This Youth Month (June) we are scouring the African continent to find and celebrate young women scientists who are game changers in their field and are eager to use science to help solve Africa’s challenges. We focus on their career in science, their research decisions, their experience as scientists, as well as the challenges they face. Africa is one of the regions with acute under-representation of women in science globally. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics on women in science show that in 2015 women comprised only 31.3 per cent of researchers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Today we have Phelele Fakudze from the Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland).
Constant learning is the core of her leadership ethic. Phelele ‘Pi’ Fakudze has always been exceptional at everything she does. She believes the proverbial glass ceiling is getting a few hard punches and some visible cracks, thanks to the women that have gone before, the women who lead fiercely and fearlessly, advocating for policy changes that support the working woman, and especially the working mother. “We just need to be more of these women. When you are a leader, you have a lot to teach and a lot to learn. An excellent team leverages on each other’s strengths.”
Phelele heads the advocacy team at the SADC Malaria Elimination 8 Secretariat in Windhoek, Namibia. She studied at Wesleyan University and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, USA. For a few years, she worked for FLAS and PSI, designing and monitoring HIV programmes for eSwatini. “The odds in society have been against women for a long time, and we now have to recreate a society that fully supports our rights, dreams, abilities, and decisions. We are doing well, generally, in making that voice louder in the world, but real empowerment starts with recreating ourselves and our relationship with other women. For me, this is the daily attitude that will maximise our impact as women.”
She is a strong believer that science is and will always remain helpful in developing Africa. She says opening more doors for women to become scientists is a win-win situation. Phelele advises the girl-child to start by knowing that they are important and should believe that they are worth everything good. And to care takers of the girl-child; give them their power, start by telling them daily that they are important. “My biggest advice to women is to never sell yourself short. Oversell yourself if you must, but never compromise on being paid what you are worth. Mastering financial negotiation is a skill every girl needs.”
Phelele’s obsession with cooking and making cocktails is well-known. To unwind, she is forever thinking of ways to mix different tastes in food and drink, and if she’s not doing this, she’s lying in bed, on her phone doing absolutely nothing productive. Her other obsession is listening to Beyoncé. Pi is currently reading This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga.