Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

4 February 2014

Rwanda: Girls Called to Join Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields

On this Monday, women in technology from Tech Women in Silicon Valley and role models and professionals in sciences and technology related fields have gathered in Kigali to discuss how the number of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

TechWomen is an initiative of the United States Department of State that seeks to bring together women in technology from the U.S. with their counterparts from the Middle East and Africa to engage in a mentorship and exchange program.

While women comprise a majority of the population, there are subjects in which they still lag behind.Many say the number of girls in STEM subjects is still low compared to boys.

The ICT chamber at the Private Sector Federation and professional women in science and technology want to reduce the gap existing between men and women in such subjects through Tech Girls mentorship, a program intended to curb the divide and empower women.

Angel Bisamaza, a girl studying advanced technology,proposed the idea of mentorship, which was also welcomed by the ICT chamber's director Alex Ntale.Women in Scientific Exploration (WISE), was formed, composed of role models and professionals in STEM industry.

According to Alex Ntale, the reason for low participation of girls in STEM is that they do not have enough mentorship and role models to follow."You are lucky if you choose the right hero" he said.

Additionally, the STEM field is mostly portrayed by society as a male field.

Ntale indicated that the mentorship program intends to help girls choose their career at the grassroots level, whereby girls can maketheir decision of career with the knowledge on what to expect in the future.

Ntale said to address that challenge, they will work with high schools and companies that will give girls the opportunity to shape their future through mentorship.

Some of the fields where the gender gap is still high are telecommunication, food science and technology, civil engineering, aviation, pharmacy, mechanical engineering, biotechnology, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, physics, medicine, computer engineering, information technology, and advanced financial services.

Jill Von Berg, vice president of information technology at Calix, observed that worldwide, the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is very low compared to men, mainly due to patriarchal and sexist traditions.

"It's not anything to do with women, women are brilliant and can do it, but for generations, STEM has been for men," she said.

According to her, generally, only 20% of graduates in STEM are women. "We need to change the norms about society," Von Berg stressed, noting that governments can play a role in girls' empowerment. "Government and businesses can change social norms."

On her part, Clare Akamanzi, CEO at the Rwanda Development Board said that women engagement in STEM is looking for is very vital for economic development in Rwanda.

She pointed out that Rwanda is driving into middle-income status, and that there is a need to create an economy that very much hinges on knowledge.

As more than 51% of the population is women, Akamanzi stressed that they should be empowered to make that socio-economic transformation a success."If we want to double our economy, we need to empower women," she noted, commending the step achieved by the Rwandan government to put women in decision making positions.

Aline Muyizere, a graduate in science, said that people still hold the mindset that girls do not fit into the sciences, which influences women not to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. "When we were studying, we were not even considered women, people were not feeling how a girl can study sciences," she said, noting, however, that now the mindset is beginning to change, albeit slowly.

Muyizere called upon her fellow sisters to embrace science and technology as the world grows more tech-based. "Technology is what leads the world, girls need to have self-confidence and feel that they are able, as technology makes life easier," she expressed.

Angel Bisamaza, the woman who initiated the Tech Girls mentorship program, said that women need to learn and use technology as it comes in all features of labor. "These are things that are to be used in every aspect of today work,"she remarked.

The Ministry of Youth and ICT also has a program called "Girls in ICT," aimed at increasing the number of girls using ICT.

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