Africa: Gender Equality Should Be Part of Basic Science Training

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Science processes, policies and procedures can stifle women, especially where the patterns of their lives differ from men's. For example, women may be "early career" at an older age as a result of family responsibilities, potentially leaving them at a disadvantage in awards for "young scientists".

Promoting change

So how can change be promoted in a system where even core practices can support inequities?

Promoting women's visibility is one way: recognising women's contributions to science and helping them obtain collaborators by placing them on the world stage.

The L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme, for example, has identified and funded outstanding female researchers around the world.

And the Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World, given in conjunction with the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World and TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences), offer a cash award along with networking opportunities.

There are other ways of promoting visibility. Women can ensure they get proper credit for their work by having conversations about publication authorship (an important determinant of career progression) and agreeing ahead of time the terms of how contributions to publications will be assessed and recognised.

In addition, academic departments need to provide ways for women trainee scientists to access what they need to be successful, including networks and mentors.

Similarly, employers need to make such opportunities available through formal training programmes as well as access to important assignments.

Why it matters

A growing body of research documents the need to include gender considerations in research. There are many instances where sex or gender analysis has led to research or design breakthroughs. [2]

Women's input and gender perspectives can also inform the implications of research and its applications, such as how costs and benefits are distributed.

Other research points out the value of varied perspectives in promoting innovation. Education and training institutions would do well to consider the merits of diverse research teams, not just to address equal opportunity, but also to do quality work.

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