ZLHR statement on international day of women and girls in science

ON International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) calls upon state and non-state actors to take coordinated steps to formulate policies, initiatives and mechanisms to support and increase the participation of women and girls in science.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is commemorated
every year on 11 February and it aims to underline the critical role
played by women and girls in scientific advancements across the globe.
It is also an opportunity for nations to reinforce their commitment to
address the gender disparities in science-related industries. The
theme for 2021 is “Women Scientists at the forefront of the fight
against COVID-19.” The theme points to the indispensable role played
by women in different stages of the fight against COVID-19 from
advancing knowledge, developing techniques for testing and developing
a vaccine.

This year’s edition of International Day of Women and Girls in Science
is its 6th iteration and it aims to highlight the need for equality in
science to ensure the attainment of internationally agreed development
goals such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Social
biases and gender stereotypes are global barriers to the inclusion of
women in science-related fields such as mathematics, information
communication and technology (ICT), engineering, construction and
natural science. The exclusion of women and girls in these industries
can be traced back to the low percentage of women who pick
science-related subjects in higher education. Removing the barriers
that prevent women and girls from picking science-related subjects and
entering Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
(STEM)-related fields is the key to greater participation of women and
girls in science.

In Zimbabwe, cultural norms, poverty, lack of adequate resources in
the education sector (human and technical) hinder the pursuit of
careers in science by women and girls. Sadly, women and girls are
expected to be mothers and wives primarily in many communities across
the country. Therefore, many women and girls do not get an opportunity
to pursue a higher education in STEM fields, let alone a career in
science. Of the women and girls that have the opportunity to go to
school, many are unlawfully prevented from continuing with their
education as they fail to pay fees. The working conditions of
educators are also deplorable.

ZLHR has intervened in numerous cases where school authorities
prevented women and girls from continuing with their education by
withholding their academic results, in an effort to induce them to pay
outstanding fees. School authorities must stop this unlawful practice
in order for girls and women to continue their education and pursue
their dreams in the science field. This practice of withholding
results by school authorities contravenes the right to education that
is guaranteed by section 27 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Lawyers
have also offered support to teachers who have embarked on collective
job actions to express their disgruntlement over poor working

The increased participation of women in STEM-related fields is
necessarily dependent on the provision of quality primary, secondary
and tertiary education. This provision is guaranteed in section 75 of
the Constitution, which states that every citizen and permanent
resident has a right a basic state-funded education.

On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, government is
reminded of its obligation under section 27(2) of the Constitution
which requires it to take measures to ensure that girls are afforded
equal  opportunities as boys to obtain education at all levels. These
proactive measures are required to resolve the gender
disproportionality existing in the science field. Government should
also ensure that schools are adequately equipped.
The Grade 7 examinations pass rate is a worrying sign that many
schools are not environments in which students can thrive. 88 schools
had a 0 percent pass rate while Matabeleland provinces were the most
affected. The government is therefore enjoined to investigate the
underlying reasons for the poor pass rates in the Grade 7 examinations
and formulate comprehensive plans to rectify any inadequacies in the
primary school system. This will ensure that women and girls are
afforded an opportunity to obtain the quality primary education that
forms the basis for further studies in STEM-related subjects and
careers in science.

In line with this year’s theme for International Day of Women and
Girls in Science which looks at the critical role played by women in
the fight against COVID-19, ZLHR calls upon the state to stop the
prosecution and persecution of Harare West constituency legislator
Honourable Joana Mamombe, who has graduate and postgraduate
qualifications in biotechnology and molecular biology. Hon. Mamombe,
like other women, should be supported so that she can contribute to
research on COVID-19 vaccines for the continent.

On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, ZLHR urges
government to:

o    Take steps to promote education as required by section 75 of the
Constitution in order for women and girls to get an opportunity to
advance their studies in science-related subjects;

o    Develop comprehensive plans to address the gender disproportionality
in science-related fields;

o    Ensure that school authorities do not undermine the ability of women
and girls to pursue further studies in STEM-related subjects by
withholding their academic results;

o    Investigate the causes of the poor pass rate in the recent Grade 7
examinations and formulate comprehensive plans to resolve the issue;

o    Promote higher and tertiary education for women and girls so that
they can pursue careers in STEM-related fields;

o    Stop persecution of women in science including but not limited to;
Honourable Mamombe, medical practitioners, teachers and students for
them to continue with their critical work in science and development;

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