By Jessica Ahedor
Economies of the world hinge on innovations and technological breakthroughs for development . Thus, without investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, Africa which already lags in technological advancement will not achieve its African Union’s goals by 2063.
Though, female populations lead their male counterparts in Africa, a mere 18 to 31 percent of science researchers are women, compared to 49 percent in Southeast Europe, Caribbean; 44 percent in Central Asia and Latin America; and 37 percent in the Arab States.
In Ghana, the AD scientific index 2022 also posits that out of the 3,000 best scientists ranked, only 285, representing 9.5% were females. Ghana like her peers have adopted programs to boost girls participation in STEM one of such programs is the UNESCO-HNA Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education to improve the quality and relevance of girls’ learning. But, all these programs in one way or the other suffer diverse systemic disparities thereby widening the gender gaps in STEM related activities.
In an attempt to close the existing gaps in STEM in Ghana, the Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS), the Department of Geography and Resource Development, the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), and the School of Engineering, University of Ghana, partners University of Nairobi, Kenya, Africa Population and Health Research Centre, and Women in Water and Sanitation to undertake a three-year project in STEM.
The three-year project (2022 -2024) with funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, is to address systemic institutional issues pertaining to gender and leadership disparities in STEM through a cross-country landscape analysis of women in STEM academia and industry.
The Principal investigator for the project titled “TranSforming InSTitutions to Advance women leadeRS in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM): Lessons from Ghana and Kenya” (SISTARS), Dr. Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, said the under-representation of women in STEM and leadership positions in Africa is a contributory factor to the delay in the expected growth for the region.
“One area that we need to focus on is women’s representation. Most delays that we are experiencing in terms of development are in a way linked to under-representation of women in STEM and leadership positions on the continent. The sustainable development and economic growth cannot be achieved unless women are empowered to contribute their quota to development”, she stated.
Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the University of Ghana, during the launch of the project on 5th August 2022, highlighted the importance of STEM education to Ghana’s development. “Over the past 5 years (2018 to mid-2022), the physical and mathematical sciences suffered a decline in the proportion of females as compared to engineering”, she noted. “The SISTARS project has come at the right time to complement the University’s fourth pillar in its Strategic Plan. Understanding and scientifically documenting the challenges women face in STEM would eventually influence national and institutional policies”.
Prof. Kwasi Appeaning Addo, the Director of IESS, says IESS has been working very hard over the years to achieve its mission by undertaking cutting-edge research such as the SISTARS project to inform policy. The IESS has trained several women in environmental science who are playing leadership roles in both academia and industry today but there is the need to do more for equitable representation in leadership and decision-making positions, in STEM related industries and institutions is key.Dr. Katie Bryant, a gender advisor IDRC called on the policymakers and organizations to develop policy frameworks that will help develop, implement, and study innovative interventions that can retain and advance women leaders in STEM careers in the country. “The IDRC is directly supporting five projects at the University of Ghana and many others, indirectly. The University of Ghana has many women in high-level management and governance positions. The IDRC has established a long working history with the University of Ghana and various partners in Kenya as well”, she added.
Prof. Faith Karanja, University of Nairobi, Kenya, who joined the meeting virtually indicated that women and girls have the undeniable right to study science, work in science and most importantly, lead in science. Her expectation is that the partnership with the University of Ghana team will ensure better research outcomes.
The Acting Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection expressed support for the project. She stated that the Ministry is of the firm belief that the overall goal and objectives of the project would be actualized to enhanced women’s participation in STEM and overall gender mainstreaming across all sectors.
The Chairperson for the launch, Prof. Boateng Onwona-Agyeman, the Provost of University of Applied Sciences, in his closing remarks, was hopeful the project would bring an end to some of the challenges women in STEM face in their daily work. “I am also hopeful that the project would discover some emerging challenges and solutions that male counterparts in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics face”, he added.