By Roy Muzira
MAKERERE – The Uganda Women Mathematicians today hosts a marathon under the theme “Mathematics for Everyday Life” at Makerere University Freedom Square.
The mathematicians embarked on outreach campaigns to promote gender equity in mathematics achievement by reaching out to the public and the marathon is part of the campaign.
The annual marathons are intended to reach out to the young girls in secondary school such that they recognize their potential and empower them to face the multiple challenges of women in mathematics.
This year the chief runner is Speaker of Parliament, the Rt. Hon Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga and it is hoped that the marathon will create awareness of issues that affect female scientific career development and success.
For centuries women have shunned mathematics and the stereotype that the subject is for men does not help matters at all. Many girls see themselves as successful people in the future, but not as mathematicians or scientists for that matter.
“Our teachers encouraged us to try harder in all subjects but openly told us mathematics is not for girls. As such many of us gave up on ever learning the subject. I used most of the math classes to read novels because I did not want to waste time trying to learn something that was not for women,” says Irene Namaganda, a mother whose two daughters are doing mathematics so well at school.
“I just thought mathematics had to be in one’s genes. So whenever I saw any figures my mind automatically switched off. I was shocked to learn that the subject was compulsory at ‘O Level but I was sure I could not adjust to doing it and it is the only subject I failed,” says Rita Asiimwe.
“Thank God they have chosen a marathon,” Juliet Agwang, a teacher, interrupted the discussion, “even running is considered a man’s omen can run, it then means they can do sums. These stereotypes must stop,” she emphasized. “Sports in this country is a man’s field,” she adds.
A study in the journal of Psychological Science, according to amp.livescience.com, says women are less likely to participate in science and engineering settings because of socialisation among other things. Girls are taught whether directly or indirectly to steer clear of studies and jobs typically pursued by boys and men.
The researchers said “we have to look at the social and cultural factors that discourage girls from doing sciences.” Many people believe that boys and men are better at math than girls and women but according to a study done by Natalie Angier and Kenneth Chang based on the USA; there is no difference in math aptitude before age 7. Starting in adolescence, some differences emerge with boys scoring 30-35 points higher than girls in the math portion of the SAT but scores vary tremendously on different subcategories, often with girls outperforming boys consistently.
According to www.quora.com, “How we test for math ability is a political choice.” And “how you decide to test math ability is also political.”
That seems to tie in the many researchers that confirm that doing well in science has nothing to do with one’s gender.