OTTAWA: AIMS is a proud supporter of the African and Canadian Women in STEM conference, which was held in Ottawa on 25 March 2019. The Challenges and Opportunities for the Women in STEM conference was organized within the broader framework of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and the International Women’s Day celebrations. Both days are a reminder that women and girls play a critical role in science and technology and that their participation must be strengthened, especially in Africa.
Hosted by H.E. Ambassador of Senegal, Vivianne Laure Bampassy and IDRC President, Dr Jean Lebel the conference sought to establish frameworks on how best the participation of women in the STEM sector can be improved.
The morning roundtable featured insight from AIMS alumni, Eva Lilliane Ujeneza while AIMS Alumni, Comfort Mintah also attended and contributed as a participant at the roundtable. The roundtable made up of 40 inspiring women in STEM from across Africa and Canada was moderated by Misha Baudisch-McCabe, AIMS Gender Equality and Diversity Officer.
Baudisch-McCabe underscored: “Bringing together top African and Canadian women in STEM led to riveting conversation highlighting challenges and opportunities they face across the board. The day planted the seeds for what will surely be a fruitful peer network contributing to continued dialogue between women scientists from across Africa and Canada.”
At AIMS, we believe it is critical for women to be at the table in order to address the gender gap in STEM by bringing together African and Canadian female scientists. This led to robust and animated discussion around current challenges and barriers informing the gender gap in STEM. Also discussed were strategies on collectively increasing women’s participation in the STEM sector both in Canada and across Africa.
What became apparent early on in the discussion is that women are facing many of the same barriers in Canada as they are across Africa. Some of the challenges identified included:
- Acknowledging that there is a big gender gap in STEM both in Canada and across Africa which leads to women feeling isolated and missing out on research opportunities due to informal conversations that take place among male researchers.
- Lack of mentorship opportunities for women, and
- the pressure women face to have children because of their biological clock.
Challenges specifically faced across Africa include a lack of funding for women in STEM and lack of data available in Africa to monitor and address the gender gap in STEM. Despite these challenges, the esteemed participants were also eager to share best practices from their respective countries. Canadian women in STEM shared how the government provides parental leave for women and men, has dedicated research chairs for women, and the requirement for researchers to apply for grants as a team that includes women.
Rwandan delegates shared knowledge about the provision of dedicated scholarships for women to attend university. Women scientists from Egypt shared how the introduction of gender equality legislation led to higher numbers of women in engineering. From Senegal, the thriving female entrepreneurial sector was discusses.
In order to tackle some of these key challenges, the participants proposed the following solutions and actions:
- Funding needs to be made available to support women scientists and provide seed funding for entrepreneurship
- Programs that will push the younger generation to connect innovation to creativity need funding. This includes moving from STEM to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math).
- There should be diverse representation in the classroom and reflected in the knowledge produced by fostering inclusive participation.
- Political involvement and putting the legal frameworks in place to promote and uphold gender equality in STEM is needed.
- Men must be engaged in dialogues and work together as allies to address the gender gap.
- Women need to link to one another to foster collaboration.
In order to harness the energy for the future, a Canada-Africa peer network for women scientists, endorsed by the Governor General of Canada was launched. This network will allow for a continuation of the riveting discussion started at the roundtable towards a concrete action plan to increase the participation of women in STEM.
Comfort Mintah, AIMS alumnus and PhD candidate at the University of Guelph underscored: “My experience at the African Women in Science was highly inspirational and motivational. Seeing young women scientist who have made great impact in both their home countries and globally was an eyeopener. I am also proud to say this initiative has created a global experiential link for me.”