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WANDIRI: Why fewer Kenyan women enrol for science and engineering

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A graduation ceremony at Egerton University.
A graduation ceremony at Egerton University. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Globally, the percentage of women pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is small. In Africa, the numbers are even more dismal.

The greatest imbalance is in engineering. In 2010 only one in four engineering students was a woman. Guinea had the lowest percentage of women in science (5.8 per cent). That’s equivalent to one in 17.

Two countries did extremely well on gender parity in STEM disciplines: Lesotho (55.7 per cent) and Cape Verde (52.3 per cent).

In Kenya, STEM participation shows a clear gender disparity ranging from 30 per cent to 35 per cent. Fewer women participate and even fewer complete their studies. In addition, their graduation scores are low compared to those of males. This is a situation true of both developed and developing countries.

The number of women earning university STEM degrees declines as they move through the educational ladder, a phenomenon referred to as the “leaky pipeline”. This can be attributed to the masculinity of the disciplines, stereotypes and associated prejudices.

In Kenya, the female participation rate at public universities is less than 30 per cent in spite of existing educational gender policies and interventions. My study sought to document female participation in STEM disciplines at Kenyan public universities between 2009 and 2013 and the factors at play.

The findings revealed that institutional and socio-cultural barriers contributed to poor performance of female students in these disciplines. These included gender stereotyping, sexual harassment and family responsibilities.

Three public universities were selected for my study on the basis of their strong STEM orientation. Interviews were carried out with third-year female students and teaching faculty in STEM disciplines. Senior administrators in charge of gender policies were also interviewed to ensure fairness.

The study established that female students faced numerous challenges. Female students who became pregnant were subjected to penalties such as losing on-campus boarding privileges. This is significant because STEM disciplines are highly interactive and require students to spend more time on campus doing practicals and laboratory work.

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None of the institutions have policies for ensuring nursing female students are retained within campus residence. They also do not offer child care programmes for nursing mothers who are students. This forms a barrier. Others are forced to drop out.

More than 50 per cent of STEM female respondents indicated they have to balance their studies with family chores and childbearing.

A majority (56 per cent) of the female respondents agreed that venturing into STEM disciplines would negatively affect their job prospects whereas 13.0 per cent disagreed. A higher number (58 per cent) believed that pursuing STEM disciplines would hinder progression at work because of the perceived stereotypes related to STEM careers.

The sentiments were confirmed during the interviews and focus groups. There, six out of eight discussants concurred that venturing into STEM disciplines negatively affected their future life in terms of job opportunities, promotion at work, getting a spouse and family life.

The respondents agreed with the sentiment that stereotypes are transmitted through verbal language, content of curriculum and the general organisation of teaching space.

Most societies see female STEM students as intruders into a male domain. They are treated like outsiders, seen as masculine, misplaced and face rejection by family and friends.

Yet there are rewards for those who dare: high ability women have more options than high ability men do. As authors Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams write in their book The Mathematics of Sex: How Biology and Society Conspire to Limit Talented Women and Girls, women are far more likely to be equally talented in both maths and verbal domains simultaneously, giving them more options to enter non-maths fields than are available to men.

Equal access to scientific and technological knowledge and skills by women is first a rights issue, in as much as education is a basic human right. Knowledge and skills gained through the study of STEM facilitate efforts to eradicate poverty, achieve food security, fight diseases, improve education and respond to the challenges of society.

The government should also complement existing policy interventions, which begins with gender responsive mathematics and science policies at basic levels of education.

In collaboration with universities, the government should enhance specific financial aid programmes with clear policies that support female students from poor families.

Wandiri is lecturer in Educational Foundations, coordinator PGDE and Content Enhancement Programmes, Kenyatta University.

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World Bank pushes G-20 to extend debt relief to 2021

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World Bank Group President David Malpass has urged the Group of 20 rich countries to extend the time frame of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative(DSSI) through the end of 2021, calling it one of the key factors in strengthening global recovery.

“I urge you to extend the time frame of the DSSI through the end of 2021 and commit to giving the initiative as broad a scope as possible,” said Malpass.

He made these remarks at last week’s virtual G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting.

The World Bank Chief said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the deepest global recession in decades and what may turn out to be one of the most unequal in terms of impact.

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People in developing countries are particularly hard hit by capital outflows, declines in remittances, the collapse of informal labor markets, and social safety nets that are much less robust than in the advanced economies.

For the poorest countries, poverty is rising rapidly, median incomes are falling and growth is deeply negative.

Debt burdens, already unsustainable for many countries, are rising to crisis levels.

“The situation in developing countries is increasingly desperate. Time is short. We need to take action quickly on debt suspension, debt reduction, debt resolution mechanisms and debt transparency,” said Malpass.

ALSO READ:Global Economy Plunges into Worst Recession – World Bank

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Kenya’s Central Bank Drafts New Laws to Regulate Non-Bank Digital Loans

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The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) will regulate interest rates charged on mobile loans by digital lending platforms if amendments on the Central bank of Kenya Act pass to law. The amendments will require digital lenders to seek approval from CBK before launching new products or changing interest rates on loans among other charges, just like commercial banks.

“The principal objective of this bill is to amend the Central bank of Kenya Act to regulate the conduct of providers of digital financial products and services,” reads a notice on the bill. “CBK will have an obligation of ensuring that there is fair and non-discriminatory marketplace access to credit.”

According to Business Daily, the legislation will also enable the Central Bank to monitor non-performing loans, capping the limit at not twice the amount of the defaulted loan while protecting consumers from predatory lending by digital loan platforms.

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Tighter Reins on Platforms for Mobile Loans

The legislation will boost efforts to protect customers, building upon a previous gazette notice that blocked lenders from blacklisting non-performing loans below Ksh 1000. The CBK also withdrew submissions of unregulated mobile loan platforms into Credit Reference Bureau. The withdrawal came after complaints of misuse over data in the Credit Information Sharing (CIS) System available for lenders.

Last year, Kenya had over 49 platforms providing mobile loans, taking advantage of regulation gaps to charge obscene rates as high as 150% a year. While most platforms allow borrowers to prepay within a month, creditors still pay the full amount plus interest.

Amendments in the CBK Act will help shield consumers from high-interest rates as well as offer transparency on terms of digital loans.

SEE ALSO: Central Bank Unveils Measures to Tame Unregulated Digital Lenders

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Scope Markets Kenya customers to have instant access to global financial markets

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NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – Clients trading through the Scope Markets Kenya trading platform will get instant access to global financial markets and wider investment options. 

This follows the launch of a new Scope Markets app, available on both the Google PlayStore and IOS Apple Store.

The Scope Markets app offers clients over 500 investment opportunities across global financial markets.

The Scope Markets app has a brand new user interface that is very user friendly, following feedback from customers.

The application offers real-time quotes; newsfeeds; research facilities, and a chat feature which enables a customer to make direct contact with the Customer Service Team during trading days (Monday to Friday).

The platform also offers an enhanced client interface including catering for those who trade at night.

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The client will get instant access to several asset classes in the global financial markets including; Single Stocks CFDs (US, UK, EU) such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google, BP, Carrefour;  Indices (Nasdaq, FTSE UK), Metals (Gold, Silver); Currencies (60+ Pairs), Commodities (Oil, Natural Gas).

The launch is part of Scope Markets Kenya strategy of enriching the customer experience while offering clients access to global trading opportunities.

Scope Markets Kenya CEO, Kevin Ng’ang’a observed, “the Sope Markets app is very easy to use especially when executing trades. Customers are at the heart of everything we do. We designed the Scope Markets app with the customer experience in mind as we seek to respond to feedback from our customers.”

He added that enhancing the client experience builds upon the robust trading platform, Meta Trader 5, unveiled in 2019, enabling Scope Markets Kenya to broaden the asset classes available on the trading platform.

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