Written by: Frederick H
Gender Biases and Stereo types hinder the involvement of girls and women in science related fields.
We can no longer afford to ignore the critical roles women and girls have played in the fields of science and technology in recent times. Overtime, strides have been made, challenges have been overcome, solutions have been implemented, but a lot still has to be done.
Every 11th of February each year, the United Nations, its partners, girls and women mark the International Day of Women and Girls in science. In this 2020, Prince Wako Foundation is standing alongside the UN, calling upon each and every one to ‘smash stereotypes, defy gender biases and defeat discrimination that hold women back in science related fields.’ In many countries women in science fields are paid less, just because they are women, this leads to less progress for them and eventually they tend to believe, they are not smart enough to handle issues in that field. These widely held but fixed and oversimplified ideas of women and girls have hindered their involvement in science. Some have been passed on from generation to generation, others are a result of male dominance in the society over a long period of time and others are mere biases.
Most of the biases and stereotypes are categorized under Social cultural factors. In a study carried out by Guiso (2009) which tested 15 year old students from 40 countries in order to explore gender and culture. They found that the size of gender gap in math performances varies between countries, these differences explained by gender equality. The study found a correlation between gender equality and gender gap in mathematics, where an increase in gender equality showed a diminishing gender gap. So, in situations where women and girls are empowered, availed with opportunities and resources, they have proven to be good at science and technology works. If biases prevail, it means less opportunities will be availed to women in science related fields. Gender equality is out there to remedy such scenarios.
Have you noticed the availability of media messages and prints, bearing messages that girls are not good at math or in general science related fields? Yes this still reigns in some societies. Some companies or organizations still run adverts with such stereotypes. Media currently plays a great role in influencing careers that young people choose nowadays. Media practitioners ought to be aware of such biases and stereotypes and their negative impact on the eventual involvement of women and girls in science. Media must take the positive steps of encouraging empowerment.
In most rural areas in Sub Saharan Africa, parents believe sons are smarter than girls. On top of that, they believe girls are only meant to do home chores, get married as sources of bride price and give birth to children. This is the norm and in case of any choice involving which child should stay in school or join a technical institution, boys are prioritized, denying girls the opportunity to pursue their goals in desired science courses. Mother’s perceptions in such societies have also dealt the progress so far a great blow. Mothers, having been raised using prevailing gender stereotypes and biases, they tend to carry them forward and pass them onto their daughters out of fear of unlearning. They pass on wrong perceptions.
In a society already dominated by men, they are perceived to have characters meant for sciences. Of course, under those circumstances, men will be associated with science more as opposed to women and the available teacher’s perceptions will take this to be the actual truth. Studies in Sweden and Iceland have shown that if given opportunity, women can fairly and effectively compete with men in sciences regardless of the perceived male dominance. It takes time for people’s perceptions on a particular issue to change, but change must begin now with us, in our families and societies.
A friend of mine once told me a story of a young girl that graduated from Kyambogo University, Uganda. With good grades, passion and great gift in the science related course, she set out to look for a job. Fortunately, she landed a job related to the science course she had pursued at University. She expected to practice what she had learnt in a male dominated firm. The first year got her thinking of quitting. Men at the workplace first, turned her into a tea girl and office messenger yet she was very skilled and passionate in this field. It is not until there was a shortage at the workplace that she got an opportunity to prove her abilities, after four months of working as a tea girl. Even when she was confirmed as an assistant engineer, the salary was not equivalent to that of the other male assistant engineers. These are the biases and stereotypes of a kind that we need to do away with in our work places.
In a society dominated by men, let us not be ashamed of spreading the word about girls and women achieving in science. This will not only empower the girl child but will be a living testimony against any kind of stereotypes and bias. Secondly, we need to teach girls and parents, most especially those in rural areas, that these are acquired skills.
Anyone with the right knowledge and puts their heart into it can acquire the skills needed in these science related fields. Thirdly, we must all teach about the threat of stereotypes and promote a growth mindset. Every individual regardless of gender has a particular contribution he or she can add onto a particular field as long as he or she is given opportunity. One must not be denied opportunity just because she is female.
In this year, let us commit ourselves to helping girls realize their career relevant skills, this will help them have a sense of awareness while making choices related to sciences. The success of other women should be enough to encourage employers and higher institutions of learning to actively recruit women in science fields and courses. This will greatly improve on the level of development and growth in families and societies. Let us give the girl child opportunities in science related fields so we can empower our societies.