Essay

Conference to highlight African women in STEM

Saja Terier
By Saja Terier
March 28, 2022

The world has recognized the contributions of women scientists from the past such as Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin as well as present-day researchers such as Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier who shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on CRISPR gene-editing technology. The accomplishments of these women highlight the need for diversity and gender parity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but largely missing from this recognition is the work of African women.

Only about 31% of STEM researchers in sub-Saharan Africa are women, and this number decreases in low-income African countries. In response to this disparity, the African Academy of Sciences released a study in 2020 on factors that motivate or inhibit African women in STEM. The study found that family responsibilities, difficulty finding work–life balance and traditional beliefs that women are unequal to men in STEM were inhibitors. By contrast, when successful African women in STEM were asked what motivated them to pursue STEM careers, the most common response was their self-belief, followed by academic preparation and female mentors.

If more African women are able to obtain the mentorship, training and funding required to boost their self-belief and prepare them academically, the number of African women succeeding in STEM fields might increase.

To this end, in February 2021, Anna Ampaw, a chemistry Ph.D. graduate, founded the non-profit organization Empowering Female Minds in STEM, also known as EFeMS.

The main goal of EFeMS is to combat the gender disparity observed in the STEM fields in African countries by cultivating a community of African women who are skillful leaders in higher STEM education and careers. EFeMS aims to do this by equipping women with the skills and resources needed to help them excel in academics, boost their self-belief and reduce their financial burden.

EFeMS programs include one-on-one mentorship, skill-building master classes, networking opportunities and scholarships. In addition, each year, EFeMS hosts a skill-based boot camp to help African women in STEM strengthen their communication, leadership and creativity skills, as well as a virtual research conference to engage women all over Africa to participate in research talks, poster presentations and networking opportunities.

This year’s EFeMS Research Conference will be held April 9, starting at 8 a.m. EDT. The online conference will showcase outstanding and innovative research with the aim of amplifying the voices of African women who are breaking barriers in STEM while engaging women all over Africa. If you are interested in participating in this virtual event, register here.

Throughout history, the world has benefited from the work of women scientists, but the potential of African women in science remains largely untapped. EFeMS seeks to unlock this potential and highlight the significance and successes of African women in STEM now and in the future.

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Saja Terier
Saja Terier

Saja Terier is an undergraduate studying biomedical science at University of Ottawa and a volunteer writer for Empowering Female Minds in STEM.
 

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