We had 106 entries from 20 African countries and Dr. Anita Antwiwaa emerged the winner from Ghana, Gracious Ernest from Nigeria and Nompumelelo Ursala from South Africa as the Runner Up. Below is Anita, Gracious and Noampulelelo’s essay and recommendations on how to enhance women and girls participation in space, precisely in Africa.
Dr. Anita Antwiwaa – Winning Essay
“Women and Girls who participate in the African Space Science and Technology which remains one of the key disciplines that employs all other technological areas in implementing projects which see through the lens of all human needs and wants, and bringing up solutions which address them by helping to advance the sustainable development goals (SDGs) for societal benefit has been on the lower side over the years. This area has proven to be an essential contributor to achieving the SDGs and African Union Agenda 2063 of which women cannot be excluded.
The world population of women is almost exceeding that of men meaning that, the involvement and contribution of women in all technological areas is needed greatly to help achieve a sustainable development in our world today and beyond. This therefore brings our attention to the fact that, there is a great need to educate African women in the area of practical oriented Space Science, Technology, Engineering and Innovation [SPACE-STEMI] so to contribute massively in attaining a sustainable wide scope of addressing human needs through Space Science and Technology in Africa.
Over the years, records have shown that few African girls remain in the area of STEMI education after primary school. Less percentage of these girls get the opportunity to continue in the STEMI fields after secondary school, leaving very few women to advance in STEMI careers. This results in having a small number of women in the area of “Space”. African women somewhat don’t gladly embrace space science due to the African cultural perspective of classifying a woman as weak and vulnerable, and are therefore restricted from getting involved in adventurous activities that can broaden their scope of exploration and to take up a careers in this area.
Secondly, most young girls seem to lose self-confidence in practical oriented STEMI fields, and this is because they see their male counterparts as having intelligence, strength and courage to venture these areas. If girls would be given the right mentorship at younger age, their confidence will be boosted and will help them choose a career in such disciplines and thereby erasing the primitive ideology that “Space Science & Technology” is not a venture for women.
Moreover, there are fewer women who have achieved successful careers in “space” in Africa for the younger girls to model after. Since space science & technology is an emerging field in the African continent, most of these young girls find themselves in an environment where most women are successful and doing well in other careers other than “Space”.
Lastly, the space industry in Africa is still in its infant stage and has lesser job prospects on the African continent. Most African countries are not actively into this area therefore there is less motivation of choosing a career which has uncertainty of job security afterwards. All these hinders the participation of more women in Space.
It is very difficult to excite the interest of a millennial to take up a career in Space Technology when the subject matter is studied theoretically in most African countries. One of the ways to solve this problem require the use practical tools such as miniaturized satellites like CANSAT as a model to teach space technology in all educational levels because it is easier to build and less costly. Girls in lower grades can be empowered to choose a career in “Space” by exposing them to CANSAT activities to boost their interest in choosing a career in Space Technology.
Secondly, there is the need for the women who are already in “Space” to get involve in mentoring the young girls so as to generate their interest in taking up a future career in this area.
Furthermore, the space institutions can get involved by organizing space science and technology competitions, conferences and seminars for primary and high school girls, so as to create awareness and to sprout their interest in choosing a career in Space and its related applications. Scholarships should also be made available for girls who wants to choose a career in this field.
Finally, the space institutions and industries should come up with policies that will give talented young women who complete their university education with space related degrees the advantage over their male counterparts in securing Jobs in this fields. This will help to increase the participation of more women in Space and its related activities in Africa.”
Gracious Ernest – Runner up
Getting African Women and Girls to Reach for the Stars.
“But girls don’t go to space” replied my six-year-old niece, when I asked her if she’ll love to walk on the moon too someday, as she delightfully sang a song she’d learnt from school about Neil Armstrong.
Generally, little is ever mentioned of Valentina Tereshkova and Mae Jemison as much of we hear of Neil Armstrong and Yuri Gagarin; and if we must encourage more girls to explore space, we must talk more about the many outstanding women that have made important contributions to human spaceflight.
When Valentina Tereshkova went to space in 1963, she made history as the first lady of space. And when Mae Jemison went to space in 1992, it was a feat of double achievement not just for women, but for black women the world over.
However, the challenges facing women in space globally range from negative stereotypes about the biological effects on women, to the entrenched patriarchy which can be noted in Randolph Lovelace’s theory in the 1960s; he believed that having a large space installation would necessitate women going to space in order to occupy the pink-collared positions like secretaries, lab assistants, telephone operators, nurses, et al. All gender-stereotyped roles.
The space sector in Africa isn’t as large as its counter-parts in first world countries, but in recent years, it has begun to develop, and the trend is spreading across Africa.
Women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in Africa, is also becoming part of the larger conversations about gender equality, and women and girls are beginning to take interest in these fields; however, gender equality in the space sector globally and in Africa still lags behind.
If we want to enhance the participation of African girls and women in space exploration, we need to get them to know they can, through; mentorship, space related programs, opportunities, and conferences for girls, jobs diversity and inclusion, and by redesigning our educational curriculum to include more space-related courses.
According to Oprah Winfrey, a mentor is someone who allows you see the hope inside yourself. Mentorship is thus crucial to inspire girls, boost their confidence, and challenge them to take the right direction in life. To encourage more girls in the STEM fields and specifically in the spacesector, we must inspire and show them women like themselves, who are a reflection of what they can be. There is need for the few women in the space sector in Africa and globally to mentor other girls and women. Mentorship programs can be set up, and made accessible in schools and online platforms. Through inspiration, we can spark a significant interest of women and girls in the space sector.
Another solution is in organizing more local space related programs, opportunities, and conferences for girls across Africa. Workshop groups and trainings in schools are also a great way to bring the space sector closer to women and girls in Africa. Through these programs, more girls are enlightened and taught about the different advantages and opportunities in the space sector and this goes a long way to pique their interest in space.
Collaboration between the government and private sector is also necessary in creating space related opportunities for girls, in order to encourage their participation in the space sector. There is need to partner with space agencies in Africa to further enhance space-related programs for girls and women.
A certain issue to address is the educational curriculum in Africa, which should be redesigned in order to include more courses related to science and space exploration, and make them more practical. Furthermore, scholarships and financial aids for girls to study these courses either locally or internationally would serve as great incentives.
It is indeed essential to break all stereotypes facing women in space exploration. These stereotypes which are baseless, non-factual and entrenched in patriarchy need to be dismantled. Women and girls need to be taught that women can go to space, without any adverse effect on their health.
The space sector is developing in Africa, and females must constitute an integral part of it. We must break the narratives and factors that make the STEM fields male dominated in Africa.
In a few years from today, when the first African goes to space, it can be a woman because- women go to space too.
Nompumelelo Ursala – Runner up
An imbalance in the number of male professionals in space science compared to that of females is the motivating factor in getting more and more women interested in being part of the industry. The number one stumbling block is lack of knowledge about the existence of the industry. The starting point will then be the distribution of adequate information especially to the previously disadvantaged. The media and social media will play an important role in ensuring that information is distributed and reaches the number of desired candidates.
The approach is having career expos that not only include learners but their parents as well as their teachers. The exposure should also not be limited to certain age groups. Different styles of approach and age appropriate information can be presented at different expos hosted for different age groups. This is for the reason that there is very little to no knowledge out there about space science. Parents and teachers as the primary care givers are the first people who introduce the idea of possible careers to the young ones. Their choices over the years have always been limited to becoming teachers, doctors, police officers etc. mainly because they themselves are in the dark about the existence of space science. Equipping them with this information is adding to their career choices.
Accessibility to the information about space science is however inadequate to ensure that more and more females are interested in becoming part of the industry. More so with the masculine image that science as a whole has had over time. This is where now at high school level we introduce Girl Camps that will focus on mentorship for the young ladies provided by the women who already have careers in space science. This will prove to them that it is do able, it is sustainable and the fact that they are highly in demand should add to the advantage.
With the confidence now instilled in the young ladies, to further enhance their willingness to make space science a career choice a fund should be set aside to assist those who show interest in studying for relevant careers in the stream. Support will continue even at tertiary level in mentorship programs to ensure that we produce not only for reducing the gap but the best in the industry.
When this has been achieved, we will then have graduates that claim their existence in space science and thus bridging the gap. The cycle should continue with our graduates now in the forefront of mentorship. All this will not be excluding the male professionals in space science because their motivation will also add to building the confidence of woman in being productive and contributing positively in the sector.
This however will not continue without monitoring the quality of female professionals over the quantity produced. Necessary amendments will be introduced as seen fit to ensure the success of the programme. In trying to break even we would have reached a stage where existence of careers in space science are well known, limited the inhibiting barriers of entry into the field and most importantly remove the masculine image of science not only in this field but in all related fields.
The African continent is well known for its rich and diverse culture, with some of the cultural practices contributing to this low participation of females particularly in the space science. Careful considerations have to be taken into account in making this transition as smooth as possible. Male professionals existing in space science should not be left threatened or unable to accommodate the changes because of certain cultural beliefs. A support system should be in place to assist them in accommodating these changes. After all a productive continent is a rich continent.