Encouraging African girls to pursue STEM education

The STEM Women Lead Speaker Series seeks to inform, encourage, and empower young Africans, and particularly women, to take up STEM related programmes to address the egregious gender imbalance.

Carnegie Mellon University Africa (CMU-Africa), the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank has launched the STEM Women Lead Speaker Series which aims to inspire girls to take up STEM subjects. This initiative is supported by key stakeholders who include representatives from the Ministry of Education, members of the diplomatic corps, institutions of higher learning, high school administration and students, and UNICEF.

According to UNESCO, only eight percent of women enrol in engineering, construction, manufacturing, and even fewer, in ICT (three percent). This disparity in educational attainment leads to the underrepresentation of women globally in technology roles at all levels.

Furthermore, the imbalance means that the industry is significantly underutilising a key segment of the potential workforce and is detrimental to achieving the continent’s growth and development.

Studies have shown that girls are most likely to feel empowered to pursue careers in STEM- related fields when they know or identify with a woman in a STEM area of expertise. The audience for this series includes female undergraduate students from the University of Rwanda and its Centres of Excellence  and the African Leadership University (ALU); and female students from FAWE Girls School, Maranyundo Girls School, G.S. Kicukiro, Kagarama Secondary School, Lycee de Kigali, G.S. Kimironko 1, Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology, and Agahozo Shalom Youth Village.

“At CMU-Africa, we believe that it is a moral imperative to address the current under-representation of women in STEM and have designed intentional impact strategies that will attract and retain female students,” said Gbemi Disu, Executive Director, CMU-Africa.

“The STEM Women Lead series, which we have launched today is a prelude to International Women’s Day, is part of this plan, and we are honoured to have great partners such as the World Bank and African Development Bank that are aligned and committed to the shared vision of advancing women in STEM.

“Inclusive economic growth and improvements in living standards rely heavily on innovation and technology. This can only happen for Africa with a huge investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.”

Rolande Pryce, the World Bank Group Country Manager, Rwanda said: “Where those investments are being made, we see a gross under-representation of girls in education and women in STEM careers. We at World Bank seek to catalyse change by celebrating African STEM women role models.”

Addressing the barriers girls are faced with is complex and multifaceted, but highly necessary. It is therefore imperative to educate teachers and administrators to eliminate any unintentional speak of unconscious biases and discouragement. It is also important to include male champions to challenge existing social norms and attitudes and encourage all children, regardless of their gender, to pursue an interest in STEM related subjects.

“Through its numerous interventions, the African Development Bank underscores the need for STEM to be inclusive. The STEM Women Lead series which we are a part of, is therefore a strategic initiative that will augment mentorship, peer learning and place women as well as girls at the centre of STEM Programmes,”  said Aissa Toure’, Rwanda Country Manager, African Development Bank.

The STEM Women Lead Series has three objectives; the first is to provide role models by showcasing and highlighting the importance of the role of women in STEM fields and the positive impact on society, the second is to inspire young women to pursue STEM education by dispelling stereotypes and social norms that discourage girls’ interest in STEM, and the third is to demonstrate exciting career paths within the future of work, thereby encouraging women enrol in STEM programs.