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Forestry pundit calls on African women to love, back each other

Prof Suzana Augustino from Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology says women and men should work together and cooperate in planning and walking their national policy rhetoric

THURSDAY February 15, 2024

Prof Suzana Augustino, the Deputy Vice Chancellor responsible for Planning, Finance and Administration with Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology based in Arusha, Tanzania, pities fellow girls who conceived and dropped out of Tabora Secondary School. PHOTO | NM-AIST

By Patty Magubira

The Tranquility News Reporter, Tanzania

African women have become their own worst enemy with the way they treat each other at family, school, workplace and society levels, observed a female scholar from Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) based in Arusha, Tanzania, ahead of Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day, which initially was a religious celebration, is observed on every February 14 when people express their love and appreciation for others in their lives, bit it their co-workers, romantic partners, friends or family members.

Professor Suzana Augustino, the NM-AIST Deputy Vice Chancellor responsible for Planning, Finance and Administration, pleaded with women in the country and the continent to consider supporting each other at all levels of the society.

“If we love, support, value each other, men will reciprocate to ensure we attain our dreams,” the forest products utilisation guru told tenths of female scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians gathered in Arusha recently.

Female scientists, technologists and innovators gathered in the Tanzania’s tourism capital to chart out ways of increasing their participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) leadership during the climax of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

The Minister for Education, Science and Technology, Prof Adolf Mkenda (Left), listens at an exhibitor at one of the pavilions at Arusha International Conference Centre in Arusha, Tanzania, during the commemoration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science observed at national level in the city recently. PHOTO | TEA

The gender gap in STEM is apparently real in Tanzania, as out of 64,857 students admitted to universities to pursue scientific degree courses in 2022/23 barely 25,578, equivalent to 39 per cent, were girls.

“We’re losing people who could significantly contribute to growth of science in the country simply because we haven’t built a friendly environment for them,” Prof Adolf Mkenda, the Tanzania’s Minister for Education, Science and Technology, regretted.

The global economic divide did not result from ownership of abundant natural resources a country had, Prof Mkenda noted, but rather from human resource, particularly in STEM, fueling innovation.

“You can become a good entrepreneur, but without science and technology you will end up becoming a salesman, importing goods to sell. We are good at this,” the minister observed.

Citing at Nordic countries, Prof Mkenda attributed their socio-economic growth to heavily investing in STEM and harnessing their abundant natural resources themselves instead of waiting for foreign investors as is the case with Tanzania.

You can become a good entrepreneur, but without science and technology you will end up becoming a salesman, importing goods to sell. We are good at this,” Prof Adolf Mkenda, the Tanzania’s Minister for Education, Science and Technology.

He wondered that some African countries though were rich in oil, were exporting unrefined one to buy the refined one, owing to lack of science, technology and innovation which, he said, were a game changer globally.

“If we don’t encourage women and girls to pursue STEM, the economy will stagnate due to lack of quality human resource,” cautioned the minister, explaining that not all men were good at science, technology and innovation.

Prof Suzana’s journey began while she was still at primary school when she fell in love with STEM. “My uncle was my role model, I wanted to become a medical doctor like him, but unfortunately, I couldn’t make it,” she said.

Parents, teachers, the government and the entire society had a pivotal role to play to fill the gender gap in science, technology and innovation, she said, as she recalled her fellow female students who dropped out at Tabora Secondary School situated west of the country.

Unlike boys, schoolgirls faced a myriad of challenges on their way to and from school, leading the majority of them to conceive, said Prof Suzana, pleading with communities to consider placing schools close to their residential areas.

Prof Najat Mohamed, the Deputy Rector responsible for Planning, Administration and Finance at the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, Tanzania, attributes her achievement in atomic physics to her parents and teachers who created friendly environment for her to excel in her studies. PHOTO | MICHUZI BLOG

“We women should be confident in ourselves; I wish to see a Tanzania in which women and men work together and cooperate in planning and implementing inclusive policies of the nation,” she said.

Prof Najat Mohamed, the Deputy Rector responsible for Planning, Administration and Finance at the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, attributed her achievement in nuclear physics to her parents and teachers.

“We were 10 children in our family, yet we did not notice gender difference while doing house chores or studying,” recalled Prof Najat, explaining that their parents had created a conducive environment for pursuing their studies.

She admitted that she got good Physics secondary school teachers. “I still remember questions they used to ask in class,” says one of the country’s nuclear finest, who was the first female academia and technical staff to head the male-dominated Department of Physics at the University of Dar es Salaam.

One of the barriers for women and girls to venture into STEM in the country is lack of confidence resulting from the failure of families and the society at large to assure them that they could perform just as boys did.

Girls and boys don’t differ at all upstairs, save for masculinity,” Prof Neema Kassim from Nelson Mandela African Institution of  Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania.

“When I was appointed head of the Department of Physics at the University of Dar es Salaam, for instance, I broke into tears, thinking I could not stand before professors,” recalled Prof Najat, calling on parents, teachers and the society to give girls room to express themselves, revive debate clubs and encourage them to vie for pupils or students’ leadership posts.

Prof Najat wishes to see a Tanzania with a policy that would see the number of scientists, engineers and information and communication professionals triple to transform the country into an industrial economy to catch up with the rest of the world in the advent of the fourth industrial revolution.

Prof Neema Kassim also from NM-AIST appealed to the government to disseminate policy blueprints on STEM piled up in cabinets to women and girls for them to understand and work on the key documents.

She believed the presence of female leaders in STEM would go a long way in inspiring members of the male-dominated communities to let their schoolgirls pursue science studies. “Girls and boys don’t differ at all upstairs, save for masculinity,” she quipped.Ω

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