In commemoration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Space in Africa called on female students and young professionals in Africa to submit an essay to address the gender gap in the African space industry. Over 100 women from 20 African countries submitted ideas and recommendations on how to get more women involved in the industry.
The essay entries represent diverse opinions, rich in unique perspectives with a mix of the usually explored STEM-for-women strategies and some largely unexplored approaches. The demographics of the authors include young female space professionals and others from non-space STEM fields and students.
After selecting the winner, Dr Anita Antwiwaa, we further went through all the 106 articles to curate unique recommendations given by each participant. We shared the curated masterpiece with industry stakeholders including the African Union, international institutions, space agencies, the academia and the space industry.
While sharing this vital information with policy-level directors, we also learned some ongoing efforts within the African space sector aimed at encouraging women participation in Space. For instance, the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) is about to formally launch a Women in Space Chapter. According to Dr Val Munsami SANSA’s Chief Executive Officer, the Women in Space Chapter will roll out dedicated programmes for female learners to acquire required knowledge in space science and technology.
In February 2019, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission launched the AU Strategy for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, and the 4th edition of the Gender Scorecard Awards. Initiated in 2015, the Gender Scorecard is designed to be a seamless tool that AU member States can use to benchmark performance against key ratified equality gender commitments. The Gender Scorecard and other AU commitments to end gender parity are rooted in the Agenda 2063 and other regional frameworks such as the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
The African Union also has a goal to bridge the gender gap in STEM fields. In a letter to Space in Africa, Prof Sarah Anyang Agbor, the AU Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology (the Department overseeing the implementation of the African Space Policy and Strategy) emphasized the Commission’s commitment to addressing gender parity in STEM across sectors in Africa.
According to Prof Sarah, “the continent is experiencing rapid population growth, and women represent over 55% of this population and that they are the cornerstone of economic development on the continent. There we should spare no effort in empowering them to have access to STEM, and specifically in space science, technology and innovation education and careers”.
Prof Sarah notes that the recommendations from the essay will go a long way in addressing gender parity in STEM in general and the space sector in particular. On the second day of the Global Conference on Space for Emerging Countries, Dr. Antwiwaa will be presenting recommendations submitted by over 100 women across Africa on how to get more women in the space industry to over 300 delegates attending the conference.
Other efforts that exist on the continent to encourage women participation in space include the industry-led Women in Aerospace Africa. As a part of the global Women in Aerospace community, the African chapter initiates peer programs aimed at forming a supportive network for industry professionals and aspiring female aerospace enthusiasts. The WIA Africa strategy includes organizing sessions and engaging stakeholders in a conversation to create a supportive environment for women to thrive in the aerospace industry. Other activities include hosting orientation and education programs in collaboration with local partners to remove gender biases in mainstream contents that portray STEM as a geeky and male-only field.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.