The University of Ghana has launched a project dubbed, “TranSforming InSTitutions to Advance women leaders in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM): Lessons from Ghana and Kenya” (SISTARS).
The project is funded by the International Development Research Centre of Canada to address systemic institutional issues pertaining to gender and leadership disparities in STEM through a cross-country landscape analysis of women of STEM in academia and industry.
The three-year project (2022 -2024) is being led by the Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS) with support from, the Department of Geography and Resource Development, the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), and the School of Engineering, all from the University of Ghana.
The Project partners in Kenya include; University of Nairobi, Africa Population and Health Research Centre, and Women in Water and Sanitation.
Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, highlighted the importance of STEM education to nations’ growth and development noting that over the past five years (2018 to mid-2022), the physical and mathematical sciences suffered a decline in the proportion of females as compared engineering.
She intimated the SISTARS project had come at the right time to complement the University’s fourth pillar in its Strategic Plan and understanding, and scientifically documenting the challenges women face in STEM would eventually influence national and institutional policies.
Madam Cecilia Abena Dapaah, the Acting Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, through a speech read on her behalf by the Deputy Director of the Ministry, Madam Linda Coffie, expressed support for the project.
She said: “The Ministry is of the firm belief that the overall goal and objectives of the project would be actualized to enhance women’s participation in STEM and overall gender mainstreaming across all sectors”.
Dr Dzidzo Yirenya-Tawiah, the Project Principal Investigator, revealed that there is under-representation of women in STEM and leadership positions in Africa.
“A 2021 UNESCO Science Report indicated that in Africa only 30 per cent of science professionals are women. In Ghana, out of the best ranked 3,000 best scientists, only 285, representing 9.5 per cent are females, she stated.
According to her sustainable development and economic growth could not be achieved unless women are empowered to contribute their quota to development.
Dr. Katie Bryant, the Programme Officer of the International Development Research (IDRC -CRDI) of the Government and People of Canada and Prof Faith Karanja, the Chair and associate Professor, Department of Geospatial and Space Technology, University of Nairobi joined the launch virtually.
Dr Bryant noted that the University of Ghana has many women in high-level management and governance positions.
She pointed out that the IDRC has an ongoing established long working history with the University of Ghana and various partners in Kenya.
“Currently, IDRC is directly supporting five projects at the University of Ghana and many others, indirectly,” she added.
She, therefore, encouraged the project to develop, implement, and study innovative interventions that could retain and advance women’s leaders in STEM careers and called on policymakers and organisations to develop frameworks that promote women in STEM leadership.
On her part, Prof Faith Karanja said women and girls had the undeniable right to study science, work in science and most importantly, lead in science.
She said she expected that the partnership with the University of Ghana team would ensure better research outcomes.
The Director of IESS, Prof Kwasi Appeaning Addo said IESS had been working hard over the years to achieve its mission by undertaking innovative research such as the SISTARS project to inform policy.
He stated that IESS had trained women in environmental science who are playing leadership roles in both academia and industry and therefore, emphasised the need to do more for equitable representation in leadership and decision-making positions, in STEM related industries and institutions.
Prof Boateng Onwona-Agyeman, the Provost, College of Basic and Applied Science said he was hopeful the project would bring an end to some of the challenges women in STEM face in their daily work.
“l am also hopeful that project will also help discover some emerging challenges and solutions that male counterparts in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics face,” he added.