Women in Geoscience: Gender Roles and the Road Ahead in Nigeria

Women in Geoscience: Gender Roles and the Road Ahead in Nigeria
6 min read

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Geoscience is an all-encompassing field of sciences dealing with planet earth. It covers the study of the earth which includes all non-living elements of the environment and everything below the earth’s surface. People in this field are known as geoscientists. They study the composition, structure and other physical aspects of the earth and the earth’s geologic past and present.

Geoscientists work to find new sources of energy. The world needs more energy to foster development. Increase in the world’s population means increase in the demand for energy.

Geology is my background, and my experience has been compelling. Field work is an integral part of the profession, and this includes a lot of travelling. 

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Theory becomes practical. You work with your map, visit numerous states while being exposed to various geologic settings. It is always fun working in a team, sharing insights and collecting samples.

THE DEMANDS OF BEING A GEOLOGIST

We always have to be prepared to work long and late hours in conditions that could be challenging. We travel a lot. Sometimes, trekking over long distances is integral for mapping.

Our tasks do not end in the field. Samples have to be taken to the laboratory for proper analysis, and a report of the field work must be written.

BENEFITS OF WOMEN IN GEOSCIENCE

  • Balanced Workforce: Diversity is important for any profession. Research has shown that a more diverse team performs better.
  • Brain Power: Women in geoscience are as smart and as creative as their male counterparts when given the opportunity. Excluding women from geoscience will mean excluding them from contributing to advancement of the field.

Israeli crystallographer, Ada Yonath once said, “I think the population is losing half of the human brain power by not encouraging women to go into the sciences. Women can do great things if encouraged to”. 

  • Entrepreneurship: Women play essential roles in sectors of development such as the use of land, economic management of water, protection of forests, preservation of biodiversity and technological information. When empowered, women in geosciences can undertake exploration ventures that could generate income.
  • Role Models: Women in geoscience can act as mentors and role models for others to emulate in their career paths.

BARRIERS IN GEOSCIENCE FOR WOMEN IN NIGERIA

Despite the benefits of having women in geoscience, there are still many challenges for any woman interested in or already in the field.

Geoscience in Nigeria suffers from a glaring lack of gender diversity at all levels, ranging from undergraduate to corporate and policy making levels.

These barriers include:

  • Belief System: There is the perception that disciplines like geoscience are for men only. 

I remember when I told my father that I wanted to become a geologist. He asked me what my second career option was. My reply was I’d become a geologist or a petroleum engineer. He tried to dissuade me by telling me those were male-dominated professions. He said, “If you want to be a science student, you should consider a medical profession because it is okay for a lady to be a doctor.” I never liked his suggestion, and it took a lot of convincing before he allowed me to study geology and mining. When people ask me what my discipline is and I answer “geology”, most of their responses are “you studied for a male degree”.

  • Discrimination: Careers in geoscience are biased against hiring women. There are excuses that women are more likely to take periods of leave, especially when children come into the picture. The general opinion is that women are more likely to put more importance on family than career and that geosciences jobs are better left for men.
  • Stereotyped Roles: Teaching and office roles are usually left for women in the field to occupy.
  • Lack of Female Geologist Mentors: Students in geoscience are less likely to be taught or mentored by a woman.

We had just one female assistant lecturer in my department who taught us during my undergraduate studies. 

Women in geoscience are also underrepresented on panels and at professional conferences that are crucial for national development.

In 2013, Nigerian geologist, Adedoja Ojelabi, became the first female president of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), after thirty eight (38) years since it was formed. 

  • Poor Economic Power: The sector is capital-intensive. Most women in geoscience lack the capital to attend conferences, exploration activities as well as to conduct research for educational advancement.

Having a bachelor’s degree is not sufficient to excel in the profession. 

  • Exclusion from Policy Making: Women are hardly ever involved in the field’s decision making processes for development. Most of the policies implemented are not gender sensitive.

THE ROAD AHEAD

  • Creating Inclusive Environments: Job environments must be made inclusive for females. There should be child care programs, flexible working hours etc. This will encourage more women to join the field.
  • Favorable Policies: Policies in geoscience should recognize females; they should be made and implemented to accommodate females. Women should be included in policy and decision making for advancement in geoscience.
  • Gender Sensitive Curriculum: Our geoscience curriculum should be revised to encourage females’ interest in the profession.
  • Empowerment: Women in geoscience should be empowered through capacity building, operational techniques, technology skills and best practices. They should also be encouraged to participate in special programs and conferences. Incentives such as grants, sponsorships and discounts should be made available and accessible.
  • Mentorship: The value of mentorship is irreplaceable. Mentorship builds confidence and translates into career satisfaction. Nigerian women in geoscience who have excelled should mentor young female professionals in the field. Teaming up with mentors is a great career strategy that could benefit many women in this male-dominated career.

Women everywhere should be encouraged to pursue geoscience careers. They should also be given equal opportunities without bias and discrimination. The place to start reducing unconscious bias should begin in homes.

 

Precious Ozemoya is an educator, writer, gender and youth activist and advocate for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She is passionate about gender equality for African women. She helps reduce inequality through research, writing, advocacy and dialogue.