Statement on International Day of Women and Girls in Science

ON International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) calls upon state and none-state actors to take coordinated steps to formulate policies, initiatives and mechanisms to support and increase the participation of women and girls in science.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is commemorated every year on 11 February and it aims to underline the critical role played by women and girls in scientific advancements across the globe. It is also an opportunity for nations to reinforce their commitment to address the gender disparities in science-related industries. The theme for 2021 is “Women Scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19.” The theme points to the indispensable role played by women in different stages of the fight against COVID-19 from advancing knowledge, developing techniques for testing and developing a vaccine.

This year’s edition of International Day of Women and Girls in Science is its 6th iteration and it aims to highlight the need for equality in science to ensure the attainment of internationally agreed development goals such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Social biases and gender stereotypes are global barriers to the inclusion of women in science-related fields such as mathematics, information communication and technology (ICT), engineering, construction and natural science. The exclusion of women and girls in these industries can be traced back to the low percentage of women who pick science-related subjects in higher education. Removing the barriers that prevent women and girls from picking science-related subjects and entering Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-related fields is the key to greater participation of women and girls in science.

In Zimbabwe, cultural norms, poverty, lack of adequate resources in the education sector (human and technical) hinder the pursuit of careers in science by women and girls. Sadly, women and girls are expected to be mothers and wives primarily in many communities across the country. Therefore, many women and girls do not get an opportunity to pursue a higher education in STEM fields, let alone a career in science. Of the women and girls that have the opportunity to go to school, many are unlawfully prevented from continuing with their education as they fail to pay fees. The working conditions of educators are also deplorable.

ZLHR has intervened in numerous cases where school authorities prevented women and girls from continuing with their education by withholding their academic results, in an effort to induce them to pay outstanding fees. School authorities must stop this unlawful practice in order for girls and women to continue their education and pursue their dreams in the science field. This practice of withholding results by school authorities contravenes the right to education that is guaranteed by section 27 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Lawyers have also offered support to teachers who have embarked on collective job actions to express their disgruntlement over poor working conditions.

The increased participation of women in STEM-related fields is necessarily dependent on the provision of quality primary, secondary and tertiary education. This provision is guaranteed in section 75 of the Constitution, which states that every citizen and permanent resident has a right a basic state-funded education.

On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, government is reminded of its obligation under section 27(2) of the Constitution which requires it to take measures to ensure that girls are afforded equal opportunities as boys to obtain education at all levels. These proactive measures are required to resolve the gender disproportionality existing in the science field. Government should also ensure that schools are adequately equipped.

The Grade 7 examinations pass rate is a worrying sign that many schools are not environments in which students can thrive. 88 schools had a 0 percent pass rate while Matabeleland provinces were the most affected. The government is therefore enjoined to investigate the underlying reasons for the poor pass rates in the Grade 7 examinations and formulate comprehensive plans to rectify any inadequacies in the primary school system. This will ensure that women and girls are afforded an opportunity to obtain the quality primary education that forms the basis for further studies in STEM-related subjects and careers in science.

In line with this year’s theme for International Day of Women and Girls in Science which looks at the critical role played by women in the fight against COVID-19, ZLHR calls upon the state to stop the prosecution and persecution of Harare West constituency legislator Honourable Joana Mamombe, who has graduate and postgraduate qualifications in biotechnology and molecular biology. Hon. Mamombe, like other women, should be supported so that she can contribute to research on COVID-19 vaccines for the continent.

On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, ZLHR urges government to:

  • Take steps to promote education as required by section 75 of the Constitution in order for women and girls to get an opportunity to advance their studies in science-related subjects;
  • Develop comprehensive plans to address the gender disproportionality in science-related fields;
  • Ensure that school authorities do not undermine the ability of women and girls to pursue further studies in STEM-related subjects by withholding their academic results;
  • Investigate the causes of the poor pass rate in the recent Grade 7 examinations and formulate comprehensive plans to resolve the issue;
  • Promote higher and tertiary education for women and girls so that they can pursue careers in STEM-related fields;
  • Stop persecution of women in science including but not limited to: Honourable Mamombe, medical practitioners, teachers and students for them to continue with their critical work in science and development;

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

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