Just when Kenyan entomologist Esther Ngumbi thought there were too little African women scientists, she stumbled across a platform called Levers in Heels, giving voice to the prominent and growing list of African women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
With features on over 30 women in STEM across the continent, Levers in Heels is creating not only a database of stellar African scientists but a discourse on the industry that will encourage more African girls and women to see themselves in STEM by virtue of seeing themselves represented in these professions.
As Ngumbi, a post-doctoral student researching on sustainable ways to feed our expanding population amid a changing climate, wrote, combining such “information with geographic data with real-time input from social media feeds, text messages and other sources, we can track the representation of African women scientists to create a comprehensive inventory of African scientists”. Such an inventory has quantifiable benefits for African development, a few of which are listed below:
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- With visibility, African countries – governments and public and private sector officials – can tap into and make use of these talents
- Connect women scientists to one another and fostering collaboration between their work
- The data on their work will help policymakers identify areas to target for intervention
Below are 4 more distinct ways Ngumbi says African women can be brought to the forefront:
- Coordinate existing efforts that highlight African women scientists
There are number of institutions on the continent trying to bridge the STEM gap – The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, African Women in Science and Engineering, Levers in Heels, The Exploratory, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development and AfroScientric. While they have a common goal, there is little coordination among them. Harmonizing efforts between them could better elevate the contributions of women scientists and harness their research to advance Africa’s development.
- Create an annual gathering for all African women scientists, regardless of discipline
This happens in a lot of professions and in a lot of plates. An annual gathering for African women scientists, irrespective of their fields, would allow them to build networks, meet potential collaborators and discover how others have tackled various challenges.
- Create more prizes to reward African women scientists
In 2010, the African Union honored five outstanding African women scientists. The Union currently holds the prestigious African Union Kwame Nkrumah Scientific Awards. Africa can show that cares for its women scientists and will support their work with even more prizes and other ways to reward and celebrate Africa’s top-performing women scientists.
- Continue to highlight these role models
The country should continue to find and fund platforms such as Levers in Heels, and elevate the conversation to platforms such as TV or a YouTube channel that exclusively highlights such women.
What are your thoughts on these ideas? What are you doing to elevate conversations in this area? Share your work with us in the comments section below.