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Hidden No Longer: AWARD and ICRAF Celebrate International Women’s Day

For the second year in a row, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) partnered to celebrate International Women’s Day. AWARD and ICRAF held a two-day event at ICRAF’s Nairobi campus under the compelling theme: “Hidden Figures: Illuminating the STEM Contributions of Women.” One of the major highlights for the 2017 celebrations was a private viewing of the Academy Award-nominated film Hidden Figures, which tells the story of three African-American women who had a profound impact on the success of the United States’ space program in the 1960s.

The screening was well attended by over 100 ICRAF women staff, students from Railways Training Institute and 100 girls from Akili Dada, a mentoring program for African high school girls. Women left the theatre visibly moved by the film and the young girls felt inspired to reach for their dreams and push for the greater inclusion of women, in particular African women, in STEM fields. 

In the afternoon, the ICRAF campus was abuzz with energy from the morning’s movie screening, and transitioned into a panel discussion that expanded on the themes of the movie. ICRAF Director General Dr. Tony Simons welcomed the AWARD family, staff members based at the ICRAF campus and the visitors with a presentation on the gender inequalities in education, emphasizing the gap in STEM fields. Dr. Simon encouraged the audience to “remember our heroes”. Heroes like Wangari Maathai who made tremendous strides on behalf of women.  

AWARD Director Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg moderated the panel discussion, which focused on the importance of friendship among women and how men can be allies to women’s leadership. The panel included ICRAF junior scientist Irene Oyeko, ICRISAT scientist and 2010 AWARD Fellow Damaris Achieng Odeny, Akili Dada Gap Year Intern Claris Oyunga, ICRAF Finance Manager Pauline Ahero, and Biotech Forensic Founder and GAIA East Africa finalist Sophie Gitonga.

“I wish I’d had a program like this, an event like this, when I was your age,” said Gitonga to the students. Addressing the need to incorporate men in conversations about women’s empowerment, Odeny talked about the importance of mentorship. “We need to mentor both men and women to have a gender-responsive society.”

Closing out the panel, Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg said, “If you don’t utilize all available talents, humanity will undo itself. We can’t leave out half of the population.” She also challenged the audience to reflect on where they want to be and how they envision the status of gender equality in twenty years.

The day culminated with the girls having a series of lab tours at the ICRAF campus and a photo booth session afterwards. “Visiting the labs has made the science experience more personal. The technological advances and the effort put in the innovations in the labs are impressive,” said one of the students.

The following day, AWARD participated in ICRAF’s tree planting ceremony in the Karura Forest, which involved the ICRAF family replanting 300 indigenous trees in the forest.