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Today, the 11th of February, the world marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It’s an annual celebration of the strides being made by women in the sciences and STEM fields in general, and a chance to reflect on the impediments that still put off many young girls and their counterparts across the globe from getting more involved in science.

This year, activities on the day will revolve around the theme ‘Investment in Girls and Women in Science for Inclusive Green Growth’. Beneath this stated focus, there’s an admittance that females will need to be an integral part of any moves to create a more sustainable future for the world’s economies if such efforts are going to succeed. At the moment, this section of the human population isn’t nearly as involved in this project as its other half.

In fact, women continue to be under-represented in this sphere, a fact that rings true for Nigeria almost as much as it does for the rest of the globe. Save for a handful of countries, the status quo worldwide is that women are taking up far fewer roles in science than their male colleagues. The United Nations suggests they constitute less than 30% of researchers in the sciences globally.

Closer to home, available data indicate that Nigeria isn’t faring any better in this respect. It’s participation rates for women in the sciences, at about 17%, is actually lower than the global average. While statistics like this may obscure significant regional disparities, the situation areas with less traditional or professional restrictions on females don’t appear to be sharply better than the national mean.

It’s figures like the ones quoted above that necessitated an International Day for Women and Girls in Science. There’s a recognition that behind the data lurk strong traditional institutional forces, social stereotypes and other factors keeping a huge proportion of this demographic away from labs and workshops. It’s hoped that shining the spotlight on this issue on an annual basis will reveal how big a problem this gender gap is.

This is more than just a concern for the present times. The ICT sector has been identified as the driver of the economies of the future; it’s where most of the jobs of the future will be created. But it has one of the lowest rates of involvement by women. Only 16% of the world’s startup founders are women; in Lagos’s tech ecosystem, it’s down to 14%. One survey report claims that a staggering 94% of software developers in Nigeria are male.

If these gaps between the genders in the STEM fields persist, a large fraction of girls and women will miss out on the tech-driven wealth creation of the near future. Some analysts have warned of an emerging new sort of inequality- the creation of a wealth gap between men and women, caused mostly by these two taking career paths dominated by their own genders, which also happens to be far apart from each other in terms of remuneration.

If this convergence of gender and wealth inequalities (or the intensification of this unity) is to be halted, more women will have to choose careers in science. The experts say this trend may not be reversed without a concerted effort targeted at dealing with the causes of this gap.

Perhaps the single most visible problem here is the low numbers of girls getting educated in STEM fields in the first instance. Worldwide, only 3% of people enrolled in ICT training programs are women or girls; they also make up a meagre 8% of students in engineering, manufacturing and construction. Anecdotal evidence hints at this being replicated in Nigeria: the Computer Science and Engineering classes in Universities across the country are overwhelmingly male.

This extends further back in the education process. From colonial times, girls have received only a fraction of the degree of attention devoted to training boys in schools and technical colleges. In 1920, just three of the twenty-five schools in Nigeria were girls’ schools. The other 22 were for boys. While this early gap may have narrowed closer to the present time, huge differences still exist in certain regions. Meanwhile, the specific issue of the wide gap between girls’ and boys’ interest in science exists in every part of the country.

Traditional beliefs about the role of women in society appear to have driven this in the past. They also play a role today, albeit a less prominent one. Girl child education has improved quite markedly in the south of the country, with many states there recording female literacy rates of over 90%. However, in large swathes of Nigeria, less than 40% of women can read and write. These areas are precisely the ones with a sustained traditional preference for boy child education.

Despite these realities, many women have broken through the barriers and have become renowned professionals in their own right. Older figures such as Grace Alele-Williams, Funmi Olopade and Wunmi Sadik, and young achievers like Rabia Sa’id and Ezak Esu are laying down markers with their accomplishments in their fields. They are among Nigeria’s top scientists. Analysts say these success stories are part of the solution. They show that girls and young women can be just as good at science as their male counterparts.

Efforts are also being made to get more girls excited about pursuing careers in STEM fields. A growing number of initiatives targeted specifically at girls are helping in this regard. One example is Girls Coding, which was started by Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin to teach programming, UI design and animation to girls aged 10-17. Similar initiatives have sprung up in various parts of the country. They all aim to raise a new generation of women with the IT skills needed to thrive in today’s tech-driven world.

In the end, it may take a radical reorientation of social expectations of women to bring many more females on board the global STEM revolution. It’s already happening, and there’s hope that the vast gap between the genders in the practice of science disciplines will eventually be bridged.


Female Education in Nigeria, Wikipedia

International Day of Women and Girls in Science,

Devcenter State of Code Nigeria 2017

Featured image source: Smithsonian Magazine

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This article was first published on 11th February 2019


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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