There is a lot of evidence proving that female children are educationally disadvantaged in many parts around the world. In some cultures, girls as young as 10 are married off to men several decades older than them. Early marriage, childbearing, and the daily demands of domestic life effectively deny these young girls a chance to complete or even start their basic education. In instances where girls do get to enjoy equal access to education, many of them choose not to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), despite the fact that STEM-related careers are often described as the future of the labor market.
In honor of the United Nation’s International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside to highlight the problems of gender inequality and promote support for the girl child, Face2Face Africa examines a recent report in economics publication MEDO, which forecasts that by 2020, 80 percent of all future jobs will require an educational background in STEM. The report also reveals that people working in STEM-based careers earn about twice as much per hour as people working in non-STEM careers.
The career opportunities in STEM-related jobs appear to be limitless and many young professionals around the world have harnessed the potential of STEM to pursue fulfilling careers, some building themselves a fortune in the process.
However, the global ratio of male and female professionals in STEM careers appears to be heavily in favor of men. There is no simple and clear cut explanation on why this is so, but gender stereotypes and the absence of female role models are some of the possible reasons why fewer girls venture into a career in science and technology.
Data released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics puts the number of women around the world pursuing a career in science and technology at 28 percent. The data further reveals that only 30 percent of STEM professionals in Sub-Saharan Africa are women. In the light of these figures, several initiatives have been started with the aim of getting more girls in Africa to pursue STEM-related careers.
Programs Empowering Girls
In 2015, the United Nations adopted a resolution to establish the International Day for Women and Girls in Science, which is celebrated on February 11th every year. The day focuses on the disparity between men and women working in STEM-related careers and current efforts at bridging that gap.
One such effort is “Jiggen Ci TIC” (Women in Technology), a coding and tech community for girls in Senegal, set up by Bitilokho Ndiaye who works as a gender adviser to the Senegalese Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication. Jiggen Ci TIC’s partners include UNESCO and telecom provider Sonatel.
The center provides an all-year-round training opportunity for girls, which includes an intensive month-long session that builds up to a weekend competition, in which teams present mobile apps they have developed to help address pressing local issues.
One of the beneficiaries of the program, 24-year-old Youma Fall, is developing an app that she hopes will help young people find and exchange school textbooks with one another. In Senegal, as in many parts of Africa, it is common for older siblings to save their old school books for their younger siblings. Youma calls the app “WECCIO,” which means “exchange” in the local Wolof language.
An app that aims to help pregnant women keep track of their medical records is also being developed at the Jiggen Ci TIC center. A team of girls are also using city records to allow people to identify available land or real estate on the market straight from their phones.
In Ghana, the country’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is building interest in STEM-related careers by organising exhibitions for the biomedical engineering female students at All Nations University College (ANUC).
ANUC is one of many institutions in Africa to commit itself to promoting quality STEM education for girls. The head of the university’s biomedical engineering department, Archibald Danqua-Amoah, said in an interview with AfricaNews that, “Women make up about 70 percent of the entire students in the department and they outperform men.”
At a recent NSBE exhibition at the university, teams of female students showed off their inventions including a “Robotic Nursing Bed with Voice Recognition” and a “Urine Alert System” for hospital patients struggling with diabetic autonomic neuropathy.
Despite the progress made, there remains considerable gaps in data about the specific needs and challenges of girls, globally. The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child is, “Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement,” which calls for increased investment in collecting and analyzing girl-focused data. STEM-related programs and initiatives stand to play a huge role in helping sub-Saharan Africa achieve its Millennium Development Goals of creating employment for 2.5 million new engineers and technicians, as estimated by UNESCO.