STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields are broad and diverse and you would probably expect to find a nearly even blend of both genders. However, this is far from the truth. According to the UN, only 30% of researchers in STEM are women and just 35% of students in STEM-related fields are women. The statistics are even more astounding if you want to consider the percentage of African women in STEM worldwide. There is a gross underrepresentation of African women in STEM. Nevertheless, their contributions are undeniable.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a yearly event that holds on the 11th of February. It is a day set aside to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women and girls in science. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Women Scientist at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19”.
The COVID-19 outbreak put pressure on scientists and researchers worldwide as they scramble to find an effective remedy. However, the impact of the virus on Women is in two-folds. Therefore, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2021 is celebrating women who work in fields relating to the virus. With respect to this and in the spirit of Black History Month, here are 15 African women in science who are pacesetters for young black girls.
#1. Ngalula Sandrine Mubenga (Congo)
Mubenga is a young engineer whose present achievement is more than what others get in an entire life. Born in Congo, Ngalula is currently an assistant professor in Engineering at the University of Toledo. She specializes in renewable energy and owns SMIN Power Group. Her company provides innovative solutions that help Africans with their power issues. Also, it provides financial aid to African students and tackles issues concerning climate change. However, one of Ngalula’s most notable inventions is the “bi-level equalizer” that improves the performance of lithium-ion batteries and also saves manufacturing costs. She was named the ‘Engineer of the Year’ by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2018.
#2. Rose Leke (Cameroon)
Leke is a professor of Immunology and Parasitology at the University of Yaounde. She is famous for her contributions to the fight against malaria, especially among pregnant women. Consequently, her research focuses on combating a severe form of the parasite in pregnant women who were once resistant to the parasite. In a jointly published research, she showed that children exposed to a severe form of malaria parasite during pregnancy developed better resistance to it in the future. Leke has been conferred with several awards for her work. Also, she has served as head of several organizations within and outside her home country. She is currently the Chairperson of the NASAC WFS WG with the objective of mentoring African women in science.
#3. Francisca Okeke (Nigeria)
Okeke is a Physics professor and the first female head of the Physics department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She was also the first female Dean in the Faculty of Physical Sciences at the same University. Okeke is famous for her role in inspiring young women in the field of science and technology. During her tenure as a faculty dean, she advocated for an increase in the number of women in her Faculty. Her effort finally paid off. Okeke was given the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women In Science Award in 2013. She’s also a member of the Network of African Science Academies Women for Science Working Group (NASAC WFS WG).
#4. Yeweyenhareg Feleke (Ethiopia)
Feleke is an endocrinologist and researcher at the College of Health Sciences, Addis Ababa University. She served as the president of the Ethiopian Medical Association. She was also the first female professor in health sciences in her home country, Ethiopia. Also, she is the first female professor at Addis Ababa University. Despite her achievements in academics, Yeweyenhareg believes in mentoring and building the minds of young scientists. She believes they are the future of science. Thus, she counts mentoring these great minds as her greatest fulfillment.
#5. Tebello Nyokong (South Africa)
Nyokong is a chemistry professor at Rhodes University. Despite having a challenging childhood, she grew up to be one of Africa’s most influential women in science and technology. Nyokong has a passion for simplifying everything. Consequently, her curiosity to understand how things work drove her into the sciences. She is a strong advocate for women and girls in science. Nyokong has been involved in several projects including medical research to find an alternative to Chemotherapy for cancer treatment. She has also received numerous awards and recognitions including the L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science for Africa and the Arab States.
#6. Amal Amin Ibrahim Shendi Nada (Egypt)
Nada came from an educated background where she was exposed to books about inspiring science figures like Marie Curie. She was nominated to the World Economic Forum in 2009 and then the International Union of Pure and
Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) prize for women scientists in 2015. Also, she is the co-founder of the Global Young Academy (GYA) which aims to promote young scientists across the globe.
#7. Ozak Esu (Nigeria)
Esu is an electrical engineer with a passion for innovation. In 2017, she won the Young Woman Engineer of The Year Award by the Institute of Engineering and Technology. She was a STEM Ambassador with STEMNET where she volunteered to help students in STEM. Ozak also promotes gender equality and diversity in Science. Also, she was a member of the Athena SWAN feasibility committee at Loughborough University while pursuing her Ph.D. However, her role on the panel for the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers UK is one of the most remarkable. Her passion drives her towards mentorship and innovation.
#8. Prof. Alta Schutte (South Africa)
Schutte is a Cardiovascular Physiology Professor and expert in the field of Hypertension and Cardiovascular Diseases. She has been in many leadership positions both in her home country, South Africa, and beyond. Currently, she is the Principal Theme Lead of Cardiac, Vascular and Metabolic Medicine, Faculty of Medicine at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. She is also a fellow at the George Institute for Global Health. Dr. Schutte’s work helped in the early detection of hypertension and the prevention of Cardiovascular diseases among Africans.
#9. Mbu Waindim (Cameroon)
Waindim is the first Cameroonian with a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering. While studying for her Ph.D. at Ohio University, Mbu worked in prestigious industries like Harris Corp, NASA, and the US Airforce. According to her, her motivation is to become a role model. She urges young girls in science to question everything and challenge the status quo. In a bid to develop young thinkers and scientists, she is building a Computer programming School in her alma mater Saker Baptist College in Cameroon.
#10. Salimata Wade (Senegal)
Dr. Wade is the Head of the Nutrition Laboratory, Faculty of Science and Technology University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar. She is a recipient of several awards for her work on Malnutrition. Among these is the African Union Regional Scientific Award for Women Scientist for the West African Region. This was in acknowledgment of her contribution to inspiring women scientists in the region. Wade is dedicated to training scientists and nutritionists with the capacity to tackle Africa’s nutritional challenges. She has involved in developing a doctoral program in Nutrition and diet which is the first of its kind in the region.
#11. Josephine Ngaira (Kenya)
Ngaira is a Professor of Geography and an alumnus of the Moi University in Kenya. She is also a member of the SIGMA XI Scientific Research Honor Society and the International Geographical Union. Her research work focuses mainly on climate change and water issues. This highly reputable professor is deservingly one of Africa’s leading voices for Women in Science.
#12. Nadifi Sellama (Morroco)
Professor Sellama holds a Ph.D. in Genetics and Molecular Biology among several others. She is one of the founding members of the Association of the Society of Human Genetics and Molecular Biology. Her training at Cochin Institute of Molecular Genetics in Paris was well-timed as genetics became a core part of Medicine. She is also among the first Morrocans to guaranty a Genetics Technology transfer. Currently, she’s always working to promote molecular biology and human genetics.
#13. Christine Dranzoa (Uganda)
Dranzoe is a biology professor, administrator, and the current Vice-Chancellor of Muni University in Uganda. Also, she holds several leadership positions in her country. Through the Forum for African Women Educationalist, she has contributed to the empowerment of girls and women through education. She’s also the Chairperson and co-founder of the Nile Women Initiative. The NGO addresses gender variation and bias against women in the West Nile Sub-region of Uganda.
#14. Romeela Mohee (Mauritus)
Professor Mohee is the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK. An expert in the field of Chemistry and Environmental Engineering, Romeela’s work is recognized both in Africa and among International communities. She is actively involved in several international projects in the region. This includes the Small Developing Island Renewable Energy Knowledge and Technology Transfer Network. Professor Romeela wears the title of the Commander of the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean (C.S.K)
#15. Isabella Quakyi (Ghana)
Quakyi is a professor of Immunology and Parasitology and the first female director of the School of Public Health at the University of Ghana. She is an iconic researcher and a recipient of the Clara Southmayd Ludlow Medal. The award is for a female scientist who is an outstanding researcher in the field of Tropical Medicine. Consequently, she received the award in recognition of her work on malaria immunity, vaccine development, autoimmunity, and other tropical diseases.
The contributions of African women in science don’t get the attention that it deserves. Very little is known of these women who are making significant progress in their fields and changing the narrative for women in science in Africa and beyond. Using their voices and position, these women are working to even the odds for women, girls, and minority groups in STEM. Africa and the world need to do more to get more women into science and close the gap of gender inequality. Do leave a comment below and let us know of any African woman who is making a difference in your country, Africa, and the world.