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Encouraging Women in Africa to the Forefront of Nuclear Science

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Panellists and participants discussed ways of overcoming the challenges hindering women in Africa from pursuing careers in nuclear science. (Photo: H. Pattinson/IAEA)

Increasing the number of women pursuing careers in nuclear science and technology in Africa and enhancing the involvement of women scientists in the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation programme were the key topics under the spotlight at a panel discussion held yesterday alongside the IAEA General Conference in Vienna.

“Increased female participation has long been a goal of the IAEA Technical Cooperation programme,” said Dazhu Yang, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation, which organized the event ‘Women in Nuclear: Leadership for Technical Cooperation Programme’. “We encourage Member States to nominate qualified female candidates as national partners for the IAEA and for fellowships and training courses supported by the IAEA.”

Role of education and mentorship

Gabriele Voigt, President of Women in Nuclear (WiN) Global, emphasized the need for more WiN chapters to be established in African countries in order to provide support and encouragement to women working in the sector. Only two chapters are currently in place – in Egypt and South Africa – and Voigt informed participants of ongoing efforts to develop a WiN Regional Africa Chapter.

She underscored the need to teach girls science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects from a young age, starting in kindergarten. “Everything starts with education,” she said. “One of the most important issues to get girls to study mathematics and physics is to start very early.”

Voigt also highlighted the importance of woman-to-woman mentorship and inspirational women role models in encouraging young girls to pursue careers in the nuclear field. “The greatest success is when your mentee surpasses you and makes a career,” she said.

Margaret Mkhosi, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Safety and Security at South Africa’s National Nuclear Regulator and former President of the WiN South Africa Chapter, requested the support of the IAEA to help African countries provide an enabling environment for women to build their expertise in nuclear science. “It’s not only about women becoming leaders or becoming directors in companies, but also about being an expert in your own field,” she said.

Role of culture and society

The panellists shared their views on the many challenges that women face within the scientific world, and agreed that cultural and social challenges play a key role in hindering efforts to grow the number of women professionals in nuclear science. 

Zeinabou Mindaoudou Souley, Chair of Niger’s High Authority for Atomic Energy, advised women to focus on building their expertise and being at the cutting edge of their field to succeed. “Professional challenges are not all gender challenges,” she said. “If you work hard, you have the discipline and you are an expert in your field, usually you can reach a very high level.”

Dina Salama Farag, Associate Professor of Radiology at the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority, stressed the need to demonstrate the value of nuclear science and technology at a broader community level, to encourage more funding and as a result more opportunity for a growth for women in nuclear.

Sharing her own motivation for choosing a career in nuclear, she said: “Science and technology affect our future. It can change our lives, it can make our lives easier and more efficient, it improves the quality of life as well as our lifespan, and it is an indispensable tool for the whole world to develop in a speedy manner.”

Women within the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation programme

Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the Division for Africa in the IAEA’s Department of Technical Cooperation, talked of the many achievements in this area and the efforts of the IAEA. “Despite the great challenges women face in the African region, there are many successful examples of women, who have been resuming leadership roles in the development of their countries using nuclear sciences and technology. The examples they set are helping to pave the way for the increased role of women in promoting change.”

The IAEA encourages Member States not only to nominate qualified female candidates for Agency fellowships and training courses, but also to include women in all the activities supported through Members States’ national technical cooperation programmes.

Last year more than 4,000 women took part in the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation programme, accounting for around a third of all participation.

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