Saturday, 01 April

Celebrating female scientists on International Women’s Day

Feature Article
Dr Priscilla Kolibea Mante (left), Dr Sylvia Anie (middle) and Dr Mavis Owureku-Asare (right)

Many inventions have transformed the world today, with a significant number being the brain work of women, yet little light is shone on the achievements.

Brilliant innovators and inventors have transformed the lives of humanity through discoveries that we cannot live without.

Have you ever wondered how life would be without computer programmes as inspired by Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) or Grace Hopper, nicknamed ‘Amazing Grace’, one of the first women to achieve a PhD in mathematics and developer of Harvard’s Mark I Computer in 1952?

Without Hedy Lamarr’s frequency-hopping communication system in 1941, there would have been no wireless communications like GPS or Bluetooth today, earning her the nickname ‘the mother of Wi-Fi’.

British chemist Rosalind Franklin’s discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1952 and a vital breakthrough in 1991 by Ann Tsukamoto in cancer research via stem cell isolation have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

The luxuries of Nancy Johnson’s ice cream maker in 1843 and Josephine Cochrane’s dishwasher in 1887 are also worthy of note. Ms Cochrane’s model is reportedly used in some hotels and restaurants in modern times.

Yet, huge plaudits evade female inventors and are relegated to the background, sometimes in oblivion.

According to the UNESCO Science Report: The Race Against Time for Smarter Development (2021), just one in three researchers is a woman.

The report also highlights various issues, including smaller research grants for women and less recognition from their peers.

Additionally, only 12 per cent of members of national science academies are women.

What’s more?

The Nobel Prize and the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel have been awarded to women 61 times between 1901 and 2022.

This means less than 4 % of Nobel Prizes for science have been awarded to women, and women in Europe hold only 11 % of senior research roles.

The 2016 American biographical drama film, ‘Hidden Figures’, still sends chills down the spine as it highlights polarity and unfairness in acknowledging women in science.

‘Hidden Figures’ unveils the story of the black women who helped the United States to win the space race.

Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan were computers who made calculations by hand to aid NASA’s early space missions.

Yet they remained unsung heroes for many decades.

For example, it wasn’t until 2015 that President Barack Obama awarded Katherine Johnson a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour. She died peacefully five years later at 101.

In Ghana, some excellent females have done fantastic work in science. On a day like this, we acknowledge and celebrate their efforts against all odds.

Efforts that have changed scientific methods, efforts that have improved medical diagnostics, efforts that have improved the way we live, and efforts that have saved lives.

For example, Dr Sylvia Anie is a Ghanaian scientist (CSci, CChem, FRSC, FRSM, Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, UK, Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, UK) known for significant contributions to science.

Her research and patent (filed in 1990) in contrast agents for Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the gastrointestinal tract paved the way for enhanced diagnoses and imaging. Dr Anie addressed the UN Assembly on Health and HIV (2011) and continues to advocate for an enhanced role of low and middle-income countries in health research.

In 2015, she was selected and honoured as an African Science Hero because of her contributions to health and science, and she continues to facilitate and drive reforms to protect the marginalized and empower them to demand their health rights.

Dr Priscilla Kolibea Mante is a Ghanaian neuropharmacologist, researcher and lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

Her progress in alternatives of plant-based therapeutic options to manage drug-resistant epilepsy has won her international accolades.

In 2019, she was the only African recipient, and one of 15 total, of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Rising Talent Award.

Ghanaian food scientist Dr Mavis Owureku-Asare, a senior research scientist at the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), has developed agricultural technologies and solutions to help farmers and improve the livelihoods of women in Ghana.

One of her primary outcomes was the development of improved solar drying technologies for the post-harvest management of agricultural produce.

Dr Owureku-Asare invented the Ewiahemaa Solar Dryer—a solar-drying system for processing fresh tomatoes into powder, which can be used for other secondary products.

Ghanaian environmental chemist Professor Marian Asantewah Nkansah also features prominently.

Her work focuses on solving environmental problems associated with toxic substances like heavy/trace metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in food, water, soil, rocks, sediments and other environmental samples.

Larisa Akrofie founded Levers in Heels, a website bringing visibility to African women in STEM through its featured interviews, research, and mentorship programs.

Dr Elsie A. B. Effah Kaufmann, a Ghanaian academic, academic administrator, biomedical engineer and current National Science and Maths Quiz host, is also credited for promoting girls’ science education.

This list is not exhaustive and may take up a significant space listing all Ghanaian scientists making a difference in their own ways.

Women who have excelled in various fields must be given the credit they deserve, as this is the only way to create role models for the next generation of girls.

Ghana celebrated its 66th independence anniversary a few days ago.

As far back as the pre-independence era, the man who led Ghana to freedom, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, knew the importance of women to national development.

 “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation,” he said.

But how can we liberate girls of the current generation to unleash their potential to contribute to societal growth without giving them role models in similar fields, especially science, technology and engineering?

Showcasing exceptional women and their achievements would not only close the gender gap but make it easier for girls and women to choose a career in science.

Even though it is established that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) play essential roles in the development and growth of nations, enrollment by girls in these sectors has been poor.

The few successful women who climb to the peak also have shorter and less well-paid careers.

It is time for action as the world marks International Women’s Day, and governments, institutions, private entities, and all stakeholders must work towards balance, equity and women’s upliftment.

For International Women’s Day and beyond, let’s all fully #EmbraceEquity.

Source: David Apinga, Writer and Science Enthusiast