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Career: This Zimbabwean Chemist Was Fed Up With Being The Only Woman In Every Lab And Decided To Do Something About It

 Natsai Mutezo-Mawoni 
knows exactly how to unleash the power of the universe. As a chemical technologist, she has been playing with chemical bonds and energy for years. But after getting sick of being the lone woman in every lab, she decided to unleash her personal power to get more women into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) training.

If Natsai Mutezo-Mawoni’s story has one thread running through it, it is about being alone. As a woman scientist, she lists the occasions: She was one of four women in a class of 40 during her first-year chemical technology course at Midlands State University. She is the only female in the manufacturing department at Dulux. The only woman in the technical department at Astra Paints

“There were no females at all,” she said of her experience at the Dulux manufacturing department in Zimbabwe.

At AstraPaints, a leading Zimbabwean paint manufacturing and supply company, for example,

They had a very good training program where they would take most chemistry, applied chemistry, chemical engineering graduates, and so forth, and you were assigned to the manufacturing department or the technical department, which is more of a lab,” Mawoni recalls. “I was the only woman in the technical department.”

And this did not change in her other places of employment.

I joined Dulux as a technical officer, so I was still working in the technical department, very similar to my previous role; I was the only female. In the manufacturing department, there were no females at all, “Mawoni explains.”

This picture is not surprising.

Despite significant growth in this sector, there is still a gross underrepresentation of women in STEM fields across the continent.

Old-fashioned gender norms, societal stereotypes, and cultural biases are critical drivers of the low representation of women in male-dominated STEM fields. Coupled with poverty, many African families prioritize education for boys, especially in science subjects, and expect girls to prioritize learning to run a household.

These discriminatory practices and policies deter girls from pursuing STEM careers and also contribute to women leaving STEM careers.

While only 30 per cent of science professionals in Sub-Saharan Africa are women, she did not know that and, growing up, she chose her passion early.

Growing up in Hwange, a small town in the north-western part of Zimbabwe that houses the nation’s largest coal-fired power station, fueled Mawoni’s curiosity.

“I just always viewed science as something that would be interesting or fun to do, but I also had an appreciation for the fact that I could see science in action everywhere around me,” the 38-year-old says.

From the age of five, she was fascinated by science, and it wasn’t long before she was going through her father’s university engineering transcripts to feed that curiosity. and watching medical dramas on TV.

At university, the full impact of her choice of career dawned on her when she looked around the lecture hall. And yet, four out of forty was relatively good, compared to the number of women she would find when she started working in chemicals and paint companies.

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