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Two Batswana young women, Bonolo Phinius and Mesha Mbisana pursuing their PhD studies at the University of Botswana were amongst the 30 brilliant African women scientists from 17 countries who received the 2023 L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Young Talents Sub-Saharan Africa Awards held in Kasane recently.
L’Oréal – UNESCO for Women in Science Young Talents for Sub-Saharan Africa Awards are meant to recognise the young scientists who distinguished themselves from among more than 600 applicants.
Phinius is PhD student in Infectious Diseases and she was awarded for her work to shine a light on the prevalence of the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) in Botswana, where a lack of research on the disease has prevented progress and prevention.
Mbisana is a doctoral student in Analytical Chemistry and she was awarded for her work to improve the safety of food such as maize and sorghum by removing harmful toxins, in order to improve health in Botswana ‘communities.
In an interview, Mbisana said the awards aim at encouraging and supporting African women in science as the continent faces challenges that needs to be solved adding that the award was one of the means that may enable them to solve those challenges. She added that the awards also seek to support fellow women because they are underrepresented in science careers.
Mbisana has since urged young women who wish to pursue their career in science not to despair, but be confident and into the field. She said though there are a lot of challenges that come with science but through support and mentorship she was able to pursue her career in science and win the award.
For her part, Phinius has also encouraged other young girls aspiring to be scientists to seek advice from their supervisors, to be persistent and never give up on their dreams.
Giving the keynote address, President Mokgweetsi Masisi said that knowledge generation in the science and technology fields cannot be the realm of men alone, at the exclusion of participation by women. He stated that the social barriers and inequalities that have been constructed for years to undermine women’s show of scientific, technological and innovative capacities must be systematically demolished. Masisi added that the need to promote and enhance the status of women in science, technology and engineering around the world cannot be emphasised.
For her part, L’Oreal CEO Alexandra Palt said taking into consideration the challenges the world is facing, climate change, biodiversity loss, health, responsible technology that need science to be coped with, they need women in science to build inclusive societies that work.
“Being a woman in science is never a walk in the park, nowhere in the world; stereotypes, discrimination, glass ceiling, sexual harassment, exists everywhere. In Africa we find additional barriers and difficulties, some related to the context of insufficient investment in science and research institutions, living conditions that make faster access to income a very important stake and thirdly because of the attributed roles to women and girls,” she said.