Stories on African women in STEM are few and far between. Women are under-represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).  Less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women (UNESCO). Science and gender equality are crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Here are 10 inspirational African women in STEM.

10 African women in STEM

Ethel Cofie (Ghana) is an ICT entrepreneur. Cofie has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the Valley View University in Ghana, a master’s degree in Distribution Systems from the University of Brighton and an Executive Degree in Leadership, Business and Entrepreneurship from the Yale School of Management. She is the founder of Women in Tech Africa which has over 30 members in African countries and the diaspora. She also founded EDEL Technology Consulting and initiated the first Pan-African Women in ICT meeting. With her wealth of technical and commercial skills acquired through her work, she has been supporting women in ICT (Information Communication Technology). Ethel is named as part of top five women making an impact in IT in Africa.

Professor Mmantsae Moche Diale (South Africa) is an associate professor in the department of physics at the University of Pretoria. Her research is centered on finding ways to create a solar cell that can harness all of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation, one that can power the world with cheap and clean energy. She was recently awarded a South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) chair in Clean and Green Energy by the National Research Foundation, and won a 2018 Capacity Development Award from the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF).

Dr. Sherien Elagroudy (Egypt) is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering at Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt. She has won the National Graduate Student Paper Award for her Ph.D., conducted at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, from Canadian Geotechnical Society. She became interested in helping her country’s economy and environment during university, where she became involved with a group that was looking to start a campus-recycling program. They successfully implemented a program that allowed tonnes of recyclable materials from landfills to be reused. Dr. Elagroudy has received multiple awards honoring her work in this field. She was awarded the Best Young Scientist award from an Egyptian university, received the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, and was honoured as a young scientist at the World Economic Forum in China.

Regina Honu (Ghana) is a software developer and social entrepreneur. She is a graduate of Ashesi University. She founded Soronko Academy, the first coding and human-centred design school for children and young adults in West Africa. She is also the founder of Tech Needs Girls Ghana: a movement that aims to train and educate more Ghanaian girls into studying technology related courses.  She was named by CNN as one of 12 inspirational women who promote STEM. She was also named one of the six women making an impact in tech in Africa. Her tech initiatives have created a platform to groom young female coders in Africa. Her profile and work has been featured on international media platforms such as Deutsche Welle, BBC and Aljazeera.

Professor Francisca Nneka Okeke (Nigeria) is a Professor of Physics at the University of Nigeria. She is the first woman to head the university’s faculty of physical sciences. She holds a PhD in Sociology of education, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Master of Arts in Education studies, London Metropolitan University, England; Bachelor of Arts in Educational Foundations and History, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria; and Nigeria Certificate of Education (NCE), Institute of Education, University of Benin, Nigeria. Prof. Okeke is the recipient of the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award for her significant contributions to the understanding of climate change. She is an advocate of inclusive workspaces and gender equality. Prof. Okeke continues to encourage girls and women to participate in the development of science and technology.

Professor Alta Schutte (South Africa) is a hypertension and heart disease specialist whose main motivation is to alleviate the burden of HIV infection and non-communicable diseases of black communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. She obtained a PhD from University of North West in Cardiovascular Physiology at age of 24 and continues to work as part of the Hypertension in Africa Research Team (HART), to discover ways to prevent Africans from developing hypertension.  Internationally, she contributes to several research networks, such as the Global Burden of Disease study and the NCD-RisC collaboration. She is a South African NRF B2-rated scientist, the Past-President of the Southern African Hypertension Society and the Vice-President of the International Society of Hypertension (ISH).

Funke Opeke (Nigeria) is an engineer. Opeke obtained a Bachelor and master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University and Columbia University respectively. She worked as an executive director of a division in Verizon Communication and also MTN Nigeria. She started MainOne as a solution to the low internet connectivity in Nigeria. MainOne is described as West Africa’s leading communications services and network solutions provider. MainOne, West Africa’s first privately owned, has a 7,000-kilometer undersea high capacity cable submarine stretching from Portugal to South Africa with landings along the route in Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria.

Dr. Magaret Mungherera (Uganda) was a psychiatrist and is the first female president of the World Medical Association. Dr Mungherera also served as president of the Uganda Medical Association and was re-elected 5 times. She advocated for psychiatric services throughout Uganda, beyond the capital, to improve conditions for Uganda’s health-care providers. She passed away from colon cancer in Chennai, India, on 4 February 2017, at the age of 59.

Dr. Tolu Oni (Nigeria) is an Associate Professor at the School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town. She completed her medical training at University College London Medical School, UK in 2004; and her Public Health Medical Specialty training (Fellow of the College of Public Health Medicine) in South Africa. She earned her Doctoral research degree in 2012 from the Imperial College London.  Dr. Oni has researched the interaction between chronic infections and non-infectious diseases and the impact of the environment on the health of individuals. Her work has earned her many leadership positions such as election to the South Africa Young Academy of Science in 2013. She is establishing the Research Initiative for Cities Health and Equity (RICHE), a research programme for urban health research in Africa.

(Photo: Michael Hammond)

Jamila Abass is a software developer and entrepreneur. She attended Strathmore University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Software engineering. Abass worked at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). She also became member at iHub, a technology community, where techies gather to exchange ideas. She is the CEO and founder of M-Farm, a Kenyan mobile software company that aims to provide smallholder farmers with vital market information and reach consumers via SMS.

African women in STEM are making waves on the continent and abroad. Their contribution will encourage girls to explore and excel in the STEM field.  Governments must develop and adopt actions and policies to support African women in STEM, to increase their representation in decision making. African women in STEM , particularly early career scientists, need mentorship opportunities to help them break the glass ceiling in their job development.

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