Inspiring women and girls to become scientists in Mauritius


Dr Devika Saddul is President of the Mauritius Chapter of the OWSD and an Australian Awards alumna.

Women scientists in Mauritius are making great strides in advancing the country’s development, yet the community knows little of their contribution. It’s a situation the Mauritius Chapter of the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) is determined to change.

Dr Devika Saddul is President of the chapter and an Australian Awards alumna. With the backing of an Australia Awards Small Grant, Devika and five other female alumni scientists formed a coalition to promote women in science and technology, build science awareness and inspire young girls to think of science as a rewarding career.

“Some of our female scientists work in agricultural science, medical and health science, biological systems and organisms, as well as in chemical sciences,” says Devika. “Some have PhDs, are professors and working on complex science projects. Because of our education and experience as scientists, members are in a strong position to shift opinion by demonstrating the contribution we’re making in Mauritius.”

The OWSD is the first international forum to unite eminent women scientists to strengthen their role in the development process and promote their representation in scientific and technological leadership. A program unit of UNESCO, it was founded in 1987 and is based in Italy.

The chapter of like-minded alumni is hosted by the Food and Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (FAREI) in Mauritius, where Devika works as a Senior Research Scientist. It receives strong and ongoing support from the Australian High Commission which supports initiatives advancing gender equality, women’s economic empowerment, and women leadership, including in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

OWSD Mauritius timed its first-year anniversary as a chapter (February 2019) around high-profile events focusing on gender equality, including the International Day of Women and Science and International Women’s Day.

The celebration—a collaboration with the Australian High Commission and the Mauritius Ministry of Education and Human Resources, Tertiary Education and Scientific Research—saw female leaders share knowledge of nanotechnology, women in science in the developing world and STEM education. Chapter members also organised talks for college students around the theme “Youth, Science Education, Leadership and Career Perspectives”.

Chapter members have a busy program throughout each year, promoting science awareness and study in their home country in inspiring ways. Alumni rely on the skills and knowledge built while studying in Australia to network, host information and educational events, establish collaborations, conduct community outreach with young girls, and run workshops.

In November 2019, for example, the chapter worked with the Australian High Commission and experienced female science educators from Curtin Mauritius, an international campus at Curtin University, to host a workshop entitled “Using Inquiry to Create Integrated STEM: A Makerspace Project Based Approach.” Twenty-six primary and secondary school teachers attended, picking up knowledge around technologies that can help students learn more about STEM concepts.

Devika finds it rewarding to work with the Australia Awards alumni coalition—Bhamini Kamudu (Australian National University), Babita Dussoruth Jhuree (University of Queensland), Hemlata Kallydin (RMIT University), Rogheenee Davina Ellapen (University of Queensland), and Madhvee Madhou (University of Melbourne).

Devika says her Australia Awards experience was invaluable, both her Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Science, specialising in Ruminant Production, at the University of Queensland (1995), and the Australia Awards Short Course on Livestock she completed at the University of New England (2012).

Other alumni also rely on skills and knowledge gained while in Australia to underpin their OWSD work, including soft skills, leadership and communications, which strengthen their ability to tap into valuable networks. Bhamini, for example, is running the “Inspiring Scientist” program, fostering interaction between female students and female scientists from OWSD and motivating the students to choose science careers.

“Instead of focusing on our individual leadership skills, we’re demonstrating how connecting with likeminded alumni to interact around a common project is very powerful,” says Devika.   “We’ll continue to expand out networking activities, establish new collaborations and promote the important scientific research and other science work of women, confident that together we’ll make an even greater difference.”

Photo Credit: Dr Devika Saddul front right

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