The number of women researchers in Africa south of the Sahara (SSA) rose in both absolute and relative terms between 2008 and 2014, according to the latest research on gender gap in agricultural research.
The research was conducted by Nienke Beintema, Head, Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
The research found that the increase is partly due to improved access to education for girls, which has resulted in more women enrolled in agricultural sciences, and sciences overall.
“Women play an important role in food production and provision in SSA, yet are underrepresented in the agricultural research community in many countries,” said Beintema, author of the study.
“Female researchers offer different insights from their male counterparts, and their input provides an important perspective in addressing the unique and pressing challenges of female farmers. Fewer women than men are trained, recruited, and employed in the agricultural sciences.
"Where they are employed, women researchers are often young and less qualified than their male colleagues. It is important that agricultural research agencies employ a balance of male and female researchers,” the reaseacher added.
Many African countries have begun making progress towards a gender balance in their agricultural research systems, however much work remains to be done.
According to the latest available data, an average of only 24 percent of the agricultural researchers in 40 African countries in the study were women.
This representation varies widely between countries. Some countries are much closer to reaching gender parity in agricultural research, particularly Lesotho, Mauritius, and Namibia, with women making up 40 percent or more of their researchers.
Other countries fall well below the average. In Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea, and Togo, between 6 and 10 percent of agricultural researchers were women.
These findings are drawn from IFPRI’s latest research, titled, “An Assessment of the Gender Gap in African Agricultural Research Capacities” published in a recent issue of the Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security.
In terms of level of educational qualification, among the 36 countries for which a complete set of degree-level data was available, only four had more than half of their agricultural researchers—women and men—qualified to the PhD level: Burkina Faso, Côte d‘Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal.
In contrast, 16 countries reported shares of PhD-qualified researchers of 20 percent or lower. Ethiopia, with only seven percent of its agricultural researchers qualified to the PhD level, recorded the lowest share among 36 countries.
Among PhD-qualified researchers, women made up on average 21 percent: slightly lower than the share of women in the total number of researchers (24 percent).
This lower share occurred in most countries in the study, with Burundi, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zambia showing a gap of 10 percentage points or more.
“Women are even less represented in high-level research and management positions and, as a result, have less influence in policy- and decision-making processes, which can further result in biased decision-making and priority setting,” said Beintema.
“A better understanding of the specifics of gender inequities and how they are exhibited will result in better policies addressing gender issues in agricultural research.”
Regionally, Africa south of the Sahara was ahead of South Asia (16 percent) but lagged behind 17 countries in Latin American (36 percent), nine in West Asia and North Africa (34 percent), and 32 in the European Union (~50 percent).
Overall, the study found 28 percent of agricultural researchers in 69 low- and middle-income countries were women.
The study identifies some possible reasons behind this inequality, including unequal access to basic education in developing countries, traditional beliefs on the role of women in society, the challenge of balancing work and family, gender discrimination, and often relatively lower salaries for women than for their male colleagues in similar positions.
"Gender policies are often not high on the agenda of many decision makers and there continues to be a lack of awareness of addressing the gender gap in Science and Technology," said Beintema.
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