent has the lowest life expectancy among the continents. Within the last 25 years, Sub-Saharan Africa has remained the only region in the world where poverty has increased. 32 out of the 38 heavily indebted poor countries are in Africa, while half the population of Africa lives on less than US $1 a day.
WHY AFRICA IS STILL UNDERDEVELOPED
Africa’s undoing is due to its neglect of women, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) sector. While the western world has focused largely on STEM, Africa continues to lag behind. The role of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the development of a nation cannot be over emphasized. Developed nations have been able to harness the power of STEM to trigger large scale industrial revolutions. STEM determines the quality of life of a people, it is critical for the discovery, exploitation and transformation of natural resources into finished goods. A STEM driven economy develops in leaps and bounds. While a lot of African countries have continued to increase their economic base, this growth is not sustainable and does not reflect on their citizens as it is not STEM driven. The growth is rather hinged on exploration and sale of natural resources. Without efforts to increase participation in STEM, Africa will continue to trail the developed continents.
Although 50% of Africa’s workforce is made up of women, this percentage is highly underutilized as they mostly occupy informal positions that do not require STEM skills. Due to their lack of education and low educational status, they have limited choices and account for more than 60% of the workers in the informal and subsistence sector. This has created a gap in development that has plunged the continent into economic and financial woes. If the rate of women who are in STEM is increased, it will herald major sustainable and economic growth.
WHY WOMEN ARE UNDER REPRESENTED
While several factors account for the low percentage of women in the STEM sector, these reasons below are the most significant.
1. SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH ISSUES: 530, 000 African women die every year from childbirth, about 80,000 experience complications during pregnancy, including child mortality, and reproductive and urinary complications. A further 18 million commit abortion, leading to increased incidences of injury and death. Women account for about 58 percent of all recorded cases of HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa. Most often, women do not enjoy control over the size, spacing and timing of their families; they lack access to health facilities and information, and often bear the brunt of sexually transmitted infections. Improving women’s health greatly enhances their representation in the STEM sector. Healthy women stand better chances of completing school, pursuing STEM related activities, and participating in decision-making processes.
2. TRADITIONAL AND RELIGIOUS NORMS AND BELIEFS: Traditional attitudes and norms often place the responsibility for the care of children, the elderly and the sick, as well as running of households in the hands of women, reducing their chances of going to school, gaining economic value for their work, and earning stable incomes. Religion also puts women at a disadvantage by limiting their participation and undermining their potential for self expression.
3. EDUCATION: Low literacy levels contribute to the lack of women representation in the STEM sector. Priority is given to male education than female education, thus denying women the opportunity to actively compete with their male counterparts for technical roles in the STEM sector.
4. INSUFFICIENT ROLE MODELS AND MENTORSHIP: Because few women have ventured into STEM, young women lack adequate role models and the desired mentorship. In cases where there are role models, these young women lack access to their mentorship and are left at the mercy of the male counterparts who sometimes look at them as less intelligent. This often leads a lot of young women to become discouraged and change course to engage in less demanding and non technical roles within the STEM sector.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE
The challenge of underrepresentation of women in the STEM sector is foundational. It begins from the home, spreads to the community before finally climaxing in the energy sector. Therefore, to increase the participation of women in STEM, certain actions must be taken beginning from the grass root level.
1. ADVOCACY: Advocacy should be carried out to family, religious and traditional leaders. Families should be tasked to provide support and create conducive environments for young women who want to veer into STEM. Young girls should be encouraged to pursue nontraditional professions in the STEM sector. Religious and Traditional institutions should be encouraged to eliminate limiting beliefs that prevent women from engaging in STEM.
2. POLICY: Policies should be put in place that take into account the attitudes, customs, behaviors, tradition and peculiar needs of women in that region. These policies must ensure adequate women participation, proper understanding of the policy, and encourage positive attitudinal disposition to gender equality. The policies should take into consideration gender specific perspectives, local interests and community structures. These policies should seek to set up sustainable structures, have backed laws and leverage on fundamental human rights. Every policy must assert the non-negotiable rights of women to health, education and a source of lively hood.
Seeking to increase women representation in technical areas in the energy sector is not a matter of reducing the number of men to make way for the women, or denying the benefit ascribed to men so the women can benefit. It is not a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, or depriving the men to empower the women. It is a matter of increasing the capacity of the women so they can effectively develop and market their latent gifts just as their male counterparts. It is a question of equal access to economic opportunities, decision-making platforms and basic resources. It is about having equal rights, equal wages, and social inclusion. It is about promoting access to resources, removing gender gaps, and eliminating higher unemployment rates.
In the long run, empowering women is central to sustainable development in any progressive economy. There is no doubt that development cannot be achieved or sustained if a large portion of the population is not involved. Higher female earnings and bargaining power translates into greater investment in children’s education, health and nutrition, that leads to economic growth in the long term (Department for International Development (DFID) (2010), Agenda 2010 ‑– The turning point on poverty: background paper on gender, DFID, London). If more women are empowered, more people will be empowered, and if more people are empowered, then development will be accelerated.