Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Women in Science News Roundup: Africa Edition

Here are some recent articles about women in science in Africa. Again, I'm sure there is more out there that isn't in English. has a report from the Cameroon Tribune about a University of Yaounde-UNESCO workshop for promoting women in the sciences.

Opening the workshop, the Rector of the University of Yaounde I, Dr Mrs Dorothy Limung Njeuma, said it is the desire of government to enhance the capacities of women in every sphere of professional life. "This follow-up course is another tangible proof that the government is sparing no effort to enable the Cameroonian woman in general and the professional woman in particular to be aptly trained so as to face the various challenges of our nation," she said.
In 1962 Dr. Njeuma won a scholarship to attend Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where she studied biology. She received her PhD in Zoology from the University College London in 1970. After returning to Cameroon, she taught science until being tapped as the Vice Minister for National-Education. She has served in several educational positions since then.

I'll admit I have mixed feelings about stories like this. The literacy rate for women in Cameroon is only about 60%, so it seems like worrying about encouraging women to pursue science should be secondary to making sure all women can read. As Kamala Sarup wrote in an article for American Chronicle:
Technology and science depend on literate people. We can't provide instructions to build and operate machines and computers and disseminate scientific knowledge without literacy.
On the other hand, I think that women who do want to study science should have that opportunity. It must be a dilemma for developing countries with limited resources: how to promote science without leaving behind those who cannot read.

The Good News (South Africa) reports on the 2007 L'Oreal-UNESCO South AfricaWomen in Science Awards.
  • Professor Susan Harrison of the University of Cape Town won the top award as Distinguished Woman Scientist.
    Professor Harrison enjoys an outstanding national and international reputation as a leading researcher in Bioprocess Engineering and is involved in regional biotechnology initiatives.
  • Dr. Nadine Strydom won the Best Emerging Young Scientist Award.
    The adjudicators praised her work on the biology and ecology of the larvae of coastal fishes by saying it has the potential to impact not only the fishing industry but also the environmental debate surrounding marine resources. They said despite working in an area that is not scientifically prominent she shows potential of developing into world class researcher with the ability to mentor and develop students in her area of expertise.
  • Fellowships for Women in Science were won by:
    • Dr Carol Padoa - Health Science
    • Dr Marieka Gryzenhout - Microbiology
    • Carren Ginsberg - Statistics
    • Izendu Aghaci - Mechanical Engineering
    • Dr Mary Kawong - Public Health writes about women who make a difference in Nigeria. Among the women is one with a chemistry background, Ibukun Awosika. Today Awosika runs a furniture manufacturing company.
With her background in chemistry and a brief stint in accounting, one would expect her to be calling the shot in banking or other lucrative establishments. But Mrs. Ibukun Awosika developed a passion for hammer and nail, a terrain which is rightly or wrongly believed to restricted men. "I have never thought that this profession is meant for men. I was brought up in my house to believe that you can do anything. My father has mainly girls with two boys. But the girls were never made to believe that there was something we were not supposed to do. Sincerely, that helped me when I started. Another thing is that when I discovered my talents, money didn't stop me from pursuing my goals and aspirations. [. . .]"
Also included in the list is Professor Dora Akunyili, a pharmacist and Director General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.
Though she taught in the University [of Nigeria] for 19 years and her academic excellence has always stood her out, but the rate at which she has brought sanity into the drug market by fighting counterfeit drugs. And even when her life was on line, she kept moving on to ensure that fake drugs are completely wiped out of the Nigerian markets, the feat her predecessors failed to achieve.
I imagine that's a lot more personal risk than the average pharmacy professor takes.

Finally, David Ng of the University of British Columbia, and Michelle Brazas of the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and David Peterson of the University of Georgia have just returned from two weeks of teaching molecular biology in Nigeria. Ng is blogging about his experiences at the Worlds Fair:
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Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

08 08 07

Hello there Peggy:
Great post. Developing more scientists in Africa has been an important mission over the past century. Nigeria has a rather strange history because they have produced quite a bit of productive physical scientists and computer scientists as well. But most of these guys are well, men!

Years ago I attended Spelman college for my first year and a half of school. You would be encouraged to know that there were quite a few African gals taking up biochemistry, math and chemistry. Not so for physics but one can hope...

In fact, the thing that struck me the most was that at Morehouse (right across the street) almost all of the physics professors were African (particularly Nigerian) men.

We still have a long way to go;)

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

08 09 07

Another thought:
As we discuss Africa, I am hoping that more Black American women get involved in the sciences. From personal experience, it almost seems as though there are more African women scientists than Black American, alas another thing to rectify...

Peggy K said...

Mahndisa, that's great to know that African women are studying the sciences. Back when I was trekking through academia, I met a couple of African men, but no women. It must be incredibly difficult to leave your family thousands of miles away and enter a completely different culture in order to study science, especially if there are limited jobs for you back home.