Women are underrepresented globally in STEM fields. The situation is especially dire when it comes to African women. Even when naming the contributions of Africans to science, the lists made are usually exclusively male. To shine a light on the work of female African scientists, here are 5 female African scientists you should know.
Disclaimer: There are far many, many more female African scientists than I could name here.
1. Alsácia Atanásio-Nhacumbe (Mozambique)
Alsácia is the director of the National Biotechnology and Biosciences Centre (CNBB), a public institution under the Ministry of Science and Technology, Higher Education and Technical Vocational Training (MCTESTP) in Mozambique. She holds a PhD in Veterinary Science. As an animal scientist, her projects have had a great impact on the country's agriculture. She has studied the prevalence of protozoa and the effects of gastrointestinal nematodes in goats raised under the traditional system in communal pastures used by smallholder farmers in Mozambique. This contributed to measures for strategic control of diseases in the country that she designed. These measures reduce losses in the production of small ruminants, hence increasing income generation of rural livelihoods through animal production.
As a scientist, I would like to see more attention paid to increasing the enrolment of girls in natural sciences and engineering courses in Mozambique, and, indeed, the whole of Africa. However, I am aware that not much attention has been paid to financing scientific research in Africa. In my view, African governments need to increase state budgets for scientific research and reduce dependence on donations and credits. - Alsácia Atanásio-Nhacumbe
2. Saada Naile Ahmed Elmahi (Sudan)
Saada is an assistant professor at Sudan’s National Centre for Research, Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research Institute in the Department of Agro-technology. She holds a PhD in plant production sciences where she focused on organic agriculture. She has worked with many organisations including the National Centre for Research (NCR), the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research Institute (MAPRI), and the Eastern Nile Watershed Management. One of her most satisfying achievements and exciting projects was working with the community around Dinder National Park in Sudan where her work involved conducting social and economic studies, awareness-raising, training activities, capacity building and communication activities, natural resources management, conflict mitigation and dispute management by applying participatory approaches. She was able to impact the lives of people from three towns and 40 villages around the park.
I believe the work of Science is to turn problems into opportunities. - Saada Naile Ahmed Elmahi
3. Uphie Chinje Melo (Cameroon)
Uphie is a professor at the University of Yaounde in Cameroon. She has a Master's degree in inorganic chemistry from the University of Yaounde and a PhD in metallurgical engineering from Imperial College, London. She is the first woman in Cameroon to obtain a PhD in engineering and the first woman in Cameroon to become a full professor in engineering. Uphie’s most impactful project involved the development and use of locally produced construction materials as a substitute for imported ones. The project involved research into the transformation of local iron oxide ores using simulated reformed natural gas. She also introduced materials engineering into her department in the University of Yaounde, researching and supervising several PhD students, and subsequently creating pilot training centres.
I love working as an African woman scientist because it is a domain that has, for many years, been male-dominated. For years women themselves assumed that science was a man’s world. If women steer away from the sciences, they reduce the scope of women’s contribution to the development of the nation. In my view, this means that their experiences and knowledge as women will not contribute to this development. - Uphie Chinje Melo
4. Callinice Capo-Chichi (Benin)
Callinice's mother was the first woman in Benin to get a PhD in anthropology. Callinice followed in her mother's footsteps and also got a PhD in anthropology. She (Callinice) is an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Abomey-Calavi (UAC) in Cotonou, Benin. She teaches molecular biology and cancer-cell biology in the faculties of science and technology, and of medicine and pharmacy at UAC and is the coordinator of the first level of the masters’ programme in biochemistry, molecular biology and their applications. She is also a research director of molecular biomarkers in cancer and nutrition in UAC and voluntary faculty at the University of Miami. Her most significant discovery was when she sought to unveil the molecular mechanisms leading to chromosomal instabilities prior to ovarian cancer initiation (from 2003 to 2007). Her findings are currently being applied in hospitals in Benin. Between 2011 and 2014, she researched the lack of nuclear envelope proteins as molecular tools for cervical cancer prevention and treatment before the appearance of clinical signs. This research has been instrumental in the management of cancers that affect women.
I love being a scientist, because, as a woman, I have been able to focus on diseases affecting women, especially cancer. Science is a passion and it offers a solution to many of the problems our people face. - Callinice Capo-Chichi
5. Florence Mutonyi D’ujanga (Uganda)
Florence is an associate professor in the Department of Physics at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. She was the first woman in her country to obtain a PhD in physics and the first female head of the Department of Physics in the entire College of Natural Sciences. When she was young, she watched in awe as Neil Armstrong take his historic walk on the moon in 1969. This inspired her to excel in mathematics and science as she too wanted to go to the moon. Her most impressive project was one on space weather and ionospheric physics in which many African physicists were involved using global positioning system (GPS) receivers. The project was in collaboration with other universities in Europe and America. She published a number of papers during the project which enabled her to be promoted at the university. In addition, she was also able to establish space science studies in her university because of this project.
I am motivated to work in Africa to be a role model for young women and girls daily. I visit schools and give talks to encourage girls to remain in the sciences and pursue scientific careers in university. Society needs to accept that women can pursue careers in science-based fields.
Header image credit - Chateau News