Especially on the African continent, young female scientists find it extremely challenging to successfully incorporate being a mother and wife with a demanding scientific career. Alex Rose-Innes, in the interest of promoting science, dissects the challenges.
Earlier this year, the International Day for Women and Girls in Science was celebrated across the globe and voices of talented young scientists are increasingly being heard. However as the unique and breakthrough innovations from African female scientists are being honoured by Women in Science during June as Youth Month is celebrated in South Africa (SA), the complex route these talented women has embarked on, still calls for much to be done.
Angela Tabiri is a researcher lecturer at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Ghana, a mathematician with a focus on, noncommutative algebra, quantum groups and quantum homogeneous spaces. However, this talented young woman is also a mew mother. Believing that mathematics is at the core of all sciences, she is making an impact across many disciplines such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals and the medical industry. But she wears three hats – scientist, a wife and mother.
During a recent interview, Tabiri was asked if the assistance she receives in her country is sufficient and how, having a baby impacted her life as a STEM scientist, crucial to push boundaries and frontiers towards a better tomorrow.
The African scenario
Angela said the Ghanaian government insists on three month’s maternity leave before returning to work. Once these multi-tasking scientists return to the laboratory, the law enables them to work only half-day as they are expected to breastfeed a baby up to six months. She said that this institutional support does provide some relief.
In Africa, the family supports the working mother by taking care of her child/children as opposed to the United Kingdom, where the government pays for childcare to enable mothers to return to work. High achieving African women have no other option but to rely on their extended families.
Listening to Angela Tabiri’s responses to Akin Jimoh’s questions on an African Science podcast, there is no doubt that the existing infrastructure for young female scientists who are also mothers, is severely lacking. With huge demands placed on the shoulders of these young women, the only support system is their family.
Various countries are now providing paternal leave, but the challenges for the mother stay the same. In Angela’s case, she has to drive to work in the early hours of the morning and her husband has to accompany her in order to look after the baby while she is working between breastfeeds. When her husband returns to work, her mother will have to move in with them to care for the child.
While working from home after the birth, Angela had to have Zoom meetings while the new father battled to keep a crying baby quiet in the background. But Angela has been fortunate in that her husband understands her passion for STEM.
What is needed?
Angela said private, breastfeeding rooms and safe childcare facilities at places of work. This would enable mothers with demanding careers to be able to care for their child/children while serving the scientific community, who without female input, would be much poorer. Mothers such as Angela, who breastfeed, have to express milk before leaving her child behind.
This is definitely not an ideal situation and place unnecessary stress on young female scientists-mothers. It is long overdue for the African scientific community to realise that women scientists deserve much more while they bring many benefits to the continent and the world at large.