Women: Making a Difference in Nuclear Science in Africa

They are successful, intelligent and determined. And for many, Sarah Nafuna and Jane Mubanga Chinkusu are the role models and the source of inspiration for women pursuing a career in science.

Sarah is a chemical engineer from Uganda and Jane is a chemist from Zambia. Both women serve as their countries’ National Liaison Officers (NLOs) to the IAEA’s Department of Technical Cooperation. An NLO is the primary contact between the Agency and a Member State on all issues related to the planning, formulation and implementation of technical cooperation programmes within the country.

As NLO’s, Sarah and Jane occupy leading positions with considerable responsibilities in the governments of their respective countries, and both have built successful careers as scientists in their respective fields. They embody the proof that women in developing countries can succeed in the field of science, and the examples they set are helping pave the way for the increased role of women in promoting change and development in this field.

Hurdling Challenges

The NLO’s from Uganda and Zambia agree on one thing: For a woman, pursuing a career in science is difficult and full of challenges.

Sarah Nafuna talks about the problems she faced as a woman in science.

“People naturally believe that science is not for women,” she said. “Sometimes, as a woman in this field you are not accepted, and you are not given a chance to talk.”

Jane Mubanga Chinkusu recalls the challenge she faced convincing her family to allow her to pursue a career in science, as well as the burdens she had to face in university.

“It was a bit hard at the beginning. You can imagine, in terms of analytical subjects sometimes you can have problems,” she added.

Not only do women have to carve their place in a field mostly dominated by men, but they also have to combine their family life with their careers. For Sarah, it was very hard to leave her family at home for a year to study nuclear law at the University of Dundee in Scotland. However, with the support of her family, she successfully obtained her Masters degree.

“Being a woman means that you will have children sometime in your life. You have to find a solution that will work,” she explains.

Jane Mubanga Chinkusu believes that most girls are put off by science because they think that the courses are very hard. “I would strongly encourage them to enter science because, if they put their heads to it, it is possible to achieve whatever they want,” she said.

Confidence, Hard Work and Perseverance

Sarah and Jane credit hard work and perseverance for helping them manage to break the odds at the start of their careers.

“When I learned that there are many other women in nuclear, I got the confidence to go out there and contribute. My family also supported me to go out and study,” explained Sarah.

Jane Mubanga Chinkusu said that loving what you do is one of the most important factors to a successful career.

“I love nature and wanted to do something that would help me keep discovering new things,” Jane said. “So, for me, being a scientist is something I really dreamt about becoming.”

At the same time, science – particularly nuclear science – is still a new field in Africa and there are many opportunities available for aspiring scientists. “The opportunities are enormous,” Jane said. “I’ve seen many women proceed on to work as nuclear scientists in other countries and for international organizations, like the IAEA.”

A Woman’s Touch

Both Sarah and Jane agreed that girls could succeed in science if they work hard. There are many training opportunities available for scientists in developing countries, and women have better chances of being chosen since there are less of them (as compared to men) working in scientific fields.

“There are a lot new things to discover in nuclear science and this field is something that every woman should aspire to be in,” said Jane.

Most women work with perseverance and passion and this can work to their advantage, according to Sarah Nafuna.

“As women we don’t only use our heads, but we use our hearts, and whatever a woman does, she does it with perfection,” Sarah concluded.

“If a woman touches something, she changes it for good. And this is what we need. We need more women in nuclear to change this world and develop this world. Especially in Africa.”



— By Iulia Iliut, IAEA Division of Public Information

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