Mr Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to present this statement to the house. In our culture, when in the presence of elders, one is expected to listen, observe and learn.
This was confirmed to me by some senior members of this house, who were kind enough to share the lessons they had learnt with me. On the strength of that, Mr Speaker, it was my intention to wait a little longer before rising to speak in this chamber.
However, the importance of this day requires that I set aside this selfimposed rule and make my voice heard. So thank you, Mr Speaker for admitting my statement. On 11th February each year, we mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It is a day set aside by the United Nations in recognition of the need to have more women in the field.
As we celebrate the day, we need to reflect on how far we have come, but more importantly, how we can get even further. Mr Speaker, science is a reflection of society and the people who lead it. If we are to achieve meaningful social equity between the genders, then women must be as well represented in science as men are. Women are the more populous gender and yet, continue to be underrepresented in science. This is the result of longstanding biases against the female gender.
Mr Speaker, according to a 2017 report from the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Ghanaian girls are prevented from participating in Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programmes by a number of factors. These include gender stereotyping which drives sociocultural beliefs about girls’ inability to study STEM.
There is also inadequate citizen awareness about the importance of these programmes while unfriendly and gender insensitive teaching methodologies also discourage girls from entering STEM programmes.
Let us not forget that until relatively recently, women were routinely shut out of many activities, including education itself.
This created a self-perpetuating myth about the supposed abilities of women, which in turn led to further discrimination and exclusion.
Mr Speaker, the effects of this have been telling. The lack of strong female role models in the sciences prevents more young girls from taking on the challenge. In shutting out the greater proportion of our populations from contributing to such a significant endeavour, we deprive ourselves of talents and potentially world-changing innovations.
The exploits of women such as Marie Curie, the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in two separate sciences, at a time when the field was even more maledominated should tell us what women can do when they are allowed the opportunity.
Mr Speaker, we must again remind ourselves of the prescient exhortation from one of our own, James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey, to educate women in order to educate the nation. The evidence shows that children who come from households in which the mother has also had education are more likely to climb the academic ladder.
For every woman we get into science, we are potentially placing their offspring, female as well as male, on a similar path that will benefit not only themselves but the entire nation. With science and technology playing an even more dominant role in our lives, the need to ensure the full participation of women and girls in the twin disciplines becomes more urgent. The next generation of women and girls must experience none of the barriers that have held their forbears back.
Thankfully, Mr Speaker, there have been efforts the world over to bring more women into science. In Ghana, as of 1987, only one out of every eleven children in secondary school was female. The realisation of this stark fact spurred interventions such as the Science and Maths Education Clinic and the Ghana Science Clinics for girls, led by noted educationist, Professor J S Djangmah.
So successful were these initiatives that they were quickly replicated in other African countries. To these and others, we can credit the fact that as of 2015, there was one girl for every three boys in a sciencerelated programme in our schools. It is not enough for a population that is 51 percent female, but it is progress.
Mr Speaker, a lot remains to be done, however. In its 2017 study, UNESCO found that in Jasikan, for example, only twenty-nine of the eight hundred and fifty-five girls in Senior High School was pursuing science. Research also shows that the number of students, especially female graduates in STEM-related careers is inadequate to fill the ever-increasing job opportunities in those fields.
Even though women contribute a greater share of the population, they occupy only about 26 percent of STEM jobs, as reported in 2019 by Women in STEM. In 2018, the Global Education Monitoring Team also noted that women in Ghana account for less than a quarter of all Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics degrees.
Data from the World Bank on gender parity index for Ghana shows that access to education continues to favour boys and men, although it improved from 0.62 in 2011 to 0.77 in 2018. The introduction of Free SHS has brought further improvements and the ratio for 2019/2020 stood at 0.95.
Again, Mr Speaker, this is progress, but it is not enough. We have more to do, especially in ICT, natural science, mathematics and statistics, engineering, manufacturing and construction, in all of which female enrolment remains below 10 percent.
Mr Speaker, it must be noted some of the advances we are seeing are due to the necessary cultural changes that address the perceptions of women’s roles in the home and at the workplace. The efforts that led to more women climbing the professional ladder have seen a change in attitudes towards women. This must be encouraged.
We know from several studies that companies that have women on their boards tend to do better. And so encouraging women to play more active roles in the professional world, including in science-related fields, is not just about women, it helps all of us.
Mr Speaker, the education of females in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is imperative from three perspectives based on empirical studies on gender and STEM. The first perspective is that of human rights — the need for all to be educated and be given equal opportunities. The second perspective is scientific — women boost scientific outcomes in terms of diversity, creativity, bias reduction, and promotion of robust knowledge and solutions.
The third perspective is developmental — that is, the ability of men and women to acquire knowledge in and benefit from STEM opportunities. In fact, STEM fields have been shown by research to be prerequisites to societal and individual advancement.
Mr Speaker, we cannot risk a future in which women remain underrepresented in professional and academic endeavours, least of all the sciences. We have to take urgent and proactive steps to ensure that more women take up the challenge of studying and working in science-related fields. We are currently in the midst of a technological revolution that has made science integral to our personal lives and our national destinies.
We cannot afford to leave women behind. We need now to embark on deliberate, specific and targeted interventions to make science and related areas of study attractive and accessible to women and girls. Mr Speaker, the first thing, I believe, we will need to do is to address the unfortunate stereotypes about the sciences and women’s participation in it.
We will need to show and celebrate the many women, in Ghana and outside, past and present, who have made and are making their mark in the field.
This will encourage more girls to view science as a natural career option and boost confidence in their ability to excel in the field. We will need to train and recruit more female science teachers. Children pick a lot of cues from their teachers and parents, so internalising the fact that women can also do well in science will encourage more girls into the field.
Mr Speaker, we also need to highlight and centre the roles of women in science and related fields. Around the country, we have many sterling women who are playing exceptional roles in the sciences, including in our ongoing battle against Covid-19.
We need to show young women and girls that they are just as able as their male counterparts. Here, Mr Speaker, I believe we have to commend the producers of the National Maths and Science Quiz who have brought to the fore strong performances by young girls from schools all over the country.
The show has also, in consistently choosing female hosts, shown the ability of women to lead and excel in the field. This is important because research has shown that on-screen roles by women directly affect the career choices made by young people.
The 2015 Gender Bias without Borders study by the Geena Davis Institute showed that only 12 percent of on-screen characters in identifiable STEM roles were played by women. This must change. Mr Speaker, we will need to expose our daughters to STEM and related career options as early as possible. We can do this through our natural interactions as parents, guardians and teachers.
But we must also create special programmes to address this. We can go back to the Girls in Science programmes. We can create new programmes with similar missions. We can set up STEM centres with a focus on women and girls.
The important thing is to allow girls a chance to learn about science, interact with mentors and where possible, acquire basic skills in the field. This is what we did in Kwesimintsim when we organized a “Women in ICT” programme to equip young women with basic ICT skills.
We will also need to support girls in STEM with learning opportunities, Mr Speaker. This will mean collaborating with businesses to institute internship and placement opportunities targeted towards girls and women.
It will mean designing a mentorship programme that links these young women with female leaders in the sciences. Through this, they can receive support, encouragement and invaluable career advice. No one here, I believe, will dispute the importance of having someone in your field you can talk to when you have doubts, or place a phone call on your behalf when you need a door opened.
Mr Speaker, the urgency of this task is not in doubt. Ghana cannot be left out of the science-based revolution that is sweeping the world. We cannot do this with one hand tied behind our backs, as it were.
But that is exactly what we will be doing if we do not get more women involved in the sciences. That is why this day is especially important. The opportunity it affords us to reflect, revise and retool must not be missed.
A generation from now, our girls could be at the forefront of global innovation. It is possible if we begin now. Let us not them down; let us give them a chance to be great. Let us work to give this day, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, its fullest meaning.
Thank you once again, Mr Speaker.
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