While the International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the enormous contribution made by women to the economic, political and social development of their country and communities, it is also important to reflect on the hurdles that prevent them from achieving their full potential.
The emphasis of this year’s theme, “Equality for women is progress for all” is that the capability of women to participate fully in society without discrimination and with the necessary support is essential to economic and social progress. Sadly, across the globe, much talent remains unexploited as girls turn away from science and technology (S&T) careers and as women in S&T become discouraged by discriminatory treatment. (UNESCO, 2007).
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics places the percentage of female researchers in Africa at only 34.5%. Patriarchy, stereotyping of female roles and reproductive roles are some of the barriers preventing women from fully participating in S&T. Still, many women continue to rise above the odds and make their mark in the science world and at the BecA-ILRI Hub, we recognize four such women whose pursuit of their dreams is backed by their passion to make food and nutritional security in Africa a reality.
Gerardine Mukeshimana from Rwanda is a post-doctoral scientist in plant molecular biology currently working on a project to develop tools that will be used to control the spread of aphid-transmitted virus diseases in the common bean.
I never felt discriminated against or pigeon-holed by my family. I was fortunate to go to a science based high school in Rwanda. The government in Rwanda generally supports the study of science and technology, and there are programs to encourage high school girls to be leaders in whatever sphere they choose. I must admit that in college, there were very few girls in my class but I never felt discouraged or out of place.
The support I get from my husband has ensured that family responsibilities never come in the way of my career advancement and as a result I have had many achievements. I have worked in various capacities in the Ministry of Agriculture in Rwanda; I was recognized by the United States Agency for International Development’s Board for International Food & Agriculture Development (BIFAD) for my significant contributions to the breeding of the common bean for drought tolerance and disease resistance; and I received a Norman Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (Borlaug LEAP) fellowship for my contributions to breeding of the common bean.
I would say in pursuing my career, I have always had the full support of my family and country.
Martina Kyalo from Kenya is a research Assistant at the BecA-ILRI Hub responsible for capacity building including training and technical support to visiting scientists and students. Martina is also pursuing her PhD in Molecular Virology.
I used to think science was a hard field but that I was up to the challenge. In my Masters’ class, I was the only female student to complete her degree course, which made me very proud of myself. Currently, I am in an environment where opportunities are open to both men and women on an equal basis which makes things very competitive and rewarding.
Being a mother has meant that l have had to lose out on many opportunities to better my career. These were mostly opportunities that would require me to be away from home for long periods of time and I wanted to raise my daughter first. However, my family is very supportive, my daughter is older and now understands the commitment involved in a science career, so I can go after some of those openings.
So far, I would say I am doing very well. I have been invited to regional science meetings and have been able to contribute to the progress of scientists from different institutions. I also received a four year PhD scholarship which is allowing me to make up for the lost opportunities!
Helen Nigussie is a PhD Student (Animal Breeding and Genetics), Haramaya University, Ethiopia. She was also the recipient of an Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund Fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub.
Both men and women discouraged me at the beginning of my career since they considered science at the tertiary level to be a preserve for men. However, I was very determined and did not let anyone put me down. For me it has taken hard work and determination to pursue the career of my dreams.
My family commitments have never really stood in the way of my career, but it is not easy to be successful in science especially for women. We are responsible for both productive and reproductive activities. Family support and understanding is very important. I have enjoyed very strong support from my family and especially from my husband.
Being female has never hindered me from going after what I want. I believe I can achieve my dream for both education and personal life. I have a lovely family who are the backbone of my successes, and I will soon get my PhD in Animal breeding and genetics!
Cécile Annie Ewané is a senior lecturer at the University of Yaoundé I and an associate researcher at the African Research Centre on Bananas and Plantains (CARBAP) in Douala, Cameroon. She was also the recipient of an African Biosciences Challenge Fund Fellowship at the BecA-ILRI Hub.
Although science is considered ‘a male domain’ by many societies, I have never experienced any discouragement from pursuing a career in scientific research. My specialization is agricultural research and I feel strongly that as woman, I must do something about food security. In Sub-Saharan African countries and in Cameroon in particular, women are very important players in agriculture.
Many years ago at an international seminar, I was the only woman delegate and no foreign delegates came to discuss and exchange ideas with me during the coffee break as they were doing with my male colleagues. I felt so alone and that day, I asked myself if I was really in the right place. I now know what to do in such cases – take the initiative and start the conversation! I have no problems at work even though most of colleagues are men. I think that with time, they got used to having a lady among them.
My family commitments have not reduced my capacity to meet my potential. Although it is sometimes difficult to balance career and family life, I have done my best, and received the full support of my family. Through my hard work, family support and the Grace of God, I would say that I am a fulfilled, family woman and an accomplished scientist.
I attained a PhD and have just been promoted to senior lecturer at the University of Yaoundé. I am the Associate Chief of the Laboratory of Phytoprotection and Valorization of Plant Resources of the Biotechnology Center (Nkolbisson) of Yaoundé, where I try every day to advance the quality and the level of research.