World-renowned African scientist Amina Gharib-Fakim served as the first female president of Mauritius from 2015 to 2018.
Prior to engaging in politics, she enjoyed a distinguished career in higher education, including the position of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius from 2004 to 2010.
She has won numerous awards such as the 2007 L’Oréal-UNESCO Prize for Women in Science, the African Union Commission Prize for Women in Science in 2009, and six honorary doctorates.
A curious stranger speaks to SciDev.Net . Network About her life as a scientist, and what influenced her academic and political career.
As a young girl, did you ever fantasize about becoming a scientist, let alone the presidency of your country?
I have motivated teachers who have demystified science and have done so well in science because of that demystification.
“We need more mentors and role models where access to education is important.”
Amina Gharib Fakim
When it came to the final decision for further studies, I met the career guidance officer. In me he saw a little girl walking through the door. When I told him I wanted to study science, he asked me why I wanted to study science because it was for boys.
He told me there would be no careers in science because this is still a male domain. I went home and told my father what the job officer had said. I told my father that I would follow my heart. I applied and studied chemistry.
Is science still seen as boys’ stuff?
Unfortunately, there are still many stereotypes and constructs that we have about the girl child. And when we talk about stereotypes, show me the number of books that are part of the curricula that feature prominent African women scientists.
How many of us know the achievements of the late Wangari Maathai? She was a Kenyan, scientist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Her work, or rather her mission, awakened our environmental consciousness when she went on a crusade-like mission to protect the indigenous forests of Kenya.
I think we need to break the vicious circle where negative stereotypes abound and deter girls’ participation in science. The school system often discourages the girl child from science.
Fortunately, it is changing. If you look at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as approved in 2015, this is the first time in more than 70 years of its existence that the United Nations has recognized the central role that science plays in our livelihoods and how it will help achieve and achieve the development goals. sustainable. However, we need to empower more women and men in science for this to happen.
How did you get to the top?
I was fortunate to have a father who believed in the education of his son and daughter. He was encouraging and, along with my mother, was a source of continued support. They kept telling me I could do anything.
“I think we need to break that vicious circle where negative stereotypes abound and deter girls’ participation in science.”
Amina Gharib Fakim
I remain convinced that my ability to take risks stemmed from early confidence building. This enabled me to take calculated risks. I would risk once again throwing my hat in the political arena when the odds were against the party. My philosophy has always been, nothing adventurous, nothing to gain.
What is your view on sub-Saharan Africa where there are more presidents and political leaders lately?
The COVID-19 virus has exposed all the fault lines in our societies, whether they are due to gender, race or ethnicity. She revealed the difference between the haves and the have-nots, particularly in their access to care, hospitals, medicine, and more.
Gender became a live issue in the first year of the epidemic. Those countries with female leaders have been more successful in dealing with the pandemic. These women leaders expressed a different kind of leadership. They showed that compassion and kindness are not weakness. They communicated in language that ordinary men and women could understand and did not refer deaths from COVID-19 to statistics. These deaths had a role in shaping their human narrative.
Contrary to public perception, the African continent has not fared too badly in representing women. On the continent there are six female heads of state, and two are still in office – Tanzania and Ethiopia.
In Tanzania, one of the decisions that [president Samia Suluhu Hassan] What I’ve taken lately is that mommy girls can go back to school. It was a difficult decision because in some countries this was not the case, and during the era of COVID-19, the number of mothers of girls increased. Also, these women, who are successful in various fields, bear a great responsibility in setting an example for the younger generation.
We need more mentors and role models where access to education is important. My country, after eight years of independence, has made education accessible to all. This means that parents no longer have to choose between educating a boy and a girl. This changed the rules of the game, the economy would have benefited, and it worked!
What is your advice to young women?
I think what a lot of ladies are curious about is how I manage my time. I work my time in 24 hours so that I can still enjoy a social, professional, and family life.
I knew I wanted a job and a family and that 24 hours wasn’t enough to get all three. Therefore, my social life is built around my children and my family. My children became my friends. Also, a supportive partner and parents help, especially when the children are young.
Having a husband or partner who is happy in their profession can leave a young woman alone to excel. This is a recipe for success.
This piece has been produced by the SciDev.Net Sub-Saharan African desk in English.