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Mainstreaming science, gender into development agenda

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The age-long archetypal believe that women are weaker vessel and not fit for certain tasks are fast fading. While in time past, professions like boxing, wrestling, football, engineering and aviation were fields that were exclusive preserve of men, but women are now making inroads there.

It is now an era where the professional gender walls are collapsing, as women are now, more than ever, participating in development agenda globally.In countries like South Africa and Rwanda, women are almost on equal footing with their male counterparts in the political arena. To ensure that women play prominently in professions that are male-dominated, they must surmount the hurdle of participating in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and technology-driven subjects in secondary school, as well as science-oriented courses in the university.

According to the U.S. department of commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 17 per cent, while other occupations are growing at 9.8 per cent, which underscores the importance of girls’ participation.Worryingly is the revelation that less than 15 per cent of females are studying STEM related courses globally.

Research has shown that the low participation of girls and women in STEM fields can be observed at all levels of education, with the likelihood for female participation to decrease as the level of education rises.This is mirrored in the labour market where there are few women in STEM-related careers, and women are largely absent in higher-level managerial and decision-making positions.

However, to reverse this trend, there have been renewed steps aimed at boosting female representation in STEM-related skills.With a goal to see Nigeria become the hub for excellence for STEM professionals and one of the top 20 countries by the year 2020 through education, enlightenment, empowerment, engagement and entrepreneurship in STEM and high-technology industries, a social non-profit organisation, Lonadek Consultants has come up with Vision 2020: Youth Empowerment and Restoration Initiative (YERI) to drive this process.

Targeted at SSS 1 – 3 students and the first and second year undergraduates, Vision 2020 YERI that started since 2006, aims to empower youths and equip them with the right mind-set, skill set and resources to become global leaders in STEM related industries.Project Consultant to Vision 2020’s career counselling, industry awareness and youth empowerment programme, Dr. Ibilola Amao, at the 13th yearly summer camp closing ceremony in Lagos, said the initiative is targeted at challenging, mentoring and empowering the girl-child to become global leader in STEM.

She said STEM was important as it develops critical thinkers and innovators for the stability and sustained growth of the nation’s economy.“Our aim is to empower youths and prepare them for a fulfilling and rewarding career ahead. To add value to the Nigerian economy through the ‘catch-them-young’ strategy of reaching out to the grassroots for promising students who can drive Nigeria into a position of dominance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by year 2020 and beyond,” she said.On theme that informed 2020 YERI and challenges so far, Amao, who stated that her focus has always been on national development and socio-economic transformation of the country, said she wants to build capacity and competence of Nigerians to compete globally.

“So as we engage, we pick from the issues and challenges we are faced with and we try and translate it to the jobs for the future. The issues and challenges we see in oil and gas and energy and infrastructure industry inform our themes.“I think it is very unfortunate that the maximum we have in women representation is about 20 percent and about five years ago, I think we had just myself and another lady in the management team. So, we have had to make a deliberate effort to try and encourage more women and more girls to break the glass ceiling.

“There should be a deliberate effort to encourage women and girls to excel in these male dominated terrains. It is not easy. I know what it means to be a wife and a mother all rolled into one. As a Nigerian who is a female, there are many responsibilities that are bestowed on me. So it is not just the office stuff. You need to actually make sure that a woman has a support system at home to be able to compete with her male counterpart,” she stated.

On what next after the programme, Amao explained: “We are focusing on STEM and entrepreneurship, so we are saying that when this fantastic and young talents graduate from university, they should not be looking for a job, they should have identified a gap in the industry where they can create value and we want to see more females in these industries.”

To encourage girl child in the junior secondary to embrace science as a career choice with a target to lead them to the study of engineering, Association of Professionals Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN) flagged off the Mayen Adetiba technical boot camp for girls. The President of APWEN, Felicia Agubata, said the programme was aimed at encouraging girls to start early, “so that they will think about science as a career option. We need to catch them young while they are still in junior secondary school that is what boot camp is all about.”She added that the programme was named after one of the association’s courageous founders, Mayen Adetiba, who soared in the engineering profession, saying: “We are using her as a role model and a pacesetter to these young ones, so that they can dream to be like her.”

The special guest of honour, Dr Nike Akande, who expressed worries over the existing global gender gap in the engineering profession over the years, however stated that with the increased advocacy, more girls are embracing STEM education.Also, Deputy President of National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT), Dr. Comfort Oko, urged women to break every professional barrier to achieve their ambitions.

“First, every woman must have confidence in herself. She must know what she wants in life and what is the bigger dream of herself. If every woman has a bigger picture of herself about what they want to be, nothing can stop them. “Not even the society talking down on them can stop them. In fact, the real men, men that have confidence in themselves and who are not threatened by what a woman can do, will be exited that women are going up. Indeed, some of them will work for the success of a woman who is determined to prove her mettle,” she said.Being a technologist and researcher in the university, which is still dominated by men, Oko said she was never intimidated.

“When I was admitted into school and into a science and technology class that was dominated by males, I was focused, had willingness to learn, and was determined to overcome challenges.“No, I was not intimidated at all. I could not have been intimidated by the presence of men because there was always one thing or the other that everybody were occupied with in order to succeed in school.

“There was no discrimination as such when I finished school. People were employed based on merit. So, it was not much of whether you are a female or a male. What drove employability in that era was simply merit,” she explained. Oko hinted that her venturing into labour activism was purely accidental, saying, “there was a meeting then at the University of Calabar where labour unions were asked if they did not have any woman in their rank and a presence of a woman could make a difference. So, when the labour union asked me to come join them, I did not know what they were talking about.

“I was the invited to join them in a negotiation meeting with the council and the council chairman used expressions that I considered derogatory on the four unions in the university.“I think that was the turning point. I then raised my hand to speak and I spoke my mind about the genuineness of our demands and how those demands would benefit the system. Then the council chairman asked that we start the discussion all over again.”While urging men to support women succeed in their chosen endeavours, Oko said women must never give up saying they will earn respect in the society only when they succeed in difficult terrains which science education represents.

At the summer camp programme, the students were trained on robotics, oil and gas value chain, digital marketing, STEM in the society, renewable energy, health and safety among others. The programme enlightened and empowered the students with STEM skills to solve challenges in society. It also helped the about 31students drawn from 10 secondary schools in Lagos to develop and implement innovative ideas that can make real life impact on the society, and also exposed them to career opportunities available in the STEM industries such as energy, infrastructure, manufacturing, engineering, agriculture, and technology sectors of the economy.

They also learnt the ‘4Cs’ to problem solving, which are Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaboration.While seeking for more females in the engineering profession, APWEN took its advocacy to junior secondary schools recently, encouraging them to take up STEM education to pursue a career in engineering as part of the efforts to increase the number of women Engineers.With less than 15 per cent of females studying STEM globally, the association noted that there was the need to increase the number of girls in STEM studies in schools and students within the junior classes as targets, as those in senior classes had already made up minds to either be in the sciences or other classes.


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