Policy reform has been suggested as a major requirement if Africa is to encourage her women to participation in technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
A report titled “Factors which Contribute to or Inhibit Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in Africa” compiled by the African Academy of Sciences 2020 found that some of the policies embraced by organisations, and nations were still failing to promote women involvement in the field.
It then called for policy, legislative and organisational initiatives that can significantly reduce the gender gap in STEM in Africa.
The report is the result of a survey response by several women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and policy experts involved in data collection from across African institutions.
The study was conducted in the backdrop of reality that even though the gender gap in STEM is narrowing, females continue to be less likely to pursue STEM careers compared to their male counterparts, creating underrepresentation of females in the field.
After studying the many variables in the science field, it said women scientists have a vital part to play in scientific leadership and in contributing to Africa’s development and transformation, but they remain substantially under-represented in higher education and in STEM.
The report found that countries across the globe are not fully utilising the potential of the entire population, including girls and women in innovation, science and technology.
Study findings also showed that women’s success in STEM was influenced by various factors that reinforce each other at various levels including at the individual, family, societal and the work environment
It then calls for a multipronged approach that addresses challenges that women face in their quest to pursue STEM courses and succeed while in practice.
“The continent also lacks a fair distribution of women researchers as data from some high-income countries indicate a low proportion of female researchers,” it says.
It also points to gender disparities that continue to subsist despite the efforts being made to recruit and retain more women in STEM.
It states that major gender disparities between female and male research scientists are also evident in places of work and their levels of responsibility.
“Women scientists primarily work in academic and government institutions, while their male counterparts are engaged more in the private sector, with better pay and opportunities. In addition, women scientists are often concentrated in the lower echelons of responsibility and decision-making with limited leadership opportunities,” the report states.
It discards an assumption under the nature argument that girls’ brains develop differently from boys’
“There is no evidence that biological factors cause gender differences in STEM. Furthermore, there is evidence that in some countries, girls perform as well as or even better than boys in science,” it states.
Stereotyping was also found to have negative influence by shifting an individual’s focus from performing a task to worrying that low performance will confirm a negative stereotype about a group to which the individual belongs.
“Negative stereotypes about the ability of girls to excel in STEM can substantially lower girls’ test performance and their aspirations for science and engineering careers over time, yet men continue to outnumber women, especially at the upper levels of these professions,” the report states.
Evidence from diverse bodies of research also show that social and environmental factors contribute to the underrepresentation of women in STEM.
“In many African countries, socio cultural beliefs and practices largely connected to the construction of feminine identities, ideologies of domesticity and gender stereotypes may exclude girls from pursuing science subjects,” the report states.
The report is also a clarion call for teachers and parents to interact with girls and support their effort because it has been proven that girls perform better in mathematics and are more likely to pursue math in the future if they receive such mentorship.
A survey conducted in the course of compiling the report suggested various solutions to bring more women to actively participate in STEM, including the availability of equipment and resources. empowerment, family support and peer to peer support.
“Over 95% of the survey respondents reported that scholarship was a crucial facilitator for success in STEM. Support in terms of financial resources was highlighted by interviewees as a significant factor in ensuring that women were successful in STEM. This was mostly in form of financial support through payment of school fees for girls at lower levels of education to ensure that they transit to the next level,” the report found.