African Women Scientists’ Working Environment Changing

20 May 2015 15:50pm
By Pearl Coetzee
(Nampa Features Service)

WINDHOEK, 20 MAY (NAMPA) – Women have been struggling to break the barriers of male dominance in various academic sectors, despite their bold attempts to make their presence felt in these sectors.
But a glimmer of hope is beaming in the science field for many women who yearn to break this male dominance.
The field appears to be one of the last sanctuaries for women leaders, as more women scientists are coming to the fore.
A group of women researchers who recently met in Windhoek confirmed that African women scientists have been making great strides in this field.
They concluded that the working environment for women is changing for the better.
Speaking at the end of a two-day research partnership workshop on water resources for women scientists from Africa and the United States last Tuesday, delegates agreed that the life of women scientists in Africa is changing for the better.
“Although we face the same challenges all over the world, the working environment of women scientists is slowly changing in Africa. Despite the fact that women are still deprived of playing a significant role in contributing to scientific and technological development, many things have changed over the years, especially in Namibia,” Chief Hydrologist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Cynthia Ortmann said.
She said many women are now receiving recognition for making their mark in a male-dominated environment, while women scientists have taken up high positions in Government.
Although figures vary, the percentage of female science graduates has also risen in Namibia.
Many opportunities exist for women scientists to collaborate with other female scientists in other parts of the world.
Opportunities are now also fairly distributed and more women get the opportunity to attend international meetings and conferences. In the past, only men travelled as women were relegated to menial jobs at home.
The Senior Hydro-geologist for the Department of Water Affairs in Zambia, Beatrice Kanyamuna-Pole said the future of women in science on the continent looks bright.
“My government is encouraging more women to study science. There are more funding opportunities and scholarships now available for women compared to a few years ago,” she said.
However, Kanyamuna-Pole said only a few women specialise in water science in her country. In most government departments and private institutions there, women are still under-represented in leadership positions throughout most scientific professions.
She suggested that women need more mentoring and encouragement to become successful stewards of their environments.
In Sudan, women scientists still find it hard to gain recognition.
The Assistant Professor in the Physics Department at the Al Neelain University in Khartoum, Nashwa Eassa, said 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. Government funding for women to pursue a career in science is also a dream for many women in Sudan.
“My government is not funding science and we rely only on donor funding. But hopefully, things will change for women scientists in the near future,” she noted.
Eassa added that more women are needed in research to increase the range of inventions and breakthroughs that come from looking at problems differently than men typically do.
Dr Geraldine Richmond from the University of Oregon, who facilitated the workshop, said delegates were carefully selected because of their scientific expertise and their interest in collaborations.
Richmond emphasised that delegates developed a series of action items of which everyone is committed to take forward, which include amongst others collaboration in water regulations; capacity building in monitoring water quality; and groundwater issues.
Two more workshops are scheduled to take place on the African continent later this year, she said.
“Our interest is to make sure that this network stays unified. We will continue to interact with everyone that attended this workshop,” she added.
Women researchers and scientists from Namibia, Zambia, Ghana, Sudan, Egypt, South Africa, and the United States attended the workshop.