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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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