Report on the Round Table on “Women’s academic careers at African universities”, Dakar 14 November 2019
The Merian Institute of Advanced Studies Africa (MIASA), the German Historical Institute (IHA Paris) and the Heinrich Böll Foundation Senegal organized a round table on “Women’s Academic Careers at African Universities” on 14th November 2019 at the Confucius Institute at Cheikh Anta Diop University (UCAD) in Dakar. It was the public part of a workshop on women’s academic careers in Africa in which female researchers from eleven African countries participated. The workshop was organized by Dr Susann Baller (director of the Transnational Research Group “The Bureaucratisation of African Societies” (TRG IHA-CREPOS)), Dr. Laure Carbonnel (Postdoc at the TRG IHA-CREPOS) and Dr Selly Bâ (program leader for gender and democracy at the Heinrich Böll Foundation Senegal). The three main speakers, Prof. Fatoumata Hâne (University of Assane Seck Ziguinchor), Prof. Nana Charlotte Wrigley-Asante (University of Ghana) and Prof. Lydia Rouamba (INSS/CNRST-Ouagadougou), were invited to present their research on women in African societies, to reflect on their own academic career as a female scholar and to share examples of how they had been able to promote their career and which strategies had been helpful, in particular, in terms of networks and mutual support. Moreover, the round table raised the issue of how gender equity in different academic environments is approached and how it is treated in the context of teaching and meetings.
After a short introduction by Dr Susann Baller, Claudia Simons, interim director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation Senegal, gave an introductory talk on the subject: According to her, networks between men would actively prevent women from taking up positions of responsibility. Internally, women would think that their work is not worth the same as those of men. She appreciated the opportunities the workshop offers, especially to promote solidarity among female researchers and for academic networking. She encouraged the creation of knowledge on gender relations and the women to take a stand: They should not wait for others to do it for them.
The welcome address was given by Prof. Mariame Hady Wane Ly, director of the Cultural and Scientific Events department of UCAD and senior lecturer in American and Caribbean Studies and English at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Cheikh Anta Diop University. She drew on the multiple challenges women in academia face, e.g. access to university positions or dealing with different roles – in her case being a spouse, mother and professor at the same time. To illustrate this, she explained that before arriving at the office, she already took care of the kids, the laundry, instructed the maid, checked on lunch and dinner etc. and arrives at the office exhausted by this time, whereas male colleagues typically would not face the same. According to her, this is the reason why women may take twice or triple the amount of time a man takes to write a paper. Speaking about career development, Prof. Wane Ly stated that she wrote her thesis while breastfeeding her baby. Nevertheless, she encouraged the women in the audience to not forget that there are hundreds of women who don’t have access to a higher-ranking career and that they should take part in creating new mechanisms. In addition, she said that against all odds she would never want to take up another job: While teaching students, she can sow something in them that could never be erased.
Prof. Fatoumata Hâne of Assane Seck University of Ziguinchor is a professor for social anthropology and public health, and active in the local governance and feminine leadership. She shared her career development in a challenging and very masculine environment, which was underlined when she got her first position as the only female professor there. She warned the women in the audience not to reproduce the same schemes of behaviour and domination as their male colleagues. To illustrate this, she raised two questions: Do women also refrain from giving scholarships to young female students because they suspect them to get pregnant and have kids? Are women in academia reproducing discriminatory behaviour towards their female colleagues because they experienced it themselves? Another problematic theme would be the faculty board or rectorate elections in universities: As men were in a prevailing majority, Hâne said, the results of the vote were predetermined in favour of men. Nevertheless, she pointed out that one couldn’t think of women’s careers without men: she called the Senegalese society a patriarchal society but said that it was also men who founded universities. Prof. Hâne also observed that she did not get a lot of support from women during her career development, but rather from male professors and her husband. For her, there should be no (social) pressure on women to get married and have kids. She also called for the establishment of female forms for titles like maître, professeur etc. and childcare services at the university and mentioned mentoring as key support for women.
Prof. Nana Charlotte Wrigley-Asante from the University of Ghana (UG) is an Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy. Her area of specialization is human geography with a focus on gender and development issues. She pointed out some achievements at her university regarding gender as a topic. Gender studies seminars are obligatory for all UG students at the beginning of their studies in order to sensitize them to the topic. Gender-related questions are also integrated into many curricula. Moreover, the proportion of male/female student admission at UG has become more balanced. In the university’s top management are a lot of female leaders, whereas the number of female professors is still low. Hence there are achievements, yet she also highlighted the multiple roles and responsibilities women have and the difficulties that come with it. Not being able to stay after 4 pm because of her kids, she concluded: “You just have to work extra hard, but we have the power!” As strategies, she suggested creating a good work plan and making use of early mornings in the office without disturbance and working late at night. She also sees the support of her family for her work as crucial. In this regard, she stated that if women are economically empowered, it would give them self-confidence and possibly leadership roles, which can also lead a husband to think that the woman is challenging his household position. In her opinion, this process should always go hand-in-hand with sensitizing men about the importance and need to empower women. Among the strategies for women, she suggested mentoring, networking with women in other departments and disciplines, but also working with like-minded men and publishing together with them.
Dr Lydia Rouamba is a researcher at the Institut des Sciences des Sociétés (INSS) and at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique et Technologique in Ouagadougou. She is in the social sciences and specialised in gender. Regarding her career development, she stated that twenty years passed between her graduate degree and the completion of her PhD because at first, she couldn’t obtain a scholarship, then she took on leadership positions in bilateral cooperation and chose to be a mom twice, abandoned the thesis in the meantime, but finally defended it in 2011. She partly studied abroad and had to manage the household remotely and had to entrust her children to her mother, which landed her criticisms. Regarding her strategies, she emphasized having a supportive husband and that the more support one has privately, the easier it is to handle all the challenges. Compared to her situation at the very beginning of her career, she thinks that women today have much better access to scholarships which do not require going overseas. Regarding the fight for women’s rights, she stated that men feared those involved because they were afraid to see their advantages decrease. In 2015, only 6% of university professors in Burkina Faso were female. Even though there have been efforts regarding gender at universities, she noticed that there was still much work to do and that feminists wouldn’t get acknowledged. She declared herself to be a feminist and invited her audience to be self-confident, not afraid and to not fear making mistakes. She encouraged female scholars to network, to write articles together, show solidarity and to take part in research groups to mutually enrich each other.
The following discussion was rich and raised further questions about the female researcher’s roles in family and professional contexts, but also addressed the issue of how to deal with and to improve work-life balance in academic environments as female and male researchers together. Those questions could be re-addressed and further discussed in future workshops, which may focus on gender, generation and work-life balance.