Yvonne Karanja grew up in a small rural town on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, at a time when the society placed little premium on academic aspirations of the girl child.
Nevertheless, the 22-year-old mathematics and geography major defied cultural myths to pursue education with gusto and with the full knowledge that it could open new opportunities that were a mirage to rural girls.
Karanja intends to pursue a post graduate degree in urban planning if she excels in her mathematics and geography major.
Speaking to Xinhua on the sidelines of an event to mark the International Day for Women and Girls in Science held in Nairobi on Monday, Karanja said her career aspirations were on the right trajectory thanks to embrace of a science related discipline.
“Pursuing a highly technical course has not been easy but boundless encouragement from my female mentors and parents has inspired me to go the distance,” said Karanja.
She is a member of an all female network in her university that seeks to encourage young women countrywide to take up science related courses.
“We meet regularly as young aspiring female scientists and engineers to bond and share tips on how we can excel in school and the career world. Luckily, most of us have a shared vision of making a mark in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Karanja told Xinhua.
Kenya marked the international day for women and girls in science amid concern about a glaring gender disparity in the uptake of this discipline.
Senior policymakers, campaigners and scholars who graced the event agreed that Kenya’s realisation of sustainable development and peace hinges on gender parity in science and technology.
“Our country should expand the space for women and girls to pursue science related courses. This is the only way to catapult us to the next phase of development,” said Moses Rugut, the Director General, National Council for Science, Technology and Innovation.
He revealed that Kenya ranks among top ten African countries that have enacted progressive legislation and policies to boost uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics by the female.
Kenya’s growing army of female scientists and engineers has defied huge odds to become central players in the country’s socio-economic transformation.
Fridah Chebet, a 22-year-old civil engineering major, revealed her desire to participate in her country’s infrastructure modernization upon graduation.
“In civil engineering, I found my calling and would like to utilize my expertise to help modernize our transport infrastructure. Am aware this is a male dominated field but feel honored to be among the few girls who have ventured into it without hesitation,” Chebet told Xinhua.
She grew up in the tea growing highlands of northwestern parts of Kenya where very few girls dared to pursue engineering and often opted for softer vocations like teaching and nursing.
Chebet drew inspiration from her mother who kept on nudging her to pursue a technical course in the university in the hope that it would secure her gainful employment.
Kenyan young women have become trailblazers in science and technology fields despite huge bottlenecks that stand in their journey to success.
Elsie Njoroge, a 23-year-old petroleum engineering major, said that it took sheer courage and determination for her to enroll for her dream course.
“We have very few young ladies in the petroleum engineering course and it is out of sheer determination and hard work that we managed to land in this male dominated field,” said Njoroge
Born and raised in a middle class suburb in Nairobi, Njoroge was lucky to have enlightened parents and close relatives who gave her strategic career guidance.
“My parents were instrumental in my career choice and have vowed not to disappoint them. I look forward to a successful career in oil and gas sector that is still nascent in the country,” Njoroge told Xinhua.
Kenya should undertake aggressive policy reforms and invest in mentorship and public awareness to bridge gender gap in science related disciplines, analysts believe.
Hendrina Chalwe Doroba, the Executive Director of Nairobi-based Forum for African Women Educationalists, said that an enabling policy environment is key to promote the uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics among Kenyan women and girls.
“It is possible for Kenya to close the gender gap in sciences if the government embarks on policy reforms, invests in teachers’ training and mentorship programs to increase the number of girls pursuing technical courses,” Doroba said.