International Day for Women and Girls In Science: The Nigerian Cultural Stereotype in Perspective
“We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work towards a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests.” – Sheryl Sandberg
Yesterday, February 11, the world celebrated the International Day for Women and Girls in Science. The date was set aside on December 22, 2015 by the United Nation General Assembly resolution A/RES/70/212. The purpose is to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, as well as further accomplish equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
This came about as a result of data gathered across the world which indicated that a significant gender gap persisted through the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). And because they believe that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make crucial contributions, not only to economic development of the world, but to the progress across all the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, as well, the United Nations set aside the day.
According to a publication by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, science is valued because the application of scientific knowledge helps to satisfy many basic human needs and improve living standards. Science shapes the world.
“Science is often justified to the public as driving economic growth, which is seen as a return-on-investment for public funding. During the past few decades, however, another goal of science has emerged: to find a way to rationally use natural resources to guarantee their continuity and the continuity of humanity itself; an endeavour that is currently referred to as sustainability.”
Ever since its inception, the UN Member States and Inter-governmental and private organisations have been engaging in various activities to ensure the attainment of the goals that established the day. These efforts have been yielding positive results in various parts of the world but Africa.
Way back 2017, a study was carried out by the United Nation on the share of women professionals with AI (Artificial Intelligence) skills in top 20 countries. Expectedly, women in Europe, Singapore, Mexico and Argentina made the chat at various degrees. Ironically, the only African country that appeared on the list was South Africa.
In a continent housing 54 countries, only one country was listed. What happened to the rest? Not even the supposedly giant of Africa was included. This shows the degree of backwardness and failure of the government and educational systems in operation in the continent.
Besides corruption which is breeding poverty in the continent as well as outdated government policies, one of the greatest threats or barriers to the participation of women and girls in the sciences is outdated and backward cultural barriers that have deprived this gender from attaining their full potential.
Except for very few homes, with parents who are determined to expose all their wards to equal opportunities, the rest always place some caveats on the girl child.
In such homes, the highest inherent potential of the girl child is to be married out. She is another man’s property and does not deserve wasting hard-earned resources on. In such homes, it is commonplace to hear words like: Don’t you know that you are a woman and will end up in a man’s home some day? If you continue with such characters, which man is going to put you in his house? This kind of scolding is not limited to the parents of the girl child alone. Even relatives and outsiders are usually quick to rant it whenever the child goes off track. As a woman, you are supposed to behave in this way or in that way. That is the only way a man will be able to come and ask for your hand in marriage. It becomes like an anthem that she has to psychologically deal with when she commits an offence.
And if for any reason, the girl-child is not able to pass her entrance examination in the first sitting, just forget it. It will automatically become a ready-made excuse for her to be positioned for marriage.
So, right from the formative years of her life, those words and languages are ingrained into her memory and kill every aspiration she might be nursing inside of her, making her feel small and inferior to her male siblings.
Even for some enlightened homes where female kids are sent to school, it is either she goes to study education so that she can become a teacher, not minding that those days their rewards are said to be in heaven and that currently, majority of them are being owed arrears of salaries; or she can study nursing, secretarial administration, typing skills, or some other short duration courses so that she will graduate quickly and come back to marry.
For the brilliant ones who would want to delve into some other more challenging courses with longer study duration, you will hear mothers screaming and blatantly denying their children the privilege of going to read such courses in the higher institutions.
You hear them asking their daughters, don’t you know the woman is like a flower that only blossoms in the morning, when are you going to have your own children, or you want to attain menopause in school? Not in my house! And the fathers with their patriarchal instinct will now ask their daughters: Don’t you know that women who study such kinds of courses are usually too exposed and never submissive to their husbands. Because of that, men are usually intimidated by them. You want men to be running away from you because you went to study a course that is meant for men? And considering that you are not expected to challenge or talkback at your parents, they will end up having their way.
The situation is even worse in the Northern part of the country where most daughters are married out long before the attainment of 18 years of age. Some are even giving out as gifts to their father’s friends or creditors.
While not ruling out the fact that some girls/women do not want anything that would stress their lives, and would rather settle for the easy way out of anything, the fact remains that the long held cultural shackles need to be broken. And this would have to start with the parents. The parents need a complete reorientation to make them understand that no child is superior to the other and that every child should be given equal opportunity to excel.