Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Women in Science,Beyond Bias and Barriers

Women have continued to lag behind in terms of education and independence, all because of bad policies and cultural norms. Culturally, boys are given better chances of education than girls.

In a home where parents are financially constrained, they will use the meager resources they have to educate boys as the girls remain home to do household chores and are eventually married off to get bride price. And with those who get the opportunity to go on with school, fewer have been joining sciences. But are we seeing this changing? Perhaps yes, as statistics may confirm to us.

Already, there have been improvements with respect to girl enrolment currently at an average of 30 percent in non-physical science and about 10 percent for mathematics, physics and engineering. Government initiatives At a recent forum in Dar es Salaam under the auspices of UNESCO, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry for Community Development, Gender and Children, Ms Mijakazi Mtengwa painted a picture of optimism, noting that even as girls faced cultural barriers, more were now pursuing science subjects.

Explaining, she said that potential future scientists are lost in the transition from high school to college, in the transition from college to graduating at school, and in the transition from gaining a doctorate to getting a job. Ms Mtengwa was speaking at the Women in Science Workshop for ministries, independent departments, government agencies and private sector where a Women In Science Reference Group in Tanzania has been formed under the support by UNESCO.

"We all know that science and technology are the driving forces of development. Sustainable economic development at local, regional and global scales is perhaps the most intricate challenge that humanity has ever faced in the midst of global challenges ranging from climate change to global economic crisis," she said.

She said there was no doubt that solutions to major sustainability problems of the 21st century require knowledge from scientific research and appropriate technologies. According to Ms Mtengwa, science, technology and innovation are drivers of change, catalyst for socio economic development, key ingredients for qualitative change leading to improved quality of life and sustainable livelihoods.

"It is this recognition that has prompted most African countries, through the African Union, to reexamine the vitality of their science, technology and innovation systems to stimulate economic growth," she said. She urged those working on this initiative to ensure that gender gaps in science and technology are addressed in the process to ensure that women are not left behind.

She said that the repositioning of science, technology and innovation system needs to come up with innovative and transformative approaches directed at bridging the gender gap, so as to ensure that both men and women participate and enjoy benefits from scientific and technological developments.

But she added that the task of bridging gender gaps in science and technology was not easy, given the historical background and existing gender relations. "Rigorous programmes are needed to deconstruct gender stereotypes in science, promote gender sensitive policies legislations and women entrepreneurs in science and technology," she said.

She said that although the participation of women in science in the country still remains low, it was important to take the pool of the local women scientists which keeps on increasing albeit at a very slow speed. Since independence fifty years ago, she noted, the country has seen an increasing number of women in almost all scientific fields.

"We have women scientific researchers, professors, educators, engineers, doctors, meteorologists and architects," she said. She added that the need for equitable access to quality education at all levels among women and men is specified as one of the goals in the Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty commonly known as MKUKUTA.

She noted that these initiatives have resulted in gender mainstreaming policies including an increase in enrolment currently at an average of 30 per cent in non-physical science

and about 10 per cent for mathematics, physics and engineering. She said that despite the enabling policy environment and many initiatives that have been implemented to

promote women's education in science and technology disciplines and careers, a number of socio-cultural barriers continue to prevent girls and young women from participating to

their full potential.

She said the thought that technology is not for women continue to be embedded in the minds of some people, which calls for specific interventions from all of us as key stakeholders. The PS noted that there is an important opportunity today to redesign how academic careers proceed and to increase the numbers of women in science and engineering. There have been initiatives to reward performing girls to that end.

Already, the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology has initiated awards for best female student in science and mathematics subjects at secondary level and in institutions of higher learning. "We are all aware and appreciate various initiatives to promote women's access, retention and completion of higher education in general and in science, mathematics and technology in particular and disciplines being undertaken by education bodies, particularly higher education institutions and Ministry of Education and Vocational Training.

These initiatives have resulted in gender mainstreaming policies. For example the Pre- Entry Programme for girls in Science and Engineering at the University of Dar es Salaam, "she said She highlighted that Science and Technology are the driving forces of development, noting that Sustainable economic development at local, regional and global scales is perhaps the most intricate challenge that humanity has ever faced in the midst of global challenges ranging from climate change to global economic crisis.

"Science, Technology and Innovation are drivers of change, catalyst for socio economic development, key ingredients for qualitative change leading to improved quality of life and sustainable livelihoods. It is this recognition that has prompted most African countries through the African Union to re-examine the vitality of their Science, Technology and Innovation systems to stimulate economic growth,"she said.

This recognition has also led President Jakaya Kikwete to seek the cooperation of UNESCO to reform and reposition the Tanzania Science, Technology and Innovation system to enable it to contribute effectively to the development processes as elaborated in National Development plans such as National Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy and Vision 2025.

The objective is to elevate Tanzania to middle income economy by the year 2025. Tanzanians should really thank and congratulate the President for this initiative. She re-echoed what the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr. Jean Ping said; "the gross women under representation in science and technology is a sign of their exclusion from mainstream economy".

"I would like to emphasize that the repositioning of Science, Technology and Innovation system needs to come up with innovative and transformative approaches directed at bridging the gender gap so as to ensure that both men and women participate and enjoy benefits from scientific and technological developments, "said the PS.

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