Principal Secretary, State Department for University Education and Research, Ambassador Simon Nabukwesi, has underscored the need to give women equal opportunities to pursue and thrive in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic (STEM) careers to narrow the gender gap in those professions.
Nabukwesi said women were continually being excluded from participating fully in science and technical fields as well as being under-represented in STEM in university courses and careers that he stressed were male dominated.
He said statistics indicate that on average, less than a third of female students choose to study higher education in subjects like mathematics and engineering. This, he said, called for more to be done in the education sector through training and mentorship to attract women into the STEM careers.
Speaking virtually while opening the 6th, International Conference for Women in Science Without Borders at the University of Embu, the PS said STEM education was key for preparing students for the in demand STEM careers of tomorrow.
He reported that advances in STEM had brought about improvements in many aspects of life such as health, agriculture, infrastructure and renewable energy and it was time to take advantage of the ever changing science, technology and innovation space to ensure that no gender was left behind.
“We need to stop the common stereotypes that say this career is for girls and this is for boys,” Nabukwesi said, adding that there was also a need to sensitize parents and teachers on the importance of giving equal opportunities to both gender.
He however said closing the gender gap in science and innovation was not out of reach despite the slow pace and called on the society and the nation at large to evaluate the progress with a view of making necessary improvements.
To address the gap, PS Nabukwesi said the Ministry had instituted several measures aimed at promoting gender equality to ensure women participation in all spheres.
Towards this end, he said Kenya National Commission for Science and Technology (NACOSTI) had set aside funds to enable women scientists to conduct research while African Academy of Sciences (AAS) had allocated travel grants to support women scientists to travel to conferences and other fora to present their research findings.
Similarly, the PS said the proposed establishment of Kenya Association of Women in Science (KAWIS) was an important avenue for women scientists to seek professional support and network.
University of Embu Vice-Chancellor Prof. Daniel Mugendi said if female students were not encouraged into STEM in this age of knowledge-based economy where everything is computerized, the country risks to lag behind as others progress.
“Giving both men and women equal opportunities to pursue STEM careers gives them the opportunity to contribute to making the world a better place for us all,” the VC said.
The don said demystifying STEM should be among top priorities in a bid to increase girls’ enrollment in STEM programmes, adding that there should also be a deliberate effort from leaders to find a lasting solution to the current low enrollment for the same.
Prof. Mugendi said Covid-19 pandemic should serve as a wakeup call for the country “that relying on other countries to provide us with solutions is no longer viable because they also have their own challenges to deal with first before lending a helping hand.”
“We need to do more research, innovation and linking research to real issues and problems that affect our people,” the don said.
The conference was organized under the theme of “Building a Gender Inclusive Sustainable Future Through Science, Technology and Innovation.”
By Samuel Waititu