The women scientists who are changing Africa

Mar 07, 2022 | written by:

Africa is a continent with tremendous potential for development. A growing number of young women scientists are working to unlock this potential. Let’s take a look at how these women are changing the face of the continent. 

Although progress has been made in reducing the oft-cited “gender gap”, gender inequality still exists in many areas of life on the African continent. One of these areas is science. 

The numbers speak for themselves. In recent years, women have been significantly under-represented in research, especially in Africa.

The silent revolution

But things are changing. A new generation of women scientists from Africa is seeking to drive progress, overcoming old frameworks and traditional boundaries. 

There are still many challenges ahead. Whether in finance, agriculture or research, many career paths – in Africa and elsewhere – are traditionally reserved for men. However, cultural barriers are not the only obstacles that need to be overcome. A recent survey by showed that many women have been forced to make considerable personal sacrifices for their academic careers. Study abroad, a lack of maternity leave and longer waits for promotions, difficulties in publishing results and low pay. These are just some of the examples given by the more than 100 respondents, many of whom were young women.

A new generation of women researchers active in a number of fields: physics, mathematics, chemistry, immunology and technology. They have one thing in common: wonderful tenacity in pursuing their scientific goals and a strong attachment to their continent.

A long process

All around the world, the gender gap is gradually narrowing, but in Africa, the process is taking longer compared to other continents. What are the reasons for this? Solid traditions, conservative thinking and men, shaped by both of these factors, who occupy almost all the positions of power. 

Change doesn't happen overnight – that much is clear. But it is a top priority, even at the highest level. As such, gender equality has also been identified as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the UN.

In Africa (especially sub-Saharan Africa), it could take another 95 years to significantly reduce this gap, according to estimates by the World Economic Forum, due to the numerous cultural and structural barriers. 

Examples of change

But women researchers in Africa don’t want to wait that long. So they’re going it alone, driving progress through sheer determination. The report provides several examples of this, including that of Khady Sall from Senegal, who is leading a project on face masks to protect against COVID-19. Or Veronica Okello from Kenya, who is researching a sustainable solution for cleaning industrial metals. 

They are continuing the legacy of the renowned African women researchers who paved the way. Both of these women cite Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Peace Prize winner (who died in 2011), as their role model. Because, as they themselves know, it’s success stories like this one that give them the confidence and self-belief to follow their example.  

Yet whether the new generation can write its own success stories also depends on fellow researchers in countries with better scientific infrastructure. Only with a strong international exchange and support network can research projects achieve long-term success and overcome local obstacles.

This benefits not only women researchers in Africa, but throughout the world. 

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