One girl at a time...
As luck would have it, experiences of my father as he grew up in pre-colonial Kenya having lost his father at an early age and struggling and going to school courtesy of local mission in his home town contributed to him valuing education for all his children irrespective of gender. From a very early age we were exposed to books and access to local public libraries so we appreciate both formal classroom learning and self - teaching and exploration.
Fast forward to when I was 15 and we had to move from the city to a the farm which was rural and I had my first hand experience of girls either refusing to go to school because of pre conceived notions of societal pressure. We would meet at informal community gatherings and as I would talk about school, books and what I would like to be in future, their topics of conversation consisted of the upcoming circumcision, which young man their parents had their eyes on as a suitable husband and how they were taking up to “necessary chores”.
Twenty years on although some part of the country still struggle with the same issues, my community moved on and apart from the government making it mandatory for girls to go to school may parent say the light as it were and encouraged the girls to go to school. The challenge now is different, it is in the quality of education and with girls not being encouraged to take on Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics - STEM. These subjects have for a long time been considered “masculine” so no support is provided for the girl child to fully immerse and explore the subjects. Girls are discouraged by family and society at large even before they start, with a large number being unable to finish school due to financial constraints amongst other challenges , like pressure to start a family soon after college/ high school or taking up subjects or careers that will take up too much time from “their family duties”
STEM are economic growth drivers and there is a great need to increase women’s participation and increase their capacity to be able for them to effectively to contribute to the growth of the economy. Fewer women are in leadership positions and upper management of STEM institutions and STEM companies and organizations. Mentors play critical roles in the success and trajectory of STEM careers offering advice, sharing their experiences, and acting as role models. Very few girls in my rural community have Mentors to look up to in the STEM field, with mentoring being able to be virtually or physical or a combination of both, the girls can benefit from the encouragement and support. It is also important to celebrate women who are doing great work in STEM and highlight initiatives by women in STEM so that young women and girls can have a reference point.
It is for this reason that I am part of the organization called Women who Mentor and Innovate Africa we are building a digital community of young women in Africa in STEM and we intend to encourage offline initiatives that will motivate an impact young women and girls to take up STEM subjects and undertake STEM careers. I know it is a long road ahead but we can only take it one step one girl at a time.