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Why fewer Kenyan women are choosing, completing STEM courses

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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%). That’s equivalent to one in 17.

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

In Kenya STEM participation shows a clear gender disparity ranging from 30%-35%. 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% 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. Gender biases were not only revealed in inequality in enrolment and completion but also in policies that favoured male students in STEM disciplines.

GENDER BIASES

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.

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 for female students who take longer to complete their courses compared to male students. Others are forced to drop out.

Over 50% of STEM female respondents indicated that female students have to balance their studies with family chores and childbearing. A majority (56%) of the female respondents agreed that venturing into STEM disciplines would negatively affect their job prospects whereas 13.0% disagreed. A higher number (58%) believed that pursuing STEM disciplines would hinder progression at work because of the perceived stereotypes related to STEM careers.

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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’S RIGHT TO SCIENCE

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.

Empowering women can widen the pool of human resources available to drive development. So it is important that universities strengthen mentoring and role modelling for female students pursuing STEM disciplines. 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. In addition to academic financial expenses, nursing mothers may require assistance to cope with non-academic pressures.

It is also time that targets were set to achieve a proportional increase of STEM female lecturers in universities and female mathematics and science teachers in lower levels of education. Female mathematics and science teachers would act as invaluable role models and mentors in a male dominated universe.The Conversation

Lucy Wandiri Mbirianjau, Lecturer, Department of Educational Foundations, coordinator PGDE and Content Enhancement Programs, Kenyatta University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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