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At a recent workshop involving 13 African science granting councils it emerged that a deepening understanding of and commitment to the concepts of gender equality and inclusivity is starting to…

At a recent workshop involving 13 African science granting councils it emerged that a deepening understanding of and commitment to the concepts of gender equality and inclusivity is starting to produce tangible – and valuable – outcomes

A workshop in Cape Town saw  13 national science granting councils in Africa successfully present the first drafts of their Gender Equality and Inclusivity (GEI) transformation strategies intended for uptake in their respective grant-making cycles.

But the three-day session wasn’t all technical: council members were guided at the outset through a process of poetic inquiry which exposed some of their deeply held convictions about the need for social transformation and the personal and professional reasons behind their commitment to the project. They were also encouraged to invest in the process of sharing the story of their personal and professional journey with a wider audience.

Background and significance

The strategic action plans – the product of three days’ of intense dialogue, engagement and peer learning facilitated by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) – marked an important step in phase two of what is now called the Gender Equality and Inclusion (GEI) Project of the Science Granting Council Initiative II (SGCI 2).

The initiative is geared towards the creation of a GEI policy framework to guide councils in the process of developing frameworks for advancing gender equality and inclusion in their work.

The project, now in its fourth year, foregrounds the research grant-making cycle as a powerful tool for mainstreaming GEI concepts and approaches to bring about meaningful transformation, particularly in the Science Technology and Innovation research space, as well as in broader society.

Using a co-development approach, the project supports councils to develop policy frameworks that challenge the prevailing status quo in their respective countries but are at the same time attuned to local needs and context.

Council members received personalised and detailed feedback from Drs Ingrid Lynch (HSRC) and Lilian Hunt (Wellcome Trust) on their respective plans, which will form the basis of a more fully-developed framework.

Workshop highlights

  1. Exploring your ‘why’ for GEI and tapping into the power of storytelling

All representatives of science granting councils participating in the SGCI II Gender Equality and Inclusivity Project were asked to share their personal – and professional motivations – behind their work in the GEI space. This was an opportunity for participants to revisit the motivations behind their commitment to championing GEI in their home countries and share their vision for positive change.

Reasons offered ranged from: “I want to build a just society…” and “It’s the right thing to do”, to: “I want to make the world a better place” and more practical insights such as: “If we want to achieve our national development goals, it makes no sense to exclude women.”

Poetic inquiry is an arts-based methodology that can make research data more translatable, transferable, and accessible. Heidi van Rooyen, Group Executive of the Impact Centre  at the HSRC in South Africa, facilitated the co-creation of a poem by delegates to SGCI GEI Policy Framework workshop aimed at capturing some of the challenges of being a girl/woman in the STI arena.

Council members got to experience first-hand the power of poetry to give life to the lived realities that make gender equality and inclusivity work critically important in the first place when Professor Heidi van Rooyen (Group Executive: HSRC Impact Centre) facilitated a process of poetic inquiry.

The product of the inquiry was a poem, incorporating input from all delegates, which captured the myriad of challenges of being a girl/woman/marginalised person in the STI arena. Click here to access the full poem.

Director of Jive Media Africa Robert Inglis drew on a quote by Simon Sinek, a US writer and creator of the ‘Why’ model, to encourage delegates at the SGCI GEI Policy Framework workshop in Cape Town to ‘deep dive’ into the personal and professional motivations for working in the Gender Equality and Inclusivity space.

Understanding the ‘why’ behind one’s work is critical to sustaining motivation among science granting councils and achieving outside buy-in, he told delegates. Outlining the fundamental elements of storytelling, he encouraged council members to tap into the power of storytelling as a means to share the passion driving their commitment to GEI transformation with a larger audience, including stakeholders and funders.

  • ‘A deep dive into domains’ – An emphasis on finding treasure using useful tools

Dr Hunt provided an overview of the GEI policy framework and online tools available to councils. Participants were asked to begin to structure their strategic plans using five ‘domains’ in a matrix geared towards producing a country-tailored strategic plan that could integrate GEI into policy and practice across the cycle.

The five domains included the following:

  1. Definition of terms: This domain focused on developing clear definitions of GEI concepts that are readily available to applicants, evaluators and staff and are grounded in the country’s context, legislations, and policies. Hunt explained that a critical first step towards introducing GEI into research granting practices is understanding gender terms and concepts and their significance for research excellence because they provide the conceptual foundation for a GEI analysis.

“When everyone is on the same page, it reduces misunderstandings, promotes effective communication, and ensures that people implement policies and practices uniformly,” Hunt said.

  • Proposal guidelines for applicants: This domain focused on supporting research applicants, where relevant, to integrate a gender dimension in their research and gender equality in their teams.
  • Instructions for evaluators: This domain’s primary focus was on the important role of evaluators in promoting the integration of GEI considerations in research proposals within funding agencies and highlighted the requirement for evaluators to assess the quality of GEI and provide rationale and recommendations to applicants for improvement.
  • Training for applicants, evaluators and staff: This domain focused on the need for training for all relevant stakeholders. Since GEI analysis still needs to be institutionalized, funding agencies must be up to the task of filling in this gap until universities incorporate GEI into their research curricula, said Hunt.
  • Evaluation of policy implementation: This domain stressed the importance for councils to incorporate evaluation plans while developing policies to enable practical quantitative and qualitative assessment.

All council members were given time to engage with the five domains (diving to bring up pearls) in plenary. With support from facilitators, each council was then given time to use the tools provided to undertake the process of devising a plan (polishing the pearls). Thereafter, each council presented their plan (sharing the pearls) and received individualised feedback, with an emphasis on co-learning in a supportive environment.

Concluding thoughts

The workshop provided a remarkable space for learning, serious reflection and hard work. Each council team left the gathering armed with a well-considered framework for a new or improved strategic plan aimed at incorporating GEI into national operations. It was evident to facilitators that confidence in the capacity of council members to improve the mainstreaming of gender equality and inclusivity in their work has taken root – and is in fact building.

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