Interview with Prof. Philomina Okeke-Ihejirika of the Department of Women's and Gender Studies, University of Alberta, Canada and Director, Pan African Collaboration for Excellence (PACE), University of Alberta.
You are the Director of the Institute. What are the aims of this annual Institute?
Yes. I recognize and appreciate the honor of serving in this capacity. It is an important initiative which brings 15-20 postgraduate students and emerging scholars across Africa to CODESRIA every year. The main aim of the institute is to expand their knowledge about gender and feminist scholarship - as a crucial mandate for African institutions of higher learning. Gender is an integral facet of everyday life and new knowledge that helps us to understand how it operates in different situations can go a long way in enhancing women and men's lives. The institute introduces these laureates to the world of feminism, various approaches to generating feminist knowledge about gender and its intersections with other variables that mediate our lives such as class, religion and race. By providing this forum, CODESRIA is laying the groundwork for developing communities of new scholars that will build on the works of senior scholars in the field. The Gender Institute includes conversations on how they can develop their ways of thinking and document knowledge that could address social inequities, particularly in African contexts.
The theme of the 2018 Gender Institute is "Feminist Scholarship, Universities and Social Transformation in Africa" Why?
The Gender Institute usually focuses on a particular topic identified by CODESRIA and the director. Often the topic has a bearing on the director's area of expertise, based on which he or she designs the program. For this year we decided to interrogate the contributions, limitations and prospects of feminist scholarship in the continent in term of its impetus to spur social transformation. This shift was necessary for a number of reasons: first, such an inventory has not been taken for a number of decades and it seems befitting as well as strategic to undertake it before we wade too far into the 21st century. Second, the nature and forms of feminist scholarship and activism in Africa have been impacted by many factors within and outside the continent. A conversation is long overdue in terms of charting the path for future directions; these aspiring scholars should be at the forefront of this debate. Most importantly, feminist knowledge and activism in Africa may not have grown in leaps and bounds yet but the much we see clearly show that it has the potential to produce new ways of thinking that could make our society a better place for all. Our young scholars should be the torch bearers interrogating what has been produced, seeking out relevant sights for producing new knowledge and promoting its potential to empower the vulnerable in society.
What are the highlights of this Institute?
Previous Gender Institutes featured scholarly presentations by the director and resource persons, conversations with laureates and sessions in which laureates present and refine their proposals with a view to develop them into manuscripts for publication. The Gender Institute generates a publication which consists of a collection of the works of laureates that meet the stated quality and standards put in place by CODESRIA. This year is unique in many ways. Beside the noted highlights, we expanded the section on graduate training. We took time to work on basic research skills, introduced them to relevant feminist traditions and histories so that they can effectively engage the topic for this year. Most importantly, CODESRIA' choice of three scholars with different areas of expertise not only made our deliberation robust but also challenged laureates to look beyond the university in their search for the discovery and generation of feminist knowledge.
What are you expectations from the Institute?
I believe that the exposure to feminist scholarship, skills gained and relationships in the making at this year's Gender Institute will not simply produce a publication. From what I've seen so far, both the laureates and us the resource persons have learnt a lot. It's exciting to see the laureates articulate complex feminist ideas and advance their critical thinking skills from day to day. I'm convinced that this Gender Institute will chart the path for a broader conversation on the future of feminist scholarship in our universities, one that will not only include feminist scholars but also our policy makers and the managers of these institutions.