The world recently celebrated another International Day for Women and Girls in Science. Across Africa this was commemorated by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) which on that day provided an opportunity for female scientists to inspire young girls towards pursuing science careers.
Despite the many scientific breakthroughs by female scientists across the globe and in Africa and the highly important role of women in scientific discoveries and advances, there still is an under representation of female scientists. Especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, a mere 32% of researchers are female.
The University of Pretoria (UP), through the Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) project, addresses this gender gap in science by supporting the career advancement of female early-career researchers involved in food systems research on the continent. In February this year, FSNet-Africa hosted an outreach event to inspire young girls during the celebration of the International Day for Women and Girls in Science.
The overall objective of this day is to ensure acknowledgement and visibility of female scientists who have made a difference in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, despite the multiple challenges they face and to encourage young upcoming female scientists to look beyond gender stereotypes and embrace STEM careers.
During this outreach event, 11-year-old Chikomborero (Chiko) Gandidzanwa, a budding female scientists in Africa, talked about coding and robotics at school.
Chiko interviewed a panel of renowned women scientists who are part of the FSNet-Africa network. This included Professor Ibok Oduro (FSNet-Africa mentor) from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, Professor Claire Quinn (FSNet-Africa Co-Principal Investigator and mentor) from the University of Leeds in the UK and Dr Bridget Bwalya (FSNet-Africa fellow) from the University of Zambia in Zambia.
Prior to the live interview, young girls were given the opportunity to record on audio and submit their questions about food and/or women in science. Questions were received from girls as young as five years old.
During the programme, these high achieving female scientists highlighted the importance of an inquisitive mind and readiness to systematically work on it in the quest to find solutions for society to benefit.
With food scarcity predicted to increase on the African continent, the influence of science and the work of scientists were highlighted. The importance of STEM and proper mentoring of young girls were shared by Dr Inocencia John, an FSNet-Africa fellow.
Panellists on the live chat show encouraged girls to maintain their curiosity, not be afraid to ask questions, grab opportunities and explore different subjects, even those traditionally seen as very challenging or more suited to boys.