As Rwanda welcomes the Women Deliver Conference, we reflect on the incredible potential of girls and women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
STEM is not just about equations and algorithms: it is a gateway to unlimited possibilities and a catalyst for innovation. As a STEM professional, I have learned that success in this career requires courage to challenge societal norms, work hard, and seize all available opportunities.
Growing up and studying in Rwanda opened doors for me and other women that we never thought possible. This experience shaped my belief in the power of girls in STEM.
STEM: Key to the Future
STEM plays a crucial role in solving the world’s most pressing challenges. In Rwanda, like in the rest of the world, STEM has the potential to drive economic growth, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for millions of people.
This is especially important as, for the last 29 years, Rwanda has deliberately explored every avenue available to deliver national transformation through economic growth. The government continues to make significant investments in education, research, and infrastructure. This has led to the development of a budding tech industry, with start-ups and entrepreneurs driving innovation and creating jobs.
The need to rapidly increase our capacity by investing in our youthful population is more pressing than ever, and girls and women play a crucial role in our ability to harness the power of STEM.
The Government of Rwanda has been deliberate in ensuring equitable access to education and opportunities in the fields of science and technology. For example, nearly 44.7% of STEM students are women. Similarly, at the Rwandan Coding Academy, a technology – focused secondary school in the North of Rwanda, there are as many female students as male. The world of start-ups is also driven by women in leadership positions in their respective institutions.
Rwanda’s investment in STEM
Despite remaining challenges, women in Rwanda who are interested in ICT, or are already in the field, find favourable environments to learn and thrive. Building the confidence of girls to pursue STEM is crucial, and there is a significant effort coming from both the public and private sectors to encourage more girls into this area of study.
However, girls who are good in science at school still often hesitate to pursue STEM education. Therefore, models and mentors are essential to help girls venture into this traditionally male-dominated field and pursue their chosen path despite societal pressures or opinions. In Rwanda, women that have excelled in STEM subjects are at the forefront of changing the narrative.
Another key action is giving girls the space to explore interest in STEM careers early on, preferably from primary school, so as to develop the passion to pursue a technology-based education.
One of our key initiatives is Girls in ICT Rwanda, an organization that empowers and encourages young girls to embrace STEM from an early age. Through mentorship programs, workshops, and awareness campaigns, we break down gender stereotypes and ignite excitement for STEM in the hearts of young girls.
To complement these efforts, we have established dedicated centers and laboratories that provide hands-on learning experiences, like FabLab Rwanda, the first Fabrication Laboratory in our country. These spaces allow girls to unleash their creativity, apply their knowledge to real-world challenges, and develop the critical thinking skills necessary for success in STEM.
We must continue to empower girls in STEM, not just in Rwanda but around the world. Together, we can trigger their potential, inspire innovation, and build a future where girls can be at the forefront of shaping a better world for all.
The writer is Minister of State in charge of ICT and Technical Vocational Education and Training.