In June of 2015, a woman named Ameenah Gurib-Fakim finally shattered one of those glass ceilings we always talk about. Mauritius, a small island off the coast of Africa with a population of a little over 1.2 million, elected its first female president in a landslide. Since being elected, Gurib Fakim has been on a mission to further her efforts to strengthen her country.
After winning, Gurib-Fakim stated, “When the people voted, they voted for a package, they knew that they would have a lady president and yet they voted massively for a party that has not made any provision for constitutional change.”
Gurib-Fakim was the Vice Chairman of the Planet Earth Institute, which is an international NGO and charity that works to increase Africa’s scientific independence. On the Planet Earth Institute’s website they note that, “Africa’s scientific output is the lowest in the world. As a continent of over a billion people and more than 50 nations, it has been producing roughly the same amount of scientific research as the Netherlands for the last 20 years…Africa [has] the world’s lowest tertiary enrollment rate – of seven percent compared to a world average of thirty percent.” Their hope is to get more students around the world interested in STEM subjects at university.
Gurib-Fakim is also a former bio-scientist and has published over 28 scientific books. Science has been a huge part of her life since she was a little girl. She says, “I became interested in sciences at a very young age because I had motivated teachers who infected me with the virus of science. I went into sciences following my heart because passion was there. When I went back to Mauritius, I realized that the work I was doing in synthetic chemistry, the infrastructure wasn’t there and yet in the academic world you either publish or perish. I chose to publish. To publish novel things you have to have novel avenues.”
Mauritius’ first female president has outlined and followed her long-term plans to get the country back on track with the rest of the world. She is working to find better ways to generate more electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, and wave power.
She says, “It is good to have these possibilities exist because there is growing demand and that is why we’re trying to diversify.”
Recently, she visited MIT in order to talk about ways to strengthen the relationship between the institute and her country. While there, she discussed ways to improve and find sources for renewable energy sources.
According to an article published by MIT News, “MIT and Mauritius already have one working relationship established through MISTI’s Global Startup Labs program, which encourages entrepreneurship in developing countries. MISTI will begin partnering with Mauritius Telecom, starting this summer.”
As Gurib-Fakim brings her country to the forefront of the science world, she gives all little girls around the world a woman to admire, but most importantly she gives them hope. She is a symbol that the times are changing and the international glass ceiling finally has some more cracks.
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