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New findings by a British Council case study on women STEM in Egypt

The thrust of the discussion resulted in unpacking and examining the multiple thresholds of women and girls in higher education and employment in STEM fields in Egypt

Ahram Online , Sunday 9 May 2021
 British Council
Participants at the British Council online media roundtable (photo credit of The British Council)
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Looking at women’s perception of their engagement and representation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in Egypt, the British Council earlier commissioned Pivot Global Education to conduct a study on women in STEM in the country.

The British Council organised on 6 May an online media roundtable around this case study. which started with a presentation from Joyce Achampong, UK researcher of the STEM case study and executive director and group practice leader at Pivot Global Education.

Bringing together British and Egyptian expertise, this joint research aims at stimulating and inspiring current and future scientists.

One of the case study results stated that “67 percent of students said that more than half of their counterparts in their field of study were female, while only 45 percent of professional women responded the same.” A finding which means representation of women in STEM fields is larger at the student level than in the workforce. It also found out that Merit Ptah, Tapputi-Belatikallim, and a doctor named Cleopatra are among 100 ancient women pioneering in science.

Delving a little deeper into what makes STEM careers so challenging for women to both attain and maintain:

“87.5 percent of students surveyed had completed a master’s degree (93 percent in Egypt, the rest as split site scholars); 62.5 percent of students surveyed had completed their PhD studies, with one student currently progressing with hers, while 31 percent of students surveyed had completed their post-doctoral studies (17 percent as international students, 58 percent completed in country, 8 percent as split site scholars, and 17 percent are in the process of completion).”

The British Council also invited two Egyptian women pioneering in STEM, who were also part of the case study, to speak out their stories and journeys to Egyptian media. The thrust of the discussion resulted in unpacking and examining the multiple thresholds of women and girls in higher education and employment in STEM fields in Egypt.

Leading the industrial and manufacturing tracks, Irene Samy, an associate professor at the Industrial Service Engineering and Management Department in Nile University, talked about her treacherous journey from research to the industrialisation field. Samy upended the definition of STEM to a wider scope, where she included her entrepreneurship skills and initiated a start-up, which takes the research to another stage and created real-life mass production out of the research’s outcomes.

For those believing in the myth which frames environmental field work and petroleum fields being dominated by men, Nour El-Gendy, vice coordinator and professor of petroleum at MSA and Cairo University, broke the male monopoly. During the roundtable, El-Gendy talked about the major hindrances to women’s involvement in the labour market of STEM. She highlighted how the gender disparity environments deter women from pursuing careers in STEM.

Looking at STEM from an academic perspective, the case study also highlighted that the engagement of women in STEM in Egypt within academia is quite high, and that in the academic system in Egypt, girls with the highest marks in secondary school are strongly encouraged by their parents, family members, and teachers to go into the sciences; medicine being the preferred choice, followed by engineering and life sciences.

“Of the professional women surveyed, 42 percent had worked in their current field for more than 10, but less than 20 years, and 32 percent had over 20 years of work experience in their STEM field. Female students surveyed said that at least 63 percent of them had teaching responsibilities within their current studies; with 43 percent stating that they spend an average of half their time on teaching responsibilities — contributing to the overall number of women working in STEM.”

These examples, and many others who were involved in the research, believe that many of the strides they made wouldn’t have survived without support, whether moral, family, peer, or financial in terms of funds. They also felt the responsibility to extradite their real-life experiences to future Egyptian women and girls so that they can in turn be able to stand high over the women who came before them.

“Only 16 percent felt they were highly or very supported. This is reflected in the earlier quote regarding how respondents have been affected by being a woman in STEM, where they note: ‘We’re constantly regarded by peers and students as being ‘less technical’ just for the fact that we are women.”

In response to the same questions, students who identified as having parental support rated 81 percent of them highly or very supportive, while extended family support rated 69 percent as highly or very supportive. Of those students with partners and spouses, 83 percent of them said they felt highly or very supported. Much like the careered professionals, students rated their support from colleagues and managers at a lowly 39 percent.’

This research is a timely and important intervention that encompasses a representational and analytical approach to examine the trends, interrogate gaps in the rhetoric, narrative, and data, in addition to outlining opportunities, all of which serves as a baseline of the state of engagement of women and girls in STEM in Egypt.

You can read the complete case study on the British Council in Egypt’s website through this link:
www.britishcouncil.org.eg/en/programmes/education/science/women-in-stem

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