Generally, women are doing better than ever, in terms of education if we go by one UNESCO Global Monitoring Report. However, there’s still a noticeable gender imbalance between males and females in more specialized fields such as STEM.
To buttress this point, another UNESCO report titled, “Cracking the Code: Girls’ and Women’s education in STEM”, discovered that while 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are females.
This gender gap becomes alarming considering that STEM careers make up one of the fastest-growing and highest-paying industries in the world; hence the need to give attention to the gender disparity that exists with regards to the low representation of females in STEM fields, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition to prevailing conditions of females in STEM such as lower job satisfaction, exclusion, and less recognition, a notable barrier to women’s representation is the lack of interest in the younger generation of females.
Sadly, a Google survey reported that many girls don’t know what computer science actually means.
Not only are they not encouraged to study the course, but they also attribute words like “boring” and “difficult” to science-related disciplines. How can these issues be addressed? Consider the following action points.
Demystify science-related subjects
The myth that boys have more aptitude in science than girls is a harmful stereotype that insinuates that young girls and women shouldn’t be interested in STEM subjects much less pursue such career paths.
To combat this thinking, it becomes important to engage with girls at the most basic level of education-primary school- introducing them to STEM subjects as a potential career trajectory.
Girls should be encouraged to consider technology careers while they are still at school, understanding that ‘tech’ does not necessarily mean coding or software development; which brings us to the second point.
Roll out STEM-focused initiatives
The gender gap in STEM subjects is already evident among 15-year-olds as boys are reportedly more confident and interested in broad science topics despite similar scores in science and maths among all genders. This begs the question: What can be done to spur STEM studies for girls?
Numerous workshops and programs have been set up to build and sustain the interest of young females in STEM. Below are a few of the current initiatives in Africa.
- African Girls Can Code Initiatives
- Girls Coding
- Girls Who Code
- She Will Connect Africa
- Tech Needs Girl
- WaaW Foundation
When it comes to educational facilities, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa face the biggest challenges. At the primary and lower secondary levels, less than half of schools have access to electricity, computers, and the internet.
Governments will need to provide financial and technical resources, including the training of teachers to better interact with female learners.
Connect them to female role models
The value of mentorship is irreplaceable. Finding a mentor early on can do wonders for budding tech women. Female role models with the capacity and capability to lead young people toward success are confidence boosters to young girls.
As females in STEM careers become more prevalent, the new generation of women will begin to recognize the additional career opportunities open to them. With more role models in the field, it will become more evident to the next generation of girls what they can offer the world.
According to UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay, it is crucial for women to be a part of the digital economy to prevent Industry 4.0 from perpetuating traditional gender biases.
“Women need to know that they have a place in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and that they have a right to share in scientific progress”, she added.
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