By, Uchechukwu Ugboaja – Abuja
Women in science is the focus of the African Science Week in Nigeria, an initiative of the Next Einstein Forum. The all-important event which took place at the Women Development Centre in Abuja, drew audience from different parts of the Nigerian society, with particular emphasis on unsung women trailblazers in the science and technology sector.
Several advocates of women in science have claimed that although new grounds are being covered in science by women, there is need for more young women to step up the plate and be counted.
They posit that there are basically social factors and responsibilities that make peculiar demands from women such as marriage & motherhood thereby making it extremely difficult for the female and their male counterparts to complete evenly in the field of science.
The overall goal is to acknowledge and celebrate women in science with a view to encouraging more participation in science and technology as celebrating women who have made laudable achievements in science will indirectly inspire other young women to pursue careers and opportunities in science related fields, said a participant.
“It is on record that only about 25years ago was it discovered that women also suffer cardiovascular diseases, and this was due to the incursion of women into the discipline of cardiological science”, a female panelist re-iterated.
The NEF participants emphasized their belief that partnership is key to the advocacy of encouraging more women in science and commended the role of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Tech-Quest, Ministry of Education and others for their support in igniting the power of science in Nigeria.
“What we and our partners are trying to do is to see how we can expose these women and their achievements in science so as to inspire a new generation who may be challenged especially as the girl child faces the daunting challenge of society stereotypes in Africa while growing up”, said Dr. Obidinma, NEF Ambassador for Nigeria.
The forum stressed the need for women to develop the right mindset amidst gender disparity, unequal employment, career opportunities and other sundry contemporary issues that women are faced with in the society at large.
However, men who support women in science must be encouraged. Women, they agreed, need positive affirmations because there needs to be a shift in the mentality traditionally, religiously and economically.
Government, they advised, must strengthen specific ministries and agencies like the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science & Technology, Ministry of Women Affairs through the National Centre For Women Development and shore up collaborative efforts geared at encouraging more involvement of women in science.
Empowering women in the society is fantastic, but multiple effects of empowering women in the area of science and technology cannot be over emphasized, considering the power of innovation in a developing continent as Africa.
The NEF advised government to synergize effectively in a manner that will encourage participation of women in science and technology.
Part of the panel included Next Einstein Forum Fellows, Dr. Hallowed Olaoluwa, a research associate from Michigan State University and the youngest African to have earned a doctorate degree at 24 years of age, and Dr. Tolulope Olugboji, an Assistant professor from the University of Rochester.
Both Dr. Hallowed Olaoluwa and Tolulope Olugboji, expressed their admiration for the enthusiasm displayed by young women during STEM workshops and science bootcamps held earlier in the day and gave advice on how women can pursue science careers. However, in an apparent reference to the challenges faced by women in Nigeria, Damilola Ade Anwo regretted that: “You have to be deaf to be a woman in science”.
“History reveals that women naturally begin their lives in science even right from the home, as it is claimed that every woman is a scientist, however, society seems to tacitly discourage the further inquest of women into science as a discipline.”
During the Award ceremony, four young women were awarded the ‘Young Women in Science’.
The awardees were;
•Yetunde Salau, a program manager at TechQuest who is passionate about STEM. Her citation further revealed that in her position, she has ensured that over 8,000 students have been introduced to STEM, 80% of which are from economically challenged areas and attended for free. She has a passion for capacity building for kids, this can be seen in the work she does for TechQuest. TechQuest is a not for profit focused on capacity building for kids ages 6 to 16. She has spent the last two years helping them achieve their target of training 1,000,000 kids by 2020.
• Ikpesu E. Lucy is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Trainer and Adolescent Girls and Young Women Advocate. Lucy currently serves in WAAW Foundation as the STEM Trainer; She is responsible for creating and updating STEM curriculum. Lucy’s passion is focused on promoting STEM education in Nigeria especially for student to guild and engages them in the science field and to increase the pipeline of girls’ interest in the Science and Technology.
Damilola Ade Anwo
A project and IT manager; she was recently honored by the U.S Embassy in Abuja, as one of Nigeria Tech women fellows with her initiative-CodelT, Damilola is mentoring the next generation of young coders including women. Damilola is the Co-Founder of CodeIT and Managing partner at Sprout Digital Development Limited.
Two other guest speakers and panelists on the night included:
Theresa Ezenwa from the African University of Science and Technology who presented a paper on “Strengthening Women hood in science” while
Engr. Igwegbe Nnenna Chinyere, National Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Institution of Water Engineers presented a paper on “Too few Nigerian Women in Science: Way Forward”