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Women in southern African are being encouraged to study maths and science to contribute more to the socio-economic development of the region.

Studying these subjects would boost their involvement in decision-making that affects agriculture, food security and poverty alleviation, said delegates at the Southern Africa Mathematics and Science Association (SAMSA) meeting last Wednesday (30 November) in Malawi.

At present, a mathematics or science class in southern Africa has just two or three women for every seven or eight men.

The association agreed to encourage women to excel in science and maths, in accordance with recommendations made by 'Gender and Mathematics', a study conducted by SAMSA in the region.

Conference participants, including academics, policymakers and the media, drew up a strategy for women to become more involved in these subjects.

The plan involves a scholarship scheme for women who show scientific flair, on the condition that they use the awards to benefit others in the region. The association expects this will increase female representation in decision-making to 30 per cent by 2020.

Another issue high on the agenda was the need to tackle the misconception that science is difficult for women — a perception that discourages young girls from studying the subject at school.

According to the association's treasurer Dorothy Musekwa from Zimbabwe, SAMSA plans to organise sessions in primary, secondary and tertiary education institutes for female role models to inspire girls to study maths and science.

SAMSA promotes and teaches maths in the 14 member states of the Southern Africa Development Community.

The association also hopes to improve the quality of science and mathematics teaching in secondary education and universities in southern Africa.

Edward Lungu of the University of Botswana and chairman of SAMSA told journalists at the conference that the organisation had already trained six female maths and science students to MSc or PhD levels. "This is a record achievement," he said.