By Julius Ecuru
Today, as the world commemorates the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we also celebrate the remarkable achievements of women scientists in our PASET Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (Rsif). Of the 282 doctoral scholars in the PASET Rsif initiative, 37% are women from more than 24 countries in Africa. This is a positive development considering that less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) data (2023). Getting more women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is widely regarded as critical to growth and development of sustainable economies.
Despite the numerous efforts aimed at achieving gender equality in STEM, several studies highlight that women in STEM fields have lower publication rates, unequal compensation, and limited career progression compared to their male counterparts. The challenges leading to this inequality are multifaceted and express differently in different contexts. But the common ones appear to be unequal opportunities for women to get in STEM, and perceptions about gender roles that overwhelm women with domestic responsibilities.
At Rsif, we intentionally work to address the imbalances in the number of women in STEM through outreach, sustained mentorship, and gender responsive programming. We have learnt that deliberate efforts in providing a gender responsive educational and research environment helps women scientists to achieve their full potential.
Recently, two of our distinguished female scholars, Christelle Arielle Mbouteu, a 28-year-old Cameroonian national pursuing a PhD in renewable energy, and Rehema Mrutu, a 33-year-old Tanzanian national pursuing a PhD in Natural Resource Management and Climate Change, were recognized for their ground-breaking research during the COP28 in Dubai.
Rehema’s innovative work focuses on developing a CRISPR engineered strain to reduce methane emissions in cows, thereby enhancing meat and milk production sustainably. Her award-winning research aims to optimize methane production to acetic acid conversion, a by-product beneficial for livestock, in efforts to ensure food security in Africa.
Christelle received acclaim for her outstanding contribution at the 12th Asia-Pacific Forum on Renewable Energy (AFORE) in Jeju, South Korea. Her research delved into the techno-economic analysis of various renewable energy systems, providing valuable insights for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Explore further details here.
Furthermore, Faith Njeru and Mwende Mbilo, both Kenyan citizens, received recognition at the 14th award ceremony in Kasane, Botswana for the L’Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science Young Talents Sub Saharan Africa Awards. Faith’s research endeavours to develop an affordable, efficient, and user-friendly paper strip test for plant disease detection utilizing novel molecules extracted from camel serum. Meanwhile, Mwende’s research focuses on enhancing the design of efficient and stable non-fullerene acceptor-based organic solar cells through buffer layer modification. Delve deeper into their remarkable work here.
We maintain that women play a crucial role in advancing science and innovation. It is imperative that we proactively cultivate female talent in STEM fields. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is certainly a moment for us to reflect on our commitment to increase women’s participation in and contribution to STEM for our socioeconomic transformation.
Julius Ecuru is a Principal Scientist and Manager, Research Innovation Coordination Units, icipe.