The 3rd annual Forum for Women Vice Chancellors in Africa (FAWoVC) kicked off yesterday at the University of Cape Coast, with official opening remarks made by Hon. Shirly Ayorkor Botchway, Ghana’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration.
The forum which brings together women Vice Chancellors and Rectors, scientists in academia (both women and men), researchers and students is being held alongside the 15th annual general meeting of RUFORUM. The theme for this years’ FAWoVC is “Enhancing Women Participation and Leadership Role in Africa’s Universities Agenda for Agricultural Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovations.
In her remarks, Minister Ayorkor acknowledged that while the number of females in Science, Technology and Innovations (STI) has been growing over the years, women remain significantly underrepresented in the field of science generally across the continent. She said policy makers need to ensure that deliberate programmes are put in place to address the challenges that keep women and girls from participating in STI.
During the course of the day, several speakers made presentations on different aspects of how to enhance women’s participation in the field of science, especially in academic spaces.
Prof Alice Pell, the former Vice Provost at Cornell University in the US gave the first keynote address for the day, focusing on the State of women’s participation in science, technology and innovation, with a particular focus on Africa. Prof Domwini Dabire Kuupole, the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast emphasised the need for political will and commitment at institutional level. Without such deliberate commitments, he said it would be difficult to get more women into positions of leadership at institutions of higher learning. “Some of the deliberate efforts that I’m talking about should include putting in place affirmative action as a way of encouraging women to study STEM at higher institutional level and we need to catch them young,” said Prof. Kuupole
He added that sensitization on gender equality and equity could also make a big difference and raise awareness among leaders in higher academic institutions. “It is not enough to say let us have a 50-50 parity at admissions. How do we maintain the girls throughout their education and help them stay in academia?” he asked. Prof. Kuupole noted that institutions of higher learning need to put in place well-structured capacity building programmes as part of their strategic policy. This way, he says they are able to design specific programmes on training and mentoring.
Dr Irene Annor Frempong, another lead speaker and Director of Research at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)-Ghana, said science and gender equality are critical ingredients that can help in achieving Africa’s Agenda 2063. Currently, she said only 35 per cent of all the continent’s students who are enrolled in STEM related fields are women. “Long standing gender biases are steering women and girls away from science related fields and this will have dire consequences for Africa. It is therefore imperative that effective actions are employed to increase their participation in STEM,” said Frempong. Aside from the (FAWoVC) forum, another parallel session that focused on how to foster global partnership for higher education and research also attracted a number of speakers and participants. Some of the key issues discussed focused on Africa’s Food and Agriculture outlook, looking at trends and emerging issues, higher education and research in Sudan, and sharing of best practices of how to promote global partnerships for higher education. Lead Speaker, Dr Kwesi Atta-Krah, the Director, Country Alignment and Systems Integration, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture said universities should do more to make Agriculture appealing as a profession and with business orientation, not just as a course of study.
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