Promoting Women in Science -WoHE 2019 Conference Communiqué

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Promoting Women in Science -WoHE 2019 Conference Communiqué

The Association of African Universities (AAU), with support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other partners, held its 2nd International Leadership Conference for Women in Higher Education (WoHE, 2019) in Nairobi, Kenya from 6-8 March 2019, under the theme “Promoting Women in Science to Address the 21st Century Challenges”.

This event brought together over 70 seasoned participants from countries across the continent, including Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Sudan, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Tanzania and Cameroun.

Dr. Beatrice Ngenja, Head of the Education Division of the African Union Commission served as the keynote speaker for this event, whilst Professor Margaret Kobia, a Cabinet Secretary in Kenya, honoured the AAU WoHE 2019 conference with her presence and officially declared the conference open. In her address, she:

  1. emphasized that women leaders have the power to move gender equality and women empowerment to the next level.
  2. challenged women to reflect on what they were doing in schools, institutions, departments and ministries to transform their world.
  3. challenged women to cultivate and nurture strategic networks for collaborative research to solve the current challenges hindering the progression of women in higher education.
  4. articulated her conviction that the gender mainstreaming budget should be influenced by women.
  5. encouraged women to be agents of peace.
  6. thanked the AAU, sponsors and partners in the organisation of the event and said that this event came in the backdrop of problematic statistics of about 10% women leaders in education and a ratio of 5-1 ratio of men to women in higher education; a state of affairs that needed to be addressed.
  7. encouraged higher education institutions across the continent to continue to place emphasis on gender responsive and equitable education as well as gender friendly leadership.

The communique and resolve of participants at the 2019 international Leadership Conference for Women in Higher Education, is presented here as follows;

We, the participants at the Association of African Universities 2nd International Leadership Conference for Women in Higher Education (AAU WoHE 2019) held in Nairobi, Kenya from 6 – 8 March 2019, under the theme Promoting Women in Science to Address the 21st Century Challenges, resolve and agree on the five (5) main categories as follows:

  1. Addressing Africa’s Challenges: the Role of Women in Science
  2. Current Developments on Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Africa
  3. Breaking the Glass Ceiling – Policies, Strategies and Mechanisms to support Women in STEM
  4. Resource Mobilization Strategies to support STEM research
  5. Barriers to Female Participation in STEM fields


Narrative Summaries of Resolutions 

  1. Addressing Africa’s Challenges: the Role of Women in Science

 Participants agreed on the following:

  1. Actively bring together women in STEM to collaborate and cooperate in carrying out needs-oriented research.
  2. Going out to schools to mentor young girls and bring them in to universities to undertake courses in the STEM fields.
  3. Encourage young women to take up programmes in STEM disciplines such as climate change, engineering, technology in higher education to address the current continental and global challenges.
  4. Need to create response mechanisms that promote women advancement guided by the pursuits set out in the African Union Agenda 2063.
  5. Women scientists to rise and reverse threats to human security such as gender inequality and gender based violence as championed by the African Union Agenda 2063, through identifying challenges and seeking resources, whether social, intellectual and/or financial, to implement solutions.
  6. Mentor women to become visible and instrumental in roles that bring solutions at institutional, departmental and ministerial level.
  7. Encourage experienced women scientists to move up and take the position of role models to prove to young scientists that it is possible for women to lead ground breaking research that can proffer practical solutions to the world’s challenges.
  8. Heed the call of the African Union to plan more events that create enabling environments for women’s advancement such as the WoHE 2019 conference.

    2. Current Developments on Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Africa

 Participants agreed on the following:

  1. To encourage women in STEM to seek funding from organisations and institutions that support women in research such as the organisation for women Scientists in Developing Countries (OWSD), and the Forum for African Women Educationalists, among others.
  2. To encourage the formation of active research networks across Africa.
  3. To formulate research groups with a mixture of experienced and young STEM researchers.
  4. To start innovation centres at schools to encourage young women scientists.
  5. To share research findings with communities so that STEM is connected to the community, and innovations are communicated with the people.
  6. To explore other sources of funding, including working with private sector to be self- sustaining.
  7. To propose the creation of gender friendly environments at institutions such as child care/day care centres that allow women to have peace of mind as they pursue their work. This will ensure career progression and help seal the leaky pipeline.
  8. Interface STEM with social science research to ensure there is no disconnect in development programming and that no-one is left behind as endeavoured by the African Union Agenda 2063.
  9. Promote collaborations between STEM and Arts in an attempt to better link the outside world and the laboratory. This will attract more women to take up STEM fields of study.
  10. Establish research teams such as the ones that were created during the speed networking sessions during the WoHE 2019 Conference, linking senior women scientists with younger researchers as well as Masters and PhD students.

3. Breaking the Glass Ceiling – Policies, Strategies and Mechanisms to support Women in STEM

Participants agreed on the following:

  1. Implement policies that encourage women’s representation in leadership positions and ensure accountability for increasing women’s participation in creating the Africa we want as espoused by the African Union.
  2. Advocate for the introduction of Diversity and Equality training as an examinable common undergraduate course to halt gender discrimination and engender inclusive mindsets.
  3. Present an environment where women are not seen to be disproportionately disadvantaged in scientific careers compared to men through mentorship that presents STEM as an inviting field.
  4. Institute mentorship programmes for STEM students and young women scientists to enable them take up, and progress in STEM careers thus stopping the leaky pipeline.
  5. Institute mentor-mentee teams involving senior female scientists and upcoming STEM researchers with the purpose of providing the platform for sharing, learning, and deliberation on, important issues. Mentorship will instil confidence and ensure much needed continuity as indicated in the case study narratives.
  6. Implement changes in policies that disadvantage older women in science, through provision for a more favourable age limit for funding applications and award competitions. This is against the reality that women catch up much later in research and studies due to family-related breaks and leave.

    4. Resource Mobilization Strategies to support STEM research

Participants agreed on the following: 

  1. Promote gender equality in science and technology-based entrepreneurship and innovation activities.
  2. Create policies that consider extending the age of women competing for research awards
  3. Lobby for budgetary Allocation for Gender Responsive STEM Education.
  4. Set up monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and employ a systems approach to ensure accountability for positive outcomes in HEIs.
  5. Mentor young STEM scientists and innovators on how to apply for grant proposals and ensure competent and fully resourced participation in solution- oriented STEM research for the current 21st century STEM economies.
  6. Institute needs-oriented research that solves current problems, improves livelihoods of all including girls and women.
  7. Lobby for infrastructural support in terms of laboratories and equipment to facilitate STEM at all levels of education.


5. Barriers to Female Participation in STEM fields

Participants agreed on the following: 

  1. Institute and ensure a gender responsive leadership at all levels of institution.
  2. Deliberately set up mentorship programmes that conscientize women on the challenges of work-family balance and strategies that can be employed to manage this complex situation.
  3. Hold institutions accountable by ensuring STEM programmes are accompanied by adequately equipped laboratories. Ill-equipped laboratories discredit science as difficult and success in it as unachievable.
  4. Ensure there is a gender dimension in policy designs and prioritize gender equality in STEM education policy- related designs through conscious and proactive female leadership.
  5. Advocate for the establishment and implementation of Strategic Gender responsive STEM Education policy.
  6. Strategize to attract and retain women in STEM in Higher education at all levels (including masters and PhD, through scholarships and awards).
  7. Promote work life – balance and appropriate re-entry mechanisms to the STEM workforce after career break or family leave.
  8. Lobby for flexible working hours in specific circumstances that demand the attention of women
  9. Ensure gender equality in career progression for scientists and engineers – recruitment criteria and processes, opportunities in the work place; (mentor, expose and encourage women not to give up).
  10. Respond and report sexual harassment and support girls and women in this regard.


Concluding Remarks 

Prof Chacha Nyaigoti Chacha, who conducted the closing ceremony, thanked all participants for setting time aside to respond to the call sent out for the Women in Higher Education Conference and for honouring the invitation to come to Nairobi to contribute to the vibrant discussions and engagements. He indicated that all contributions were invaluable as they added critical insights to the discussion that culminated in implementable resolutions. Prof Chacha encouraged participants to work in close collaborative networks to ensure achievement of all the resolutions drawn at the three-day conference. He emphasized the need to mainstream resolutions into action. Most important was the need for gender responsive institutions, support for science infrastructure, interfacing STEM and Social Science research, mentorship and collaboration in research. He expressed his gratitude to the AAU and its funding partners for creating such a platform on engagement of women in higher education. If properly implemented, these key enablers would significantly advance the achievement of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, he said. In closing; Prof Chacha congratulated the AAU and its funding partners, especially Sida, for being pathfinders and instrumental advocates in the advancement of women in African higher education.


Compiled by:

Dr Sindiso Zhou; Chief Rapporteur

Mrs. Felicia Kuagbedzi; Rapporteur


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