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'There is plenty of room at the top because no one cares to get there':Report from the 2nd AWFST Steering Committee Meeting held in Accra, Ghana.

The under-representation of women in Science and Technological Innovations in Africa is undisputed. Equally undisputed is the fact that it is not the ideas and skills that women and girls in Africa lack, but rather it is the requisite critical mass to effect great changes in their respective areas of expertise. This is NOT a call to empower women; it is also not for mainstreaming gender in policies or for treating women differently; nor is it to articulate African women's challenges by proclaiming Why We Can’t, INSTEAD, it is a call to provide a conducive platform where women of all ages, skills, professions and occupations can harness their innate skills and creativity and become innovation enthusiasts, to influence scientific research and policy processes for Africa’s development. It is a forum about how We Can.  This is the understanding and basis that the African Women Forum for Science and Technology (AWFST) is premised and that was highly underscored during the just concluded 2nd Steering committee meeting held in Accra, Ghana.

AWFST with its flagship program the Women Innovation Challenge Program (We Can) is an initiative within the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) Strategic Plan Phase VI 2008 - 2012, and operates under the policies of ATPS. The forum was formally launched on the 17th of July, 2009, at the Sun and Sand Hotel in Mombasa to become a Pan-African network. (For more information, please visit http://awfst.atpsnet.org/).  The 2nd AWFST Steering Committee meeting was held in Accra, Ghana on the 9 - 11 of August, 2010 as a follow up of the 1st Steering Committee meeting. This event, organized by the ATPS Ghana National Chapter brought together diverse women who are passionate about science and in making a difference in our African society. ‘It is about what we can do for Africa rather than what Africa should do for us’ was the unanimous assertion by the members.

AWFST steering committee membersAWFST steering committee members (Click to enlarge)The ATPS mid-term review was conducted to take stock of and reflect on the ATPS Technical and Financial report in the implementation of its Strategic Plan. This was conducted in a collective and objective process and significantly informed the priorities and action plans of the AWFST.  It was recognized that although the AWFST is a new forum, the opportunities for growth are immense. This was accentuated by the remarks from the Executive Director of ATPS, Dr. Kevin Urama. ‘The continent is highly in need of all the great ideas, skills and capabilities that women can provide to shape high level policies, for a bright future for the continent’, he concluded.

The Steering Committee members were democratically elected during the meeting and they will be instrumental in planning and steering gender sensitive activities in both the African region and the diaspora in the coming years. The membership was guided by diversity, skills and regional representation including the inclusion of members from the diaspora. The priorities and recommendations were captured through a communiqué that members agreed on. To fast track the process a plan of activities was developed that included several activities such as: capacity building and training in areas of entrepreneurship, proposal and scientific writing; mentorship and building partnerships with benevolent institutions. There was also a pledge to establish a ‘Hall of Fame’; a symbol of recognition and celebration of African innovators as heroes and heroines for posterity. This will act as a ‘knowledge archive’ and a great incentive to keep track of Africa’s innovators and their innovations and in encouraging generations to come of the   significant role that innovation plays in society.   These activities will be implemented in the course of 3 years but with more emphasis on year 1.

AWFST will employ the ‘Pay it Forward model’ whereby women of influence and who are zealous about science can ‘hold the hands’ with the younger less experienced women scientists to mentor and train them to realize breakthrough innovations.  The women believe that this cannot happen in silos but there is greater need to mobilize even larger networks including men to realize this dream. Drawing on the analogy of how women and their hand bags are inseparable, the chair of the AWFST, Prof. Agnes Mwang’ombe called upon the members to adopt the same inseparable approach towards the forum even as they juggle between other demanding duties and jobs. ‘We need women of good will to make this happen’ she said.  This was supported by Prof. Norah Olembo the patron of the AWFST who pointed out that ‘this enthusiasm reverberating through the discussions is what is needed to forge forward’.

Finally, the members lauded the innovative efforts ATPS is continually making to up- scale issues of STI in high level policies and more so in seeking to collaborate and partner with institutions such as United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), African Union (AU), Association of African Universities (AAU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) among other regional bodies so as to build STI capacity today for sustainable development tomorrow.

Posted on Tuesday 31st August, 2010




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