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Women can meaningfully contribute to STEM

2023-06-30  Edgar Brandt

Women can meaningfully contribute to STEM

ν Edgar Brandt

VIENNA - The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), the preparatory commission of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, has recognised a noticeable shortage of girls and women involved in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from under-represented geographical regions. Last week, New Era spoke to some of the women here attending the CTBTO’s science and technology conference for 2023 to find out what measures can be implemented to attract more girls into STEM.

Mako Sitali, Senior Geoscientist at the Geological Survey of Namibia, said it is crucial for African youth to pursue STEM.

“We need to create better career paths for the youth. This will eventually eliminate outsourcing of our technical fields, which would make many highly- skilled positions much more economical in Namibia,” she noted.

“We focus on girls because they have historically been marginalised. However, you need to include boys into this STEM equation as well, or else in about a decade, you will face a situation where boys will be left out. Then you will have to focus on bringing them up to the appropriate STEM level,” Sitali added.

Also weighing in on the subject, Kasey Aderhold, an Alaska-based project manager at Earthscope with a PhD in seismology, said involving girls in STEM boils down to more than recruitment, and should actually encompass real changes to the scientific working environment.

“The people in these settings determine the environment in which the youth, specifically girls, can operate. Personally, I have certainly benefitted from women established in STEM who have mentored me. Needless to say, I have been exposed to numerous environments where the majority of participants are men,” she noted. 

Speaking to New Era on the sidelines of the SnT 2023 conference, Aderhold admitted that there is plenty men in these environments can do to make it more accommodative to girls and women. “Men need to drive this change, firstly by recognising there is a need for change,” she added.

Commenting on the subject, Naandi Faith Bio, a communications and media intern at the Geological Survey of Namibia, said Namibia and Africa need a contribution from both young girls and young boys in order to make a meaningful global impact.

“It is very important to promote scientific careers for African girls because they deserve a seat on the international scene. However, the boy child should be equally equipped and be exposed to the sciences so that both boys and girls have the same opportunities, and for no one to be left behind,” she reasoned.

Bio said globally, it looks like Africa is always behind in everything related to science and technology.

“Here in Europe, it is quite evident that many women are involved in STEM.

Unfortunately in Africa, STEM is still very much a male-dominated sphere. As such, our girls need to be exposed to as much STEM as possible,” she continued.


CTBTO initiatives

Involving more women in various scientific fields is of great importance. This is because their participation serves as inspiration for future generations to pursue careers in STEM.

This is according to the CTBTO, which in response to this publication’s queries pointed out that it has undertaken several initiatives to achieve the objective of involving more women in STEM, particularly from under-represented geographical regions such as Africa.

“This has yielded a 31.5% increase in overall applications received and processed from across all geographical regions. In terms of progress on achieving gender parity, currently, 40.4% of professional and higher-level posts are held by women. This is in comparison to 36.65% at the end of 2021, and 31.87% at the end of 2020,” the organisation stated. 

It continued: “We will continue our talent acquisition initiatives that target women in STEM, people from under-represented geographical regions, and most importantly, people with the skills for hard-to-fill scientific and technical posts. One notable initiative of the organisation is the CTBTO Mentoring Programme, which promotes active participation and engagement of women and young individuals in our mission. In its first edition, four mentees from Africa participated, followed by three in the second cohort. This initiative not only includes seminars and skill-boosting exercises for these women, but also provides mentees with a practical pathway to be considered for nomination as surrogate inspectors, or to serve as observers. The programme also contributes to the diversification of talent necessary for an essential aspect of the CTBTO’s verification system”.

Furthermore, the CTBTO established a CTBTO Youth Group (CYG) in 2016 as a powerful force of support for the treaty worldwide. The group fosters networking, learning and collaboration among young professionals, students and activists who share a common interest in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament efforts. Currently, the CYG has 234 members from Africa, accounting for 17% of the total membership, with 84 of them being women. The CTBTO is also actively involved in providing support through capacity- building programmes, training and workshops to enhance technical expertise in the region. The organisation strongly encourages the participation of women in these activities.

Over the past year, women accounted for around 25% of participants in capacity- building training sessions. However, during the recent training in Slovakia, women constituted 40% of the participants.

Additionally, the Technical Experts Support Programme (TESP) of the CTBTO assists technical experts from developing countries to participate in official technical meetings of the commission. Since 2007, TESP has provided support to experts from 16 African states, including six women. 

At the WGB-60 meeting, held after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, half of the technical experts - supported under TESP - were women, representing various countries from the global south. The programme supports women at different career stages, allowing them to benefit from technical discussions during WGB (an advisory group), and providing networking opportunities. It also provides them with valuable insights into the operations of the commission and its subsidiary bodies. 

Notably, current directors of the CTBTO’s IMS and IDC Divisions, Xyoli Perez Campos (Mexico) and Zeinabou Mindaoudou Souley (Niger), respectively, are former TESP participants.

By implementing all these programmes, initiatives and offering support and mentoring, the CTBTO aims to promote gender parity and empower women in STEM fields, ultimately contributing to a more diverse and inclusive scientific community.

2023-06-30  Edgar Brandt

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