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Action, not words, will empower Africa’s women scientists

According to an article published on SciDev.Net, endless discussion just impedes concrete steps to tackle Africa’s gender imbalance in science, says Bola Olabisi.
 
Whichever way the case is argued and however many figures are bandied about to support that case, I find it incomprehensible that women in any part of the world are deprived from playing a significant role in contributing to scientific and technological development.

 
Concerns over the limited number of women scientists in Africa, and the short time they tend to stay in the profession, appear to be growing. I am often asked what I think the issues are and why so few female scientists take the plunge to climb the ladder to success.
 
I could reach for the oft-reported facts and figures that identify barriers such as the need for adequate childcare and a flexible work/life balance, and the limited opportunities and incentives for women who return to work after a career break.
 
I agree that these factors play a role. But I believe that the real issues go far deeper. First, Africa has certain cultural barriers in its traditions, policy processes and practices that need to be addressed. Second, and perhaps paradoxically, the time and resources being directed at ongoing dialogue and information gathering serve as a substitute to taking effective actions that address the issue.
 

Africa’s diverse cultures and traditions go some way to explain why the continent has won the world’s admiration. However, these same attractions bring their challenges, along with rather complex policies and practices.

One challenge is the need to address gender issues throughout research and development operations, while leveraging the untapped potential of women in science, engineering and technology. Cultural barriers include male domination in leadership and influential positions.
 
Although figures vary, the percentage of female science graduates is rising in Africa. But the reality is that women are still largely under-represented in key areas of research and development. An alarming number of graduates are unemployed, undervalued and hardly considered for promotion in their respective workplaces.
 
Some may question the need for a debate. But it’s not enough to continue living in a fantasy world where we offer the same few women scientists as role models on worldwide platforms over and over again.

Read more on SciDev.Net

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