Promoting Women in Science in Africa

Promoting Women in Science in Africa, ©John Emrys Morgan/UNESCO

Johannesburg, South Africa, 24-25 September 2013

UNESCO’s Nairobi office ran a two-day workshop for university women decision-makers and mid-career women scientists and engineers on 24-25 September 2013. The meeting provided a platform for them to deliberate on how to forge ahead in preparing for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

It also offered them an opportunity to identify niche areas in training and research which will enable women scientists to drive Africa’s economic transformation and its sustainable development agenda.






African governments have declared their intention of developing long-term strategies for accelerated socio-economic transformation based on harnessing science, technology and innovation (STI) for sustainable development.

Meanwhile, the high-level panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda has reiterated the need for countries to focus their development efforts on eradicating extreme poverty and transforming their economies through sustainable development by 2030. Among the 12 suggested goals for eradicating extreme poverty figures that of empowering girls and women by providing quality education, creating jobs and equitable growth and ensuring good governance, peace and sustainability.

Africa’s capacity to achieve these goals will depend on its ability to innovate using STI to transform the continent’s vast natural and latent human resource capability into value-added products, processes and services.

This requires creating a critical mass of both men and women experts in STI to drive the development agenda. Unfortunately, there are fewer women pursing science and engineering programmes at university than men. In cases where women are present, the big challenge is to retain them. Moreover, the few women who embark on training in scientific disciplines are hindered by discrimination and suppressed motivation resulting in very few female scientists on the continent.

Why promote women in science?

Previous meetings of women university leaders run by UNESCO’s Nairobi office have noted that African women in science and technology face unique challenges that are likely to derail their careers at a much higher rate than their male counterparts. These meetings have called for capacity-building in scientific research in research in new and emerging fields, as well as advocacy, policy review planning and management. There are also strategic issues, such as the acquisition of skills to anticipate market demands, the role of female networks, mentoring and the use of role models in the promotion of women in science. These issues need to be discussed and strategies and actions need to be developed to overcome them. It is particular urgent to address this inequity by forging ahead to take advantage of strategic actions suggested for empowering women in readiness for implementing the Post-2015 Development Agenda.


The meeting provided a forum for the 2013 Fellows of the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science awards to present their research proposals for harnessing economic transformation to sustainable development.

Participants identified key strategies for training women to enhance their access to new and emerging fields of science, engineering, technology and innovation.

The meeting provided policy guidance concerning the implementation of strategic partnerships to empower women in science and technology for sustainable development

It developed a strategic action plan for educating and training women in science and engineering to enhance their employment opportunities and career paths.

Last but not least, the participants’ recommendations are being disseminated widely.

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