Organised by Dithan Kiragga (2007 Scholar from Uganda, MSc International Primary Healthcare, University College London)

To mark International Women’s Day (IWD) on Sunday 8 March 2020, a one-day career talk was organised by alumnus Dithan Kiragga, in collaboration with The Africa Women in Science Hub (AWiSH), at the Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School, in Gulu Municipality, Uganda. The event titled, ‘Raising awareness on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) amongst girls in secondary schools’, promoted the importance of Sustainable Development Goal 5 and achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls across the Commonwealth.

The main aim of the event was to encourage young girls from northern Uganda to pursue science-based courses and careers in order to increase gender equality in these fields. The event also sought to raise awareness amongst attendees on the importance of and need for gender equality in their day to day lives and future careers. Over 850 girls and members of the school administration attended.

Alongside Dithan, facilitators of the career event included:

  • Ms Akello Florence Kilama, Senior Nutrition and WASH Advisor, USAID-RHITES-N, Acholi, ‘Life Skills and Key Tips for Success in Sciences’
  • Dr Ventrina Lanyero, Senior Medical Officer, Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health and Infectious Disease’
  • Ms Pamela Angwech, Chief Executive Officer, Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalization (GWED-G), ‘Girls’ Empowerment in Science’
  • Ms Laura Kanyiginya, Regional Manager, Commonwealth Scholarships, Eastern and Southern Africa, British Council, Uganda

The day started with an opening prayer led by one of the students, followed by the Ugandan national anthem and the women’s anthem. A welcome speech was then delivered by the Deputy Head Teacher. Each of the guest speakers introduced themselves and for speaker Akello Florence Kilama, the assembly hall was full of cheers and applauds as she revealed she was an alumnus of the school, sharing her class streams and dormitory. She acknowledged and appreciated the school for contributing to her career and promised to continue to promote the importance of STEM subjects and careers at the school and to the community in Gulu district.

Acknowledge, promote and celebrate

Following the introductions, Pamela Angwech presented on the topic, ‘Girls’ Empowerment in Science’, drawing on the IWD 2020 theme, ‘I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights’. The theme is aligned with UN Women’s new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. She explained that the UN believes that the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be achieved if women and young people, who make up the greatest percentage of the world population, are not empowered.

Pamela stated that IWD celebrations provide an opportunity to acknowledge the women changing the world and creating a difference and that their support cannot be taken for granted or underestimated. These women include CEOs, women in politics and leadership, women in medical science, women in information and communication technology (ICT) developing applications and systems, women in business, women entrepreneurs, mothers, sisters, and so on. They should be promoted and celebrated to increase and promote gender equity and inclusion.

She emphasised that girls’ empowerment is a pathway towards a better life. She discussed key principles of empowerment, stating that empowerment is girls having the knowledge and opportunities they deserve to live to their full potential and is a core principle of leaving no girl behind. She explained that girls’ empowerment is hinged on the following principles: choice, voice and, power. She encouraged the girls to ’always let somebody know what you want. And there are key principles that you need to exhibit or work with to achieve some of these principles of empowerment’. Pamela’s talk ended with her saying she would love to come back and talk to the girls about things such as agency, resources, and the structure to influence a situation.

The next talk was delivered by Dr Ventrina Laynero, who spoke to the girls about sexual and reproductive health and infectious disease. Some of the key take-aways from her talk related to self-worth, aspiration and inspiration, books before babies, and the importance of health. She emphasised that health is wealth and spoke of the importance of being aware of sexually transmitted infections, menstrual hygiene, wellbeing, and the different types of cancers common amongst womenm, including breast and cervical. She also address the current global public health issues, Covid-19, or Coronavirus, and the important preventative measures communities should use to stop the spread.

Coming to the end of her talk, Dr Lanyero noted that resilience plays a great role in determining life choices for a girl child. She told the girls to carry out knowledge assessments for key science subjects such as math, physics, chemistry, biology, and agriculture in order to understand how these subjects could have an impact on career choices. She encouraged the girls to concentrate on books before babies, which she referred to through the easy acronym, ‘BBB’, as she shared the impacts of teenage pregnancy on education and attaining self-independence.

The final presentation was on ‘Life Skills and Key Tips for Success in Sciences’, delivered by Florence Akello. She highlighted different key life skills, such as positive attitude, goal setting, and being focused, needed to pursue courses and careers in science. To have a positive attitude, self-motivation, and self-belief to pursue and succeed in science. She encouraged students to desire a profession by setting a goal for themselves and be focused and practical in what they want to achieve. She stated that in order to succeed in a career in science, they must be willing to work harder to go the extra mile. For this they will need to be disciplined and manage their time well. Florence spoke about the importance of education for girls’ empowerment and urged the girls to share materials and knowledge with others by emphasising the importance of peer-to-peer learning.

At the end of the formal presentations, the girls were given the opportunity to ask the facilitators why they chose a career in science. The facilitators shared their love for their work and that their passion for science stemmed from the number of innovations and innovators associated with the field.  They noted that it is practical, entails preventive, diagnostic and lifesaving approaches, and encourages proactive minds.

Sharing dreams to change the future

Following this session, the girls took part in a group-work exercise where they workshopped future aspirations to choose careers in STEM, the potential support system they could access to help them reach their goals, and the challenges they may face. The girls shared their dreams to become surgeons, midwives, veterinary doctors, engineers, pilots, opticians, and lecturers to name a few. As part of their plans to achieve these goals, they identified the key messages delivered by the presenters, such as working hard, carrying out research, consulting with peers and teachers in areas of key interest, choosing good friends, and avoiding peer pressure.

The day ended with the girls sharing feedback on the career event. Students found the event to be highly informative and suggested that girls from other schools should also get this opportunity to inspire them to study further and choose courses in STEM. It is hoped the teachers and the school administration will strengthen the girls’ science clubs to build capacity and offer mentorships for teachers in science to support their dreams.

Photos from the event are available on CSC Flickr