One lonely voice for the link between nuclear energy and gender equality
Johannesburg, 21 December 2021 – What is the relationship between environmentally friendly energy and gender equality?
While at first glance, these issues are far apart, in fact, there’s an immediate and growing connection between them. Indeed, more and more young African women associate their professional careers with nuclear energy – a vital power source for the future of the African economy. We are privileged to learn about this connection firsthand in a conversation with Princy Mthombeni, a nuclear communication specialist, Africa4Nuclear Founder & Host and a Women in Nuclear Global Excellence Award 2021 Winner.
When the name obliges
“The nuclear sector was a calling for me as I never planned for it, – Princy confesses at the very beginning of our interview. – It just happened that I found myself there. However, I have always believed that in any role that I am privileged to serve, I should commit fully and do my job well.”
Before even earning her first degree in Marketing Management and landing a job at the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), Princy decided that she wanted more than just a great career in the nuclear industry. Then she took it upon herself to learn more about the industry and joined associations such as Women in Nuclear South Africa and African Young Generation in Nuclear as a Board Member.
Over time she became a Nuclear Advocate and found herself inspired less by compensation and job titles, and more by the opportunity to be part of something that can positively impact humanity on a grand scale.
“I believe nuclear energy is the most valuable technology on this planet, which can, and ultimately will be the reason millions of African people can live secure, healthy, happy and fulfilling lives”, Princy insists.
Breaking All the Stereotypes
Nowadays, Princy Mthombeni advocates for human rights through promoting peaceful uses of nuclear technology, for the benefit of humankind. As you might guess, this is by no means an easy task for the African continent, where only one nuclear power plant, Koeberg near Cape Town, is in operation, and new proposals for the development of nuclear energy are facing various obstacles. Number one is ignorance: many people simply do not know about the opportunities of nuclear energy and believe in various myths about it instead.
But spreading the positive message about nuclear technology is still a challenge not only in Africa but across the globe, Princy highlights.
“So, I made it my responsibility to educate and inform the public about the benefits of this incredible technology, – she continues. – Ask me if it is worth it and I will say looking back now, it is worth every moment spent. I have travelled the world and been in every province of this beautiful nation, South Africa. Now that I’ve had the privilege of being called a Nuclear Communication Expert, I am more grateful for the day I landed that job at Necsa, because it led me to this, where I find myself in the middle of something truly worthwhile, and I love it”.
Taking part in many events worldwide, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Women in Nuclear Global, World Nuclear University Summer Institute, African Youth Nuclear Summit of AYGN, and many more, allows Princy to have her own vision of how to promote nuclear in Africa and elsewhere.
First step, according to Princy, is to understand how people are deprived of knowledge, especially when it comes to things that matter most about improving the economy and their lives. Nuclear technology is one of those sectors where people are deprived of knowledge, especially the public.
That’s why the leadership, especially in public opinion, matters. But Princy specifies, she learned that leadership is not just about titles but more about the ability to influence, which is spreading the passion one has for their work and to inspire those around them. Most importantly, leadership is about making a difference within our societies.
Through travelling and being part of diversified groups such as AYGN she was able to broaden her mind and extract valuable life lessons that she could not have learned by just sitting in her home country.
Her next plan is to go to Sochi, Russia for the International Youth Nuclear Congress (IYNC). Then Princy expects to visit Egypt for the UN COP27 global summit on climate change next November. This is expected to be a vital event for the global nuclear industry, which becomes an even more important element in the process of energy transition.
“In Egypt I can continue where I left off at COP26 in Glasgow this November which is to spread the message of nuclear as part of the solution to achieve the goal of net zero carbon emission by 2050 while improving the lives of people, especially Africans”, Princy comments.
The Medium Is the Message
In order to close the gap that persist between the industry and the general public, new and exciting ways to improve communication in the nuclear industry are still needed. For this reason, Princy contributes a lot into the channel Africa4Nuclear, where she personally tells the audience about circular economy, climate change and other issues and also conduct interviews with professionals, such as professors and experts in the nuclear energy sector.
This is another big narrative of Princy’s career. After becoming a part of Stand Up For Nuclear global network, she learned a lot about what other professionals are doing in their own countries including posting educational videos on social networks. Then she had to think of ways to develop such strategies and make a content that speaks to African audience.
“While I was still conceptualizing it in my mind, the IAEA and ANSTO training course came and we were tasked with a major assignment where we have to develop and implement a “big” awareness campaign in our countries, be it under an organization or an association, – Princy argues. – Then the idea of educational videos came to life and Africa4Nuclear was born. I therefore chose to implement this concept under AYGN as I am in charge of their communication. That’s how Africa4Nuclear was founded.”
Her further plan is to collaborate with other African countries in their outreach programmes. The goal is to take Africa4Nuclear to schools and communities across Africa and include television in the strategy.
“I’m a creative person by nature – ideas run through my brain full time, 24 hours a day, – Princy explains. – As a South African coordinator for Stand Up For Nuclear, I also have plans to grow this project further. But all that depends on the availability of resources and support. I promise you, if I had means and support, I would take nuclear advocacy to another level here in Africa. Recently, I recited a poem titled “Africa4Nuclear” which the video will be out soon, watch this space lol.”
As a humanitarian at heart, recently she founded an NGO called “Ultimate Dream Foundation” which aims to provide educational opportunities for youth, especially young women, and empower them to become leaders of change. Moreover, currently Princy is doing a Regional Course on Supporting Women for Nuclear Science and Education and Communication (W4NSEC), offered by the IAEA.
The fact that women represent fifty percent (50%) of the world’s population and yet gender inequality still persist is a sad but true reality and we should be even more concerned, Princy insists. So, her message in inter-gender communication is quite clear: gender balance issues should not be only reserved for “Women’s Day” celebrations.
Historically, nuclear was a sphere of co-operation between men and women. To name a few cases, Maria Skłodowska, a wife of famous French physicist Pierre Curie, was a first-ever woman to win a Noble prize for their joint efforts in the study of radioactivity.
Princy implores industry leaders to implement strategies that will effectively drive gender-balance as well as raise awareness and eliminate the stigma’s and stereotypes that currently limit women and girls in pursuing careers in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
“Women also need to empower themselves and position themselves to take up opportunities when they become available. Incompetence should not be encouraged in the name of ‘gender equality’,” Princy notes.
The nuclear industry offers women various career possibilities, she adds. If a girl is good at mathematics and science in school and is willing to work hard in university, this will allow her an opportunity to work towards a successful and meaningful career as a nuclear scientist or engineer. Furthermore, there are other careers in the nuclear industry such as, nuclear law, and nuclear communication which do not require a background in science or engineering.
But scientific expertise is not the whole story. Young women, as Princy recommends, need to develop competency in many aspects of daily living to successfully navigate the world, including communication skills, self-advocacy skills, peer negotiation skills and social skills. They also need stress management skills which will prepare them to handle life’s discomfort and challenges in ways that build strength and resilience.
The latter is of special importance for African women. “Growing up poor, I shoulder the responsibility of breaking a cycle of poverty within our communities by doing my share in creating a world where no one is left behind and everyone can live with dignity and opportunity, – Princy summarizes. – I know this sounds crazy neh? And yet, there is quite a lot that I’m planning and wouldn’t want to divulge more at this current stage, least I jinx myself. I’m an African after all.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Rosatom.