Bringing Women’s Perspectives to Africa’s Engineering Solutions

In September 2014, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, I made a commitment on behalf of Ashesi to have gender balance in our new engineering program.

Gender balance is rare in the world of engineering education, but we believe it’s necessary to aim for inclusion. More importantly, we believe in making sure that future engineering solutions to Africa’s problems gain from the perspectives of women. This will be very important for engineering success on the continent. So how can we collectively achieve this?

Women care about people, not machines.

If you go to a high school in Africa today and you talk to girls about machines, most of them are not very interested; if you talk to them about solving problems for humanity using machines, that generates far more excitement. This means that the way we communicate with girls about engineering is extremely important. The design of engineering programmes — having real projects that involve solving problems for real people — will also be important.

Women engineers need more funding

In our part of the world, it is also important that we provide funding, especially for girls, because often families are pushing them away from pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math majors. If there is scholarship funding for girls, it’s more possible for them to pursue majors in engineering.

Women engineers need role models

When we did the groundbreaking for our engineering programme the two guest speakers were women; last year we invited two women onto our board who are engineers; the faculty member who is chairing the design of the curriculum is a woman.

The reason we are having women actively involved in our engineering programme, is that they will be real role models for students. In my grandfather’s generation, women could not be head teachers of schools; in my mother’s generation, they could. In my mother’s generation, women could be nurses, not doctors; in my generation, a lot of the doctors in Africa are women. In my generation, women are not so involved in engineering; they are just a handful.

I think the next generation needs to change that and involve more women in engineering. I see this as a progression across generations.

This is the time.

There’s another generation coming, and this is the time for us to start preparing them to break that stereotype of engineering.

Wish us luck.