Ugandan Science Scholarships Tilt Against Women

Monday, July 23, 2007

Uganda's decision to bestow more of its university scholarships on science students worries gender advocates in a country where female scientists face strong cultural bias. Seventh in a series on higher education in Africa.

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'Static Gender Notions'

"In Uganda, especially in rural areas, the notions of gender are very static. Parents and teachers discourage girls from sciences because they fear it will make a girl child unattractive, and she will not be able to marry," she said. "That is a very big deal here, especially for poor families. There is a perception that a woman scientist is no longer a woman, and therefore no man will want her as a wife."

Now, Njuki is the Africa coordinator for the Gender Advisory Board of the Geneva-based United Nations Council on Science, Technology for Development. She tours Uganda speaking to schoolgirls about careers in science.

"One of the first things I tell them is that I am married. And you can tell, it immediately makes them much more comfortable. It's probably the most important thing they learn from me, that women can be scientists and still have a husband."

She says she has seen girls heckled and booed in high school science classes.

"I was teased too," she says "I was one woman in a class of 40 men at university. Professors would yell at me for asking too many questions, one of them would always yell 'women!' in disgust," she says, laughing.

Although her family teased her for pursing a profession that would result in her "wearing pants" and "working outside," Njuki has encouraged her daughters to pursue science.

In an indication of parents' ability to help turn the key on Uganda's nationwide lockout of girls from science, Njuki's youngest daughter is studying mechanical engineering at Uganda's prestigious Makerere University. Entering high school, Njuki says with pride, her daughter was the top-ranked science student in the country.

Anna S. Sussman is a print and radio journalist. She currently lives in Uganda.



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This series is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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