Inspiring Young Women to Pursue the Sciences

Gloria Natukunda teaches chemistry at two different high schools in Western Uganda. (Photo: Megan Lindow)

This article is part of a series exploring the transformation of African women's lives through education.

When the Female Scholarship Initiative was launched at Makerere University in Uganda, it was feared that rural women would stay in the city after graduation instead of returning to their communities, where the potential impact was greatest. Gloria Natukunda is a scholarship recipient who did go back, and today she is committed to making a difference in her community. 

To meet with Gloria, I traveled from Gulu to the far western town of Kabale, near the Congolese border. She and her husband, Charles, and their two daughters live in a modest bungalow on the grounds of a local school where they are both teachers.

Gloria works as an itinerant chemistry teacher at two different schools in the area— one a boy's school and the other co-ed. Only five out of the 50 students in her co-ed chemistry class are young girls, and Gloria makes a special effort to inspire and encourage them.

“I try to reach them and ask them what they have not understood,” she says. “I try to make them feel at home. I have to give them a conducive environment.”

Girls are discouraged from pursuing careers in science by teachers, peers, and their own families. In the classroom, they are often too intimidated and afraid to ask questions.

“I always tell them, ‘I passed chemistry and I'm also a girl. So you have to work very hard just like I did,’” says Gloria.

One aim of the Female Scholarship Initiative was to draw more women into the science and engineering fields. However, during the program’s lifespan, only 48 percent of the awarded scholarships went to female science students, falling short of the 85 percent goal.

According to Gloria, so few female graduates in Uganda are going into the sciences that there are ample opportunities for those who do.  She says young women who do persevere in science will find themselves in high demand and will land good jobs. 

"Teachers and peer influence can stop girls from pursuing science,” Charles added. “It's affecting our country and our girls.”

Charles says he is proud of Gloria's education and her status as a female science teacher. Both he and Gloria are optimistic about the future for their own two daughters. "It's very important that they study," he says. "I wish I could have a doctor in the house."

Megan Lindow is an award-winning writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is a former Africa Correspondent for the Chronicle of Higher Education and the author of Weaving Success: Voices of Change in African Higher Education, the story of a major 10-year initiative investing in African universities.