Dr. Annette Uwineza, a post graduate researcher, a Human genetics expert and a lecturer at University of Rwanda (UR) has been recognized as a scientist among 16 fellows who conducted outstanding research in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The awarded is an initiative of L’Oréal Foundation in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Rwanda’s Ministry of Education.
The Jury with members from these partners said the awardees are ‘exceptional’ female postdoctoral scientists in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Uwineza who is Director of Allied Services at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK) conducted a research on “computer-assisted analysis of clinical features of Rwandan patients with rare genomic neurodevelopmental disorders.”
Genomic neurodevelopment disorders or NDDs are a group of early onset neurological disorders, including autism spectrum disorders (ASD), intellectual disability (ID), language disorders among others.
ASDs are characterized by early dysfunction in social interactions, communication deficits, and the presence of repetitive and restricted behaviors.
“My dream is that one day science will enable the development of low-cost treatments based on gene therapy,” Dr. Uwineza said.
“Since childhood I knew that I would become a doctor. The dream came true, but through hard work. I faced several difficulties. However, I managed to be resilient enough and reached what I targeted. Reaching the dream is about building your own life and goals,” Dr. Uwineza said.
According to the Ministry of Education, among thirteen (13) Rwandan scientists who applied for the female postdoctoral and PhD awards in Sub-Saharan Africa, only Dr. Uwineza was selected and awarded.
In other countries the award went to Dr. Anderson Motswedi from Botswana, Dr. Lenye Dlamini from Swaziland (Eswatini), Dr. Theresa Muzarire from Zimbabwe, Dr. Hendrina Shipanga from Namibia, Dr. Jack Sorrel Bouanga Boudiombo, Gabon, Dr. Vinie Koumou from Cameroon, Dr. Sephora Mianda Mutombo from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Dr. Ruth Nana Nyantang from Cameroon, and Dr. Bini Sharmeen Jugreet from Mauritius.
Others are Agil Katumanyane from Uganda, Dr. Mary Murithi, Dr. Hyam Omar Abbassi Ali from Sudan, Dr. Menonli Adjobimey from Benin, Dr. Coker Motunrayo from Nigeria, Dr. Esther Laurelle M. Deguenon, Dr. Abena Wiredu Bremang from Ghana, Dr. Sandra Jusu from Sierra Leone, and Dr. Ndeye Maty Ndiaye from Senegal.
They were selected among other 440 female science students pursuing PhD and postal graduate studies by the Jury of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Sub-Saharan Africa Young Talents Awards 2021, chaired by Aggrey Ambali, Director of Technical Cooperation and Program Financing at the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD).
L’Oréal says these female scientists share an exemplary determination that the obstacles they encounter cannot affect. Some of these difficulties are inherent in the world of scientific research in sub-Saharan Africa.
“During the pandemic, female scientists were at the forefront, but they have not been recognized, they didn’t have visibility compared to the male scientists. In many cases their efforts are not recognized,” Alexandra Palt, Executive Vice-President of the Fondation L’Oréal said.
“The World needs science and Science needs women,” she added.
The awardees hail from the discipline of including chemistry, virology, biology, neurology, and nuclear physics.
They make an important contribution to improving the living conditions of millions of people throughout Africa and the world, according to UNESCO.
“Today, the world needs science more than before, better and more. There is a great need for smarter development, but all needs a great investment in science for better capacity,” Prof. Hubert Gijzen, the UNESCO Regional Director of Eastern Africa said.
Since 1998, L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science program has worked to empower more women scientists to overcome barriers to progression and participate in solving the great challenges.
It has supported more than 3,900 women researchers from 110 countries, rewarding scientific excellence and inspiring younger generations of women to pursue science as a career.
Establishment of Similar event to recognize local female scientists
In the event held to appreciate and recognize female scientists in Sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda committed to establish a similar annual event, but for the local scientists.
According to the Ministry of Education, the event will aim at motivating, recognizing and appreciating female scientists in the country.
“It is not easy to combine the science profession with being a mother, but female scientists have managed this uneasy task. There shouldn’t be a voice telling our young girls that science is hard and for men. Women can and we already have role models, this is from experience; I am also a scientist,” Dr. Valentine Uwamariya, Minister of Education said.
“The society considers women as fragile, and they are actively discouraged. Women are not fragile. There should be a balance between family and work. The stereotype of women cannot do science is wrong and should be discouraged. These wrong perceptions shouldn’t be a barrier for young girls.”