Features Roselyne Sachiti, Editor of Health and Community
Women on the African continent face numerous obstacles that hinder their progress in research and development (R&D).
This has led to the worrying under-representation of women scientists in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that in 2013, female researchers in R&D exceeded the global average in Central Asia (47 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (44 percent), Central and Eastern Europe (40 Arab countries (37 percent) and North America and Western Europe (32 percent) and Sub-Saharan Africa (30 percent),
The share of women researchers engaged in research and development is much lower in South and West Asia (19%) and East Asia and the Pacific (23%).
If supported, women scientists must do important work in the development of the African continent. At the conference of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) recently held in Dakar Senegal, African women in science shared their experience in research and development.
Millicent Liani from Kenya is a Emerging Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) African Initiative Research Fellowship Program at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM).
Part of her research examines gender bias within DELTAS programs in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa in relation to obstacles to women's career development in research.
Lianni says women scientists face many complex intersecting issues that involve individual, social cultural and institutional and political levels.
"Women in science need to strike a work-life balance, meaning they have limited time to focus a lot on science.
"In an African context, women are expected to marry. In sub-Saharan Africa, the mid-20s and 30s. At that time, women were already developing their careers in postgraduate education and even in doctoral studies.
"During this time, there is even pressure from family and society. There are negative stereotypes about women that prioritize their research careers over family, ”explains Lianni.
This, in her opinion, becomes difficult for women.
"If they are married, some are torn between them. They finish their doctor and feel they have two balls to balance. Some think they have a career that is like a rubber ball that they can miss at any time and it can bounce back to them and advance in their careers.
"Marriage and the family are turning into a glass ball. Women may think that if they miss him, he will break and they will lose everything. The balancing act really becomes a big challenge for these women. "
According to Liani, a woman must fight 10 times more than men in order to break and move to a senior research and even scientific leadership position.
"Science calls for international scientific mobility, and some women may have challenges attending gatherings where they can network and collaborate where they can get information on when to apply for future grants.
"They can also miss networks in terms of collaboration and publications.
"As such, women tend to have less social capital than men," she notes.
The time it takes for science leaves women with limited time to move up and develop to what is defined as a standard science career.
"You have to publish, be visible there with regard to the communications of your science, and you must also attract grants.
"These grants support your salary and research.
"In terms of time needs, women tend to be abandoned. For example, once you are done, you should return home. At work, you turn on the work button, when you get home, you have to turn off that button and go to the home search button, "she said.
Under the DELTAS program, Africa had a fair distribution of research grants between men and women.
"We are taking advantage of this in terms of research training and providing career training for them in terms of grant writing and support. Women pair with career mentors who know how to write scholarships and get the right associates to help them raise them. "
Mentors are both women and men and, as Lianni says, in science, women need a career mentor and a psychosocial mentor.
“You need someone who listens and helps with career issues, one who listens and helps deal with psychosocial and personal problems.
"These can be questions about work life balance. How do you juggle this as a woman in terms of career advancement? "
African women face a number of challenges that require solutions in Africa, especially in health. Such problems can easily be solved by women scientists and researchers.
"Women have potential. Just like men, women need to come up with innovative ideas for developing innovations that benefit the continent.
"What prevents us is the inability to deal with the issue of power relations."
Liane called for increasing the number of women in scientific leadership. In her opinion, this will give a good picture of young emerging scientists.
"There is this view from younger scholars that most women who have done so have had to sacrifice their careers or marriages.
"The number of women must be increased. We do not understand some of the social processes and drivers that drive inequalities. From a policy perspective, there should be childcare policies in science. This takes the form of better maternity and family leave policies, as well as travel. "
After 10 years, it envisages female scientists to take up research positions in research.
Zimbabwean scientist Zvifazo Matsena Zigoni, who is currently pursuing doctoral research at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, is a female researcher who has seen everything.
She is at the Continuing Biostatistics Training Consortium (SSACAB) for the continent of DELTAS Africa.
Her research topic focuses on “Monitoring the progression of HIV disease among adult patients with ART in Zimbabwe: multi-country Markov models” using both common and Bayesian models.
She says her research is critical to understanding the models of ART outcomes after decentralization of ART services, models of patient transition in the recovery process, the spatial distribution of ART results across the country and the effectiveness of ART in terms of point of the patient.
According to Zingoni, women researchers need support because they face different challenges.
"I got married shortly after completing my master's degree. I had this qualification quite cool because I thought I had achieved something that I think many people can achieve.
"I always wanted to keep learning. While meeting my current husband, Nathan Zingoni, we might be joking about how much I want to do a PhD. When I got married, I decided I had accomplished everything I wanted. I didn't want the other pressures that come with studying and pursuing my studies, "she reveals.
During the trip, Zigoni says her husband supported her and encouraged her to continue pursuing her dreams.
"If you are married, it would be good to have spousal support. There are challenges in our African culture that come with the extended family and can bring women down. Having children, the daughter-in-law's roles that one has to play, complicates the balance, "she explains.
To overcome gender gaps in research, women need to be at the forefront.
"There are some things we are afraid to do, but we are capable of doing.
"Do we take the first step in certain things before men come before us? Sometimes we may feel as though men are doing better, but if we have equal chances, we can still pursue the same thing and women can do well, "she explains.
Prisca Ndur from Senegal is a veterinarian with a specialization in epidemiology and risk assessment.
She is a Fellow of the Afrique One-ASPIRE Research Consortium.
Her research theme is "Integrated regional approaches and the use of new tools to eliminate rabies in Africa."
She says her goals are to develop development and on-site verification of a practical monitoring system and inexpensive tools for both rapid diagnosis and innovative vaccine storage systems.
Looking back on your experiences, being a young student is not a walk in the park.
"Being a woman scientist means a lot of sacrifices. When you are a woman, at some stage people will start to ask when you will get married and have children, etc. At the same time, men avoid meeting women in science because they think we don't have time for them. It's difficult, "says Ndur, 38, who is single.
She added that in order to improve the number of women in science, men need to be sensitized.
"Even if they are researchers, African-American men have difficulty understanding women scientists and researchers. I recently spoke with someone who holds a PhD but decided to stop studying because she wanted to get married. Her fiancé complains that she has always been to university, attended training, traveled to international events, etc. Her fiancé told her to make a choice between him and her career. She chose it.
"Women in science face challenges. There is rarely a woman who is satisfied with her work and home. One of my colleagues is about to divorce, ”she explains.
Despite the challenges, Ndour enjoys his job.
"I like what I do and I like it. Makes me happy. Since I was in high school, I was patient. "
The director of the Afrique One-ASPIRE consortium, Professor Basiru Bonfo, believes that no one should be excluded from a career in research based on academically irrelevant factors such as gender.
He said they encourage applications, especially by women and people with disabilities.
He said: "When I was the director of the institute, we received a grant and hired men and women. One month after signing the contract, my wife came to my office, crying that she was pregnant and wanted to know if I could keep her on the program.
"She was surprised when I greeted her and told her I was happy for her. She requested that we stop providing her with a stipend for nine months to one year so that she could continue when she returned. This meant that her thesis would be delayed. We consulted our board and extended the thesis to all women up to four years. "
From paying nannies for traveling nursing mothers as a way to ensure that women do not miss important scientific meetings, it seems that Afrique One-ASPIRE is doing well.
"We ask women to tell us how they want to help them. This year, I have four girlfriends with new babies and we support them, "he adds.
Minister for Higher Education, Research and Innovation in Senegal, Hon Cheikh Oumar Hanne, says they have integrated gender into science education and women are better off than their male counterparts, as the admissions courses prove.
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