In Africa, as throughout the world, societies are recognizing that girls and women have just as much to offer scientific and mathematical fields as boys and men. Still, the stigma and the mindset that “girls just aren’t that good at science and math” persists. If we want to see more women in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; we have to start at the beginning of the pipeline — when those women are girls, being influenced by the representations they see and the ideas that surround them. This article from CNBC Africa explores how education and communication play a part, as well as specific obstacles faces by black women, the role of history, how to address the gender imbalance, and how to encourage exploration of math and science by girls, opening minds — and expanding horizons.
cnbcafrica.com – Africa must bust the myth that girls aren’t good at maths and science
Children’s ideas about what their gender means for their intellectual capacity are formed before they have even turned six. One idea that’s particularly pervasive and dangerous is that, only boys are good at maths and science.
Popular media only exacerbates the problem. Research has shown that girls hardly ever see adult women doing jobs that involve science, technology, engineering and maths on television programmes. Children’s programmes also rarely feature women doing anything scientific.
These early stereotypes may lead to young girls developing a “fear” of these subjects throughout their schooling. This ultimately limits their career aspirations. They become afraid to enter into fields that are based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Statistics compiled by UNESCO reveal that, globally, women make up less than 30% of the people working in STEM careers. The situation is worse in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
In South Africa, where I live and work, the problem is worsened by the country’s apartheid history. Today, black women are still struggling to access scientific careers at all. Those who do may fall victim to the “leaky pipeline” syndrome: they start degrees in science, but don’t continue to postgraduate level or go on to work in STEM fields. There are many reasons for this, including gender bias.