SciGirls -Empowering girls and female teachers through astronomy in rural areas affected by conflict (2024)

In Ethiopia, only ~ 13% of scientists are women (UNESCO, 2019). Girls avoid choosing STEM mainly due to the lack of support, information, and role models. This becomes even more evident in remote and rural areas, where 80% of the Ethiopian population lives, and where girls face different challenges, pushing them often out of school. The SciGirls project aims to improve in the long-term gender gap in science, the current lack of girls in STEM, to empower secondary school girls and their female teachers through science, and to bring more education and STEM awareness in rural and remote areas affected by conflicts, by training the girls and teachers through astronomy and its multidisciplinarity and by making them advocates of STEM in their communities.
We organized in Dec 2022 a strong capacity-building training for 30 girls and female teachers from rural areas, covering different regions of Ethiopia, many affected by conflicts. We included different sessions about astronomy and its multidisciplinarity, space science, big data, stargazing, small experiments for teachers, and small research projects, where using astronomical data participants practised their technical skills and learned about scientific methodology. For some, we learned it was the first time they saw and used a computer. The last session discussed STEM for development, professional opportunities in STEM, and women and girls in science. Through the training, we managed to work on human capacity building, improve the communication skills of girls, empower girls as future leaders in their communities, understand better the scenario and challenges that girls and teachers are facing in their communities, and bring more awareness about professional careers in STEM. In the developed evaluation form, > 90% of participants expressed they filled empowered by SciGirls training, 100% expressed they became more inspired and motivated in STEM, and 100% expressed that they want to become advocates of STEM in their communities. After the training, we continued communicating with participants and started getting information about the activities that some of them organized in their communities.
The SciGirls training and interaction with girls and teachers was an eye-opening experience and although we were aware of all the difficulties that are there in rural areas, we realized that the needs are even larger than we thought. With the valuable gained experience, we want to continue by: a) extending our activities and training to the girls and teachers from other remote and rural areas that in the last few years have been affected by conflicts, and b) doing the follow-up of the STEM activities carried out by already trained girls and teachers in their communities, promoting education and STEM among all girls and boys, and offer our support in the activities to be carried out. In the 2nd and/or 3rd year, we would like to extend the project to the neighboring countries affected currently by conflicts.