Digital technology has become a core asset to everyday life. The mind-boggling contributions that it affords the world are the closest to magic that we can get. This rapid progress has required the world’s workforce to evolve as well. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is crucial to supply every member of the future workforce with the skills needed to occupy future careers. Despite this necessity, many countries –particularly those in Africa–experience a gender gap in STEM careers and education, leaving female workers far behind their male counterparts.
According to the United Nations World Population Prospects, over 60% of Africa’s population is currently under the age of 25. Because of this, countries in Africa have the incredible opportunity to elevate their economies by producing a workforce of skilled STEM professionals. Despite this opportunity, there is still a worrisome gender gap in STEM careers in Sub-Saharan Africa–in order to take full advantage of advances in technology, this must be rectified. Here are five things to know about this gender gap in STEM careers.
5 Things to Know About the Gender Gap in STEM Careers in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Inconsistent Access to Electricity: Only 22% of primary schools have reliable access to electricity. This instability in electrical infrastructure makes it difficult for teachers and students to utilize technology to facilitate learning. This is a missed opportunity to expose children, including young girls, to technology and to spark a potential interest in STEM careers.
- Lackluster Enrollment Rates: Many children are out of school. According to the 2018 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Global Education Monitoring Report, 21% of children in sub-Saharan Africa are not enrolled in primary school. The rate of unenrolled students surges up to 57% for upper secondary education.
- Gender Gap in Leadership Positions: There are few examples of women in leadership positions. In most African countries, leadership positions for universities and research facilities are occupied by men. Men employed in these positions of power influence the decision-making process and tend to enjoy a higher salary than their female counterparts. Women in science typically work primarily in academic and government institutions as lecturers and research assistants. Very few women become professors or are able to contribute to major studies.
- Household Burdens: There aren’t sufficient frameworks or policies in place to encourage and protect women in science. Women are less likely to enter and more likely to leave STEM fields than their male counterparts. In many African societies, women shoulder the majority of the household burdens. They don’t receive the support they need to simultaneously juggle their academic ambitions and care for their families. Many women find it difficult to find adequate childcare. Additionally, if a woman decides to take a break to start a family, she may find it difficult to resume her career because of a lack of re-entry programs.
- Weak Support Systems: There are a lack of female mentors. In a challenging career path dominated primarily by men, it’s necessary for women to have a support system. Mentorship helps provide the potential to establish networks and grow professionally. The absence of this support system is a big deterrent for women who may find themselves feeling isolated or diminished in their field.
A country’s ability to fight disease, protect its environment and produce necessary products for its citizens is largely dependent on its citizens’ technological prowess and skill. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a wonderful opportunity to tap into their youth and produce a workforce of highly skilled professionals. Women’s participation in sciences and technologies will be a key driver in this development. There are many organizations taking a stance to address the gender gap. The African Ministers of Education adopted the Gender Equality Strategy for CESA 16-25, a detailed strategy and plan to bridge the gender gap. The future is looking brighter with each passing day. If African governments continue to support ambitious young women, the gender gap in STEM careers in sub-Saharan Africa will surely begin to close.
– Jasmine Daniel