Rwanda's Uwineza Scoops Women in Science Award

25 November 2021

Annet Uwineza, a postdoctoral fellow in Life and Environmental Sciences, specializing in Human Genetics has been named among this year's 20 Women in Science for Sub-Saharan Africa.

She was recognized through an initiative between French based-L'Oréal Foundation, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The awarding ceremony was held in Rwanda.

Every year, fifteen female scientist PhD students and five postdoctoral students in Sub-Saharan Africa with 'exceptional' scientific solutions are awarded with endowments of €10,000 and €15,000 respectively.

It is the second time a Rwandan candidate is announced among the 20 laureates.

"I am beyond humbled," Uwineza told The New Times. "My dream is that one day science will enable the development of low cost treatments based on gene therapy."

She entitled her current doctoral research "computer-assisted analysis of clinical features of Rwandan patients with rare genomic neurodevelopmental disorders."

Uwineza, who is with the University of Rwanda, said she is fascinated by the human body and keen to understand the origin of diseases initially wanted to be a doctor.

But, she says, it is her desire to explore the composition of invisible biological matter such as molecules, cells and DNA, that guided her towards this scientific research topic.

"My project has a dual focus; identifying the genetic etiology of intellectual disability in Rwandan patients and also studying the characteristics of birth defects and genetic counselling."

Uwineza conceded that her field was largely male-dominated but is optimistic that gender equality in science will allow women to contribute fully to the development of science based solution.

Women need science and vice-versa

"Today more than ever, the world needs science, and science needs women, and this is especially true for Sub-Saharan Africa," said Alexandra Palt, Executive Vice-President of the Fondation L'Oréal.

Why should we deprive ourselves of such talents, when science and innovation are indispensable growth levers for the continent? Palt wondered.

She commended the outstnding researchers who were largely in the fields of chemistry, virology, biology, neurology, and nuclear physics.

She also said that some of the obstacles hindering women participation include lack of financial and technical resources to carry out research, as well as lack of role models.

According to UNESCO, women are still largely underrepresented in the global research community. UNESCO figures indicate that 33% of researchers worldwide are women, and the percentage of African women scientists among them is 2.6%.

Rwanda's position

Speaking to the laureates, Minister of Education Dr Valentine Uwamariya said that it an opportunity for the region to have increasing number of role models in Science.

Uwamariya shared Rwanda's efforts in girl education, citing that government has laid out initiatives that start from an early age.

However, she decried that while the government is committed to promote gender equality across all sectors, "we still lag behind in the field of science."

"But also I am happy that you have role models who can show that it is possible to excel in science as a girl. I am a scientist myself."

Uwamariya said that the disparity is alarming in higher levels of education, but said that there is a plan to eliminate the vice by 2030.

She also observed efforts by different partners including Imbuto Foundation, founded by First Lady Jeannette Kagame, which has conducted campaigns to encourage girls in STEM for the past 15 years.

"It remains a challenging journey but we are on the right path although there is a long way to go. We still have to attract more and also create room for graduands," Uwamariya asserted.

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