Organised by Nwobodo Cynthia Ebere (2014 Split-site Scholar from Nigeria, PhD Agricultural Extension, University of Reading)

On Monday 2 March 2020, Commonwealth Alumnus Nwobodo Cynthia Ebere held a workshop to promote Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls for students at the Trans-Ekulu Girls’ Secondary School, Enugu State, Nigeria. The workshop aimed to sensitise female students on careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and was attended by over 400 students along with teachers, parents, and volunteers.

In Nigeria, like other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, there is a wide gender disparity in access to quality education and career opportunities. Gender stereotype is very common, especially for girls who want to pursue studies in STEM, as these are typically seen as boys’ disciplines for a career choice.  A number of factors, including socio-cultural, institutional, policy, and lack of motivation/mentorship, are responsible for low representation of women in STEM careers. Oftentimes, family, schools, and the wider community discourage girls from being interested in STEM courses, which further denies both women and girls the freedom to realise their potential in those subjects.

However, with the technology era, careers in STEM promise higher income and a more sustainable future. Therefore, denying girls opportunities to study STEM courses reduces their chances of securing better jobs in the future, thereby perpetuating poverty among women. The lack of role models and motivators are another reason why girls do not aspire to pursue studies in STEM and move on to careers in this field. Overall, the lack of motivation and support affects girls’ aspirations, performance and eventual economic, political, and social achievements.

The sensitisation workshop

The sensitisation workshop was organised to encourage girls to study STEM courses in school and university. The workshop comprised of a speech by the Commonwealth Alumnus Nwobodo Cynthia Ebere, followed by presentations by renowned women in STEM and a Q&A session.

Special guests in attendance included Mrs Ijeoma Fidelia Okpe, Principal of Trans-Ekulu Girls Secondary School Enugu ; Professor A I Achike, Director of Gender and Development Policy Centre, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Dr C C Anyadike,  President of the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN), Nsukka Chapter; Nneoma Aneke and Ella Ugwu, both engineers and members of the Association of Professional Women Engineers in Nigeria (APWEN), Nsukka Chapter.

Professor Anthonia Ifeyinwa Achike presented on the topic, ‘Gender and National Development’, where she engaged with the students to gauge their understanding about the terms, ‘development’ and ‘gender’. She explained that development is a process of experiencing positive change or advancement in ones’ status and that the term ‘individual development’ is the development of a mindset as an individual.

She raised that to understand gender, one must be aware about the social roles ascribed to male and female members of a society. The critical role of male and female as factors of production needs to be recognised and harnessed in order to ensure sustainable development of a nation. Bearing in mind that both genders have important roles in the society, their individual contributions should be identified and properly recognised in every development agenda of a nation. Therefore, it is essential that equal opportunities are offered to access resources to enable both men and women to contribute to the national development.

The need for women in STEM careers

Dr Chinenye Anyadike also delivered a presentation on, ‘The need for women in STEM careers’. Dr Anyadike has vast experience in the engineering sector and spoke to the girls about the different career options in this field. She explained that engineering is the art of applying scientific and mathematics principles, experiences, judgment, and common sense to make things that benefit people. Engineering is behind everything, from a smartphone to the shoes on our feet to bridges. She provided information on various options within engineering and the subjects to choose while at school to pursue studying engineering at university.

Dr Anyadike motivated the girls by stating that female engineers are in demand and that women and girls excel in analysis and attention to details, skills which are crucial to engineering. She shared that engineers are constantly involved with products requiring human-centred design and that without a female perspective, products may have an inherently male design. More women in engineering ensures products and infrastructure are designed for the cross section of society.

Women in STEM: The need of the hour!

Following the presentations, the Principal remarked that the event was very innovative and acknowledged the timing of the event, as students were beginning to choose their respective courses. She also noted that these decisions were critical, as unemployment is a major problem facing Nigeria.

Feedback gathered from the students, teachers, and parents indicated the sensitisation workshop was a success. Students commented that they were now inspired to enrol in STEM courses, with a few inquiring about Commonwealth Scholarship opportunities for the future. At the beginning of the event, it was found that students were unaware of International Women’s Day (IWD), taking place on 8 March, and the relevance of this day to the event. However, feedback at the end of the event suggested that there was a shift in the attendees’ attitude towards the importance of IWD, gender equality, and that girls can pursue STEM courses and do well in careers in STEM.