Promoting girls in STEM is not gendered competition but an opportunity for inclusive development – Dr Justina Onumah

A Senior Research Scientist at CSIR-Science and Technology Policy Research Institute, Ghana, Dr Justina Onumah, has launched the “GirledUp” Initiative to mentor, inspire and provide resource support to girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education.

Speaking at the launch event, the Public Diplomacy Counselor at the Embassy of the United States of America (USA) in Ghana, Emily Fertik, in her Keynote address highlighted the importance of STEM education in shaping the future of individuals and societies alike.

She noted that by cultivating skills in STEM, individuals would be equipped with the tools to navigate and contribute meaningfully to an increasingly complex and technologically-driven world.

Ms Fertik further stressed the need to include the “Arts” components when discussing STEM issues and hence advocated for STEAM and not just STEM.


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This she said is needed for scientists to properly communicate science, which essentially is an art. She also reiterated the Embassy’s commitment to promoting girls in STEM education and careers.

 

Dr Justina Onumah, the Founder of GirledUp Ghana indicated that representation and exposure of the young girls mattered if they were to be seen breaking barriers in the areas of STEM.

“For girls and women in STEM, the challenge is not just about pursuance in STEM but the persistence in STEM to ensure they don’t give up along the way,” she said.

With mentorship and guidance, she said GirledUp Ghana would support girls to persist in STEM and become the biggest possibilities of themselves, adding “We want to see girls and women contributing to an inclusive and diversified technologically advanced society one day.”

Without providing support systems for girls, Dr Onumah said there was a challenge as the world needed more people in Science and considering the more females across the globe, girls had a critical role to play in it.


She called for inclusivity to enable boys and girls work together to produce problem-solving initiatives.

“At GirledUp Ghana, one of our core values is inclusivity. We want girls to believe that their journeys are supported by both men and women and it is not about a gendered competition. Hence, both male and female mentors will mentor these girls, create a safe space for them to coexist, cocreate and understand the importance of supporting each other to succeed”, she added.

Professor Nkechi S. Owoo, of the Department of Economics, University of Ghana and the World Bank Development Economics Research Group, Washington DC, called on parents and guardians not to buy toy cars for their sons and dolls for their daughters.

If the country could not bridge the gap between Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, she said providing equal opportunities right from home to schools for both sex was the first step to achieve that.


“The idea that when there is a difficult subject, especially in STEM, a girl cannot do it and must leave it for a boy must be scrapped off,” she advised.

Dr Lucy Agyepong, Dean of Engineering, Academic City University College, said how STEM was taught in basic schools contributed to inability of students to understand or relate to it.

She condemned the impression given about STEM education as an area for males, adding: “If one says a woman’s role is in the kitchen, then that’s the more reason they should do STEM because putting oil and other food stuff together to become a whole meal is chemistry.”

While advising girls, she said: “Don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t do it. I want to encourage all of you to trust in your ability. When you put in the work, you will get the results. We want to hold your hand to help you in this journey to make you successful than any of us you see here. We are behind you and wish you hundred percent success..”


Ms Zulaiha Dobia Abdullah, Founder of Divaloper, reiterated that getting girls technological toys to start playing games at home could help to trigger their interest in STEM.

She admonished parents to enrol their children in institutions where they could get STEM opportunities to learn coding and robotics among others.

She entreated parents to use social media to enlighten girls at home about opportunities in STEM, adding: “Girls, please be bold in your decision, and smart with your books to be of relevance in your community, country, Africa and the world at large.”

The founder of Levers in Heels, Larisa Akrofie, admonished girls to do research about the fields they were interested in and have role models they could relate to.


She said research had shown that girls who attended single sex schools were more confident than those who attended unisex schools, a situation that called for attention.

“Many girls have low self esteem due to society and so teachers and parents need to come together to bring out their confidence and offer them similar opportunities given to boys to enable them excel,” she added.

Mr Christopher Coons, a Senator from the State of Delaware, USA, in a recorded video, commended Dr Onumah for the initiative and encouraged the Initiative to be strong and build mentorship networks for girls to dream big, adding that GirledUp Ghana had what it took to change the lives of girls in Ghana.

The initiative was launched as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange Programme, sponsored by the United States Department of State with support from the Embassy of the United States in Accra Ghana, University of Delaware and Girls Inc of Delaware.


The US Embassy, Ghana was represented by Ms Emily Fertik, the Public Diplomacy Counselor, Ms Laneice Brooker, the Cultural Affairs Attache and Ms Chantel Bekoe, the Exchange Alumni Coordinator.

Representing the University of Delaware was Dr Oyenike Olabisi and Ms Amara Galileo. Ms Yolanda Curtis, CEO of Girls Inc. of Delaware also represented Girls Inc. of Delaware as partners for the event.

Dr Christina Wesolek from Avian Haven was also part of the US team that supported the event.

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