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Female researchers

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Researchers face many challenges but in some places these challenges can be more pronounced for female researchers because of additional cultural and other pressures. Four researchers who joined INASP staff at the recent Gender Summit Africa meeting in South Africa share their stories

Gloria Sakwari researches occupational health and occupational hygiene in Tanzania. Her research looks at occupational respiratory disease and its disease burden and occupational exposure to aerosols such as organic and inorganic dust.

‘At the moment many occupational exposures and their effects have not been studied or, if studied, have not been published. We do not have complete data for most occupational related diseases and injuries. We have no compiled data on respiratory diseases from occupational exposure. I believe that with studies from my area, we can improve on the real picture of the burden of occupation diseases and bring in measures to control or reduce the impact.

‘There are challenges as very few people are involved in this research. There are also few registered organisations or companies so we get problems when conducting research in these areas. Entry to the factory may be denied or only given after a long time of negotiations.

‘Another challenge is that research of this nature involves laboratory work. We do not have occupational laboratories in Tanzania yet and transporting samples to other countries has proven to be very expensive. This waters down the quality of research, especially in exposure studies.’

Elizabeth Michael Msoka studies gender issues in Tanzania. She lists her main challenges:

  • Inadequate support and cooperation from respondents: some respondents perceive the idea of being interviewed as disastrous so sometimes they request to be paid in order to participate in the interview;
  • Openness and transparency of respondents: some respondents, particularly women, are reluctant to respond to all or some of the questions. I think this problem is attributed to social cultural practices in some communities in my country where by a woman is not allowed to provide family information unless she get a permission from her husband;
  • Funds for conducting research: only small amounts of funding is allocated by government and other institutions for research therefore very little research is conducted in my country compared to other countries; and
  • Lack of access to up-to-date literature. This is partly due to poor internet access.

‘My plan for the future is to continue teaching gender-related courses, as well as conducting research in the areas of gender and small business development. I believe that addressing gender issues and promoting female entrepreneurship in a poor country like Tanzania is crucial in the fight against poverty.’

Hannah Oduro Obeng is a research scientist and nutritionist at the CSIR-Food Research Institute, Accra, Ghana, researching maternal and infant nutrition.

‘My research basically focuses on maternal and child nutrition, micronutrient fortification of staple foods and food product development. I also conduct nutrition and impact assessment studies.

‘With this line of research I hope to be able to impact positively on maternal and child undernutrition in Ghana using food products that are developed to be enriched with micronutrients. I believe using locally available food sources rich in these micronutrients will go a long way to curb many nutrient deficiencies and promote better life outcomes.

‘The main challenges will be research funding and gender issues. My plans for the future is to pursue further studies in my area of expertise (PhD in nutrition and food science) to enhance my chances of winning more research proposals and also to enhance my career prospects.’

Gloria Boafo-Mensah is a research scientist at the Institute of Industrial Research (CSIR) in Accra, Ghana, researching energy-efficient cooking.

‘The main theme for my research is energy efficiency (improved cook stoves and energy audits). The aim is to get a standard benchmark of efficiency for improved cook stoves in Ghana, such that only cook stoves of a certain efficiency would be allowed in to the country. This is to help reduce indoor air pollution associated with some stoves and also help save our forest which is dwindling because of its use as fuel for these stoves. Inefficient stoves use more fuel compared to efficient ones.

‘Energy audits are also conducted for industries and institutions in the country to help them cut down on waste in their electricity consumption and also recommend other renewable alternatives like solar. This has become necessary as the country is currently experiencing power outage problems.

‘The main challenge faced by researchers in Ghana is that we rely on donor funds or personal funds to conduct research. The government does not allocate funds for research; it only pays the salaries of the researchers.’