Farmlands, or agricultural landscapes, captures the interest of a number of researchers based at the Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University. On this blog we share information about research findings, activities, events and comments related to our work.

Our interest in farmlands has three roots: farming, landscape and society.
Farming as a practice, including farmers knowledge and labour investments
Landscape as society-nature relations, congealed history, and as space and place
Society as a short form for institutions, gender relations, political economy and scientific relevance

Most Welcome to FarmLandS!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

African female scientists: where are they?

During the conference of the Association of American Geographers which took place in Los Angeles between the 9th and 13th of April I took part to a panel on Feminist Critical Participatory Methodologies. I gave a short presentation on my work in Kenya and Tanzania involving the utilization of a pamphlet in Swahili to counter check with participants and informants findings and improve reciprocal understanding.

All in all the panel was great and I got a lot of inspiration to continue my work on this topic. Listening to the struggles and challenges faced by scholar colleagues employing participatory techniques was encouraging. I was impressed by the work done by Naya Jones  at the University of Texas through the network she co-founded Food for Black Thought about the impact of gentrification of East Austin. I thought the methodology of "minga" by prof. Yvonne Riano from the University of Bern relates quite closely to my use of the pamphlet. However, while discussing after the panel two questions came up: is participatory research only for marginalized groups? And why is the majority of participatory methodology literature produced in North America, aren´t these practices accepted within the European academy?

Most importantly, these questions made me reflect on the very limited presence of African female geographers at the AAG. During the conference I focused mostly on sessions about Eastern Africa, rural and feminist geography, but I did not come across research involving participatory methods with African women farmers. The only exception was the work by Dr. Wangui from Ohio University with female pastoralist in northern Tanzania.

I am convinced these two elements are related. Participatory research, as the AAG panel shows, is in fact mostly done by "insiders". The limited number of African female scientists is confirmed by the BBC podcast Sisters in Science  which focuses on women botanists and enthomologist at the University of Dar Es Salaam. As all women scientists all over the world they report the difficulties of juggling between work and family and how the support of their parents and husband was crucial to be able to succeed in having an accademic career. However, they stress, women in science are so few because the government investment in education and university is minimal.

Girls´ drop out is massive already in secondary school and if they reach the tertiary level they are stigmatized by their colleagues when they leave work early to take care of their children. Moreover, interviewees add "of the ones that went abroad to get their PhD very few came back". Sweden has invested 2 million SEK in the education of African PhD students and, as reported in this post by the NAI, a study is undergoing to evaluate the career paths taken by these scientists. What has emerged so far is indeed the challenge faced by women in dealing with family life and a PhD programme and the lack of academic resources in their home countries when they decide to return.

Hopefully this post triggers some reflections on this topic and widens the discussion with the participation of African women scholars themselves!

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