I started doing research with cheetahs in 1974. At the time there were not a lot of women in science and even fewer studying predators like the cheetah. In the years since, I have seen the number of women working in science increase, but there are still advances to be made. According to reports from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the world-wide average of women in science is only 29%. Here in Namibia that number is a bit higher at 44% currently conducting scientific research, and 48% of all doctoral students are women. Namibian women are well on their way to having equal representation in scientific fields, but the numbers across Africa are not consistent.
There are many efforts currently underway to gain gender parity in the sciences, and it certainly is a hot topic right now. This month women’s contributions to research and to solving the world’s scientific problems are being highlighted. Around the world, efforts to encourage girls to pursue scientific studies are catching on. In 2014, the UNESCO, Regional Office for Eastern Africa in Kenya implemented a strategic effort to promote scientific studies using Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programming in primary schools across the country. The YouTube video from One United Nations on Gender in Kenya below outlines the encouraging beginnings of this program, it’s well worth the watch.
In 2015 the UN General Assembly moved to create an annual day to recognize woman and girls in science and technology. February 11th was declared International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and this year marks the second annual celebration. In the week leading up to this special day, there will be events held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, including a Women in Engineering Workshop: “Think Pink – Hard Hat Challenge” focusing on engaging girls in engineering fields.
Here in Namibia, women and men are both important to growing the economy, as the poverty rate is 28% and 44% of households are female-headed. We need both sexes working together to increase research and development. This will bring more business to Namibia and boost our economy. Unfortunately, many of the people we need to become involved in research may not have access to advanced education. Also, internet access in Namibia is still very limited, and this essential tool is critical to conducting and furthering scientific research. It is my hope that girls worldwide will gain access to the resources they need to become the next great scientists. I need help to save the cheetah; we all need help to save the environment. We need young people to take up the torch and save the planet for their future. It is incredibly sad that they are inheriting numerous environmental problems and it may seem a daunting challenge. I know from personal experience that young people can make a difference. Many people looked at me like I was crazy when I said I wanted to move to Namibia to create an organization focused on saving the cheetah; they said it couldn’t be done. I didn’t take “no” for an answer then, I built CCF. I don’t think young people today will take “no” for an answer either.
I signed the Women in Science Manifesto to make my commitment to helping girls and women connect to the sciences. Please consider signing and make your pledge to do the same today.