Monthly Archives: March 2017

How are Higher Education institutions addressing gender issues?
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AuthorAID sponsored gender sensitization workshop creates gender awareness in the work of PASGR staff and partners in Nairobi.

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                                            – Blog post by Christine Laustsen, Programme Assistant, INASP

Women often face far more barriers in pursuing research and academic careers than their male counterparts. Constraining family expectations and balancing multiple roles as wives, mothers and researchers can negatively affect women’s academic career advancement. At institutional level barriers can often include policies that fail to address women’s needs, lack of senior female mentors, campus safety issues, and difficulty in breaking through the glass ceiling of promotion.

Over the last year INASP’s AuthorAID project has focused on supporting women in research to address gender inequality in academia.  As part of this work we have awarded a total of 22 grants to support researchers to present gendered research at conferences or organize a gender workshop in their own institution.

Raising the visibility of gender sensitive research

The AuthorAID gender travel grants have enabled researchers from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Palestine, Cameroon, India, Cambodia and Vietnam to travel to international conferences to present gendered research on a variety of topics. Our travel grants have supported researchers directly addressing gender inequalities in higher education as well as research on other topics with a strong focus on sex and gender differences.

Supporting researchers to raise the visibility of gender sensitive research is important in that it helps to ensure that research is inclusive and produces quality outcomes for men and women alike.

“It offered me the occasion to meet researchers, in the area, share ideas and obtain amazing contributions and new ideas on how to proceed with my PhD thesis. The conference was a revelation and the knowledge gained is not going to serve my personal career only but also my department.” – AuthorAID travel grant recipient

“Attending this conference offered me the opportunity not only to do a presentation but to also meet researchers in my area of interest…. My poster session was very engaging and fruitful as we discussed issues such as what specific gender differences occur with TB and whether gender affects treatment outcomes of patients. We also discussed issues around gender and TB in pregnant women.”

Kingsley Nnanna Ukwaja,  presenting research on gender differences in the profile and treatment outcomes of tuberculosis 46th Union World Conference on Lung Health

Increasing gender awareness within Higher Education institutions

Similar to travel grants, our workshop grants have enabled many researchers to conduct gender related workshops in their institutions. In the first two grant calls for gender workshops we invited applicants to submit a proposal for a workshop on any gender topic they found relevant to their institution. Receiving these proposals has given us an insight into priority gender issues and topics within higher education and research institutions of lower and middle income countries, thereby increasing our understanding of the needs and challenges many of our partner institutions face.

We have received applications mainly on gender mainstreaming in higher education for which we have awarded 7 grants. Other AuthorAID supported workshops have focused on gender based violence, gender inclusion in proposal writing, gender and agricultural development and women in STEM.

“Participants discussed the levels of gender equality, distinguishing between material inequality and that which often takes a subtle ideological and systemic form”. – Dr. Pauline Ngimwa from Partnership for African Social and Governance Research

These workshops have helped increase gender awareness and initiate institutional conversations about gender inequalities in academia and higher education.

 Putting plans into action

Workshops are a significant first step towards increasing awareness of gender issues and inequalities at institutional level. However, we also recognize the importance of taking this initial work forward. We have awarded follow-up grants to three of our recipients to enable the organization of further activities to build on outcomes and lessons learned:

  • Strategic Applications International in Kenya, who previously organized a policy conference to raise awareness of sexual and gender based violence at university campuses, has been awarded a second grant to work with university institutions to implement recommendations from the conference.
  • Institute of Computer Science at Mbarara University in Uganda will use a second grant to scale up work focused on increasing girls’ engagement in STEM.
  • Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) in Kenya is using a second grant to pilot training focused on gendering social science research.

Supporting such gender workshops helps us to increase our understanding of what it means to address gender issues and inequalities in academia at an institutional level. This is something we can build on in our other work focused on supporting women in research to address gender inequality in academia. ■

Find out more about how INASP supports gender mainstreaming in higher education.

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In their own words: challenges and opportunities for Tanzanian women researchers
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Women researchers from Dodoma University, AuthorAID project meeting, December 2016, Tanzania.
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– Blog post by Jennifer Chapin, Programme Manager, Research and Communication, AuthorAID

“Everyone had noticed the issues women faced but no one had talked about it before. Only when all of the women came together to discuss it as a group did they realise they all had the same experiences.” – Ruth Bottomley, discussing the Gender workshop at University of Dodoma, 2015

In December 2016, the AuthorAID team had the opportunity to talk to women researchers in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

We spoke to women who are senior lecturers, field researchers and teachers, from universities in Dar es Salaam and in other cities in Tanzania. They told us about their experiences and they spent time thoughtfully answering our questions. We were interested to know what obstacles they saw in progressing in their careers, and in what ways their experiences differed from their male counterparts.

Many women told us that the challenges start at home. Household activities are women’s activities and this means that weekends are full of laundry, cleaning dishes, cooking, looking after children and ensuring their children do their homework: “there is no time for taking online courses or doing experiments; weekends are taken up with children and chores.” This was chorused by other women who said that there are stereotypical views on “work for women” and “work for men.” Some told us about how their male supervisors were biased against the recruitment of women, explaining that women are not suited to do the field research needed because it involves dealing with livestock (“too difficult”) or collecting samples at night (“not right for women”).

Within universities and research institutes, women feel that the odds are stacked against them, so that they are already trying to catch up to men from the very start. Many told us that they had to work twice as hard to be recognized for achieving the same results. One academic told us that her supervisor criticised her paper harshly in front of a group of people in a way he would never have done if it had been a man’s paper instead. She said: “If it were a man he would have put it in a different way, because how would a man react to that statement?”. Other women shared similar situations, instances where their paper or data was disregarded because of their gender and because they were not seen as capable as men. “The data I collected was excluded from the final report,” she claimed.

Some women explained their feelings of loneliness being one in a small group of women in their male-dominated fields, particularly in the maths and sciences: “sometimes you realise you are the only woman there. There may only be one woman in 50 men.” This shows that women’s networks across institutions are crucial. Yet, many told us that groups or networks for women are rare, and so there are very few platforms for women to share their experiences with each other.

Most women also saw a gap in being able to access a female mentor, someone more senior in their field or university, “we could use a mentor – someone who has been there before.” In reality, very few of the senior women lecturers in their institution expressed an interest, or had the time, to mentor the younger generation.

With all of these challenges, many women still felt hopeful for the future, and they expressed an interest in developing women’s groups or networks, in empowering younger women in science, and in supporting women through the AuthorAID network by signing up as a mentor. One woman echoed the thoughts of all the women we met by expressing how she empowers herself, “I say to myself that ‘I give confidence to myself’ so that I feel confident that I have what I need to move forward despite the challenges.” ■

Find out more about gender gaps in higher education institutions in Tanzania: Why not me? Why not us? Tackling the gender gap in Tanzania, A video developed by INASP, in partnership with University of Dodoma (UDOM), Tanzania.

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