Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Study sheds light on reasons for gender disparity in STEM

With Batswana women representing less than 30 per cent of those enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields, a new study conducted by African Academy of Sciences (AAS) highlights some of the issues why gender gaps still exist and why women are failing to penetrate in this key field.

The study which involved several women in STEM and policy experts across African institutions, including Botswana, states that gender inequity in STEM related fields will not be addressed by simply having more women moving through the academic pipeline. “There is need for efforts to close the gender gap in STEM to ensure that women as much as men benefit as citizens and contributors to their societies,” states the findings of the study.

The study found out that some of the reasons why fewer women pursue STEM related careers were because of patriarchal attitudes for the masculine image of STEM as well as values and beliefs at macro level. “Sexism and stereotyping of wom­en’s roles” and “negative traditional beliefs that women are inferior to men” are some of the reasons why women don’t have enthusiasm for STEM in secondary and tertiary studies, reads part of the findings. Among other things, the study shows that while “policies to address the gender gap in STEM” might exist, they are rarely implemented.

Part of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasise the need to address inequality in education. SDG Goal 4 which deals with inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all has at least 8 gender specific indicators. However reports show that in terms of SDG achievement, Botswana is only on track to meet one goal being SDG 6 clean water and sanitation. Reports also indicate that Botswana is facing major challenges in 8 goals being SDG1 no poverty, SDG2 zero hunger, SDG3 good health and well-being, SDG7 affordable and clean energy, SDG9 industry, innovation and infrastructure, SDG10 reduced inequalities, SDG 12 responsible consumption and production and SDG16 peace, justice and strong institutions.

A Researcher who spoke to this publication indicated that it’s only by addressing gender bias in STEM that Botswana will improve socioeconomic development and reduce poverty in the country. “Policymakers must ensure that policy and programmatic measures are institutionalised to safeguard gender equity in STEM both in the education system and work places,” says Tebogo Maphosa.

Although Botswana sometimes spends over 25% of the budget on education, about 8% of GDP on education, there have not been any noticeable results. Maphosa says more work needs to be done to encourage Botswana General Certificate Examination Leavers (BGCSE) to enroll in STEM related courses, adding that more work needs to be done to engender STEM policy in the country in order to foster a conducive environment which promotes the educational achievement of all people irrespective of their gender.

Globally, only Malaysia is regarded as a model country that has achieved gender parity in STEM with 58 per cent of its science degrees held by women.

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