By Abinaidah Chaseba
"I see the need for girls and women to get involved in STEM because girls and women are under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and consequently in STEM careers," Dora.
Since time immemorial, a typical Zambian society has considered some school subjects to be suitable only for one sex. Saying Mathematics and Sciences are complicated subjects, hence, they are suitable for males, that only males are strong and brainy enough to excel in those subjects. Whereas, subjects like English, Religious Education, Literacy and Social Studies are considered easier or less complicated subjects, hence suited for females. These misconceptions have also been used to determine what careers are suitable for the two different sexes, with careers such as medicine and engineering being for men and teaching and journalism, for example, is for women. But can girls really excel in Mathematics and sciences?
Dora Shimbwambwa is a 26-year-old Zambian. She has a Bachelor of Agriculture from Mulungushi University. Dora’s passion is in agriculture because she believes that it is the only way to ensure Zambia’s food and nutrition security. She says agriculture is also important for income generation in a developing country like Zambia.
“I am working as a research assistant intern under the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). I work under the Fall Armyworm Compact aimed at disseminating crop management practices to farmers that will curb the fall armyworm problem in the country and in turn help increase agricultural production, food security and income,” says Dora.
Dora is a member of Zambian Women in Agricultural Research and Development (ZaWARD), an association of women researchers empowered to inspire girls and communities to bridge the gender gap in agriculture. The association is also concerned with raising awareness on various STEM-based careers to increase the meaningful participation of girls and women in agricultural research and development. It has mentoring programs at all levels targeting girls and women through networking events, collaborative agricultural research programs and role modelling events in secondary schools and universities.
In her fourth year, Dora was contemplating taking up Crop Breeding as her career. However, she needed more information regarding her career choice and what it takes for one to become a successful Crop Breeder. She then decided to join ZaWARD, while she was still pursuing her Bachelor of Agriculture at Mulungushi University in Kabwe.
“At about the same time during my studies, I came across a brochure with information about ZaWARD. ZaWARD’s mentorship program was what caught my attention because I hoped to be mentored regarding my career interest. That is how I joined as an undergraduate in 2017,” narrates Dora.
Dora explains that also, she joined just so she could be surrounded by women and men that are passionate about agriculture. She wanted to be in a group of people that understand the importance of agriculture and also appreciate its potential.
She states that through the association, she helps her fellow youth that are involved in agriculture. Dora says she has been personally engaged in her mentor’s agricultural breeding research. The research experience has given her more confidence in agriculture. She has also had a feel of using gender-responsive research tools with small scale farmers.
“I see the need for girls and women to get involved in STEM because girls and women are under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and consequently in STEM careers," Dora explains. "In the recent UNESCO ground-breaking report, Cracking the Code: Girls’ and Women’s Education in STEM, ‘only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women. There is a gender disparity in STEM, especially that STEM careers are often referred to as the jobs of the future, driving innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth and sustainable development’.”
She further explains that the main obstacle she faces in promoting Agricultural sciences is that people out there think that Agricultural studies are only for those who aspire to be farmers. That people also think Agriculture is for people who want to work or live in villages or on farms.
Dora adds that in the long run, ZaWARD wants to provide a platform for the advancement of women in agriculture to positions of decision making, to improve service delivery and in turn help build capacity in small scale farmers in rural Zambia who are mostly women, to contribute to alleviating hunger and poverty through sustainable agriculture and increased household incomes.
“I aspire to contribute meaningfully to Zambia and Sub-Saharan Africa’s agriculture sector while yearning for rural households that are food and income secure. I also hope to continue passing on the flame of inspiration to others through mentorship, coaching or shadowing experiences,” says Dora.
Dora has impacted society through ZaWARD by offering training to small scale farmers, training members and participating in role modelling events. The training includes strategies for increased production and creative, while role modeling events include career fairs and motivational talks. She says that the main challenge faced by the organization is that there are limited financial resources to scale up operations.
She says other girls, women and the youth can also get involved in her work and make different contributions that march their skills or be trained altogether.
“They can reach out to any of the members and just make it clear that they want to join ZaWARD. A member will then refer them to our country coordinator. ZaWARD is also on Facebook and we also have a website. Any agricultural contribution to ZaWARD is welcome,” says Dora.