SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
15 February 2018
Volume 19 Issue 2

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SETAC Africa Womens Event – Calabar 2017

Beatrice Opeolu, Cape Peninsula University of Technology; Gertie Arts, Wageningen University & Research; and Tara Sabo-Attwood, University of Florida

The SETAC Africa Women’s Event (SAFWE) was organized to create a safe place for women who participated at the SETAC Africa 8th Biennial Conference to discuss issues and challenges that are specific to women in science. The event was facilitated by Beatrice Opeolu, Gertie Arts and Tara Sabo-Attwood.

SAFWE participantsThrough the use of crowdfunding, we raised approximately $4,000, which was awarded to women as grants to attend the SETAC Africa 8th Biennial Conference in October 2017 in Calabar, Nigeria. Thirty-eight grants were awarded and covered the costs of meeting registration, the SAFWE event and a one-year SETAC membership. An additional five women registered for the meeting on-site, bringing the total to 43 participants.

Arts presented a talk titled “Challenges and opportunities for women in science- a European perspective.” Although young women in OECD countries have generally a higher performance in education than young men, women are less likely than men to engage in full-time paid work. Disparity widens with age as motherhood typically has marked negative effects on gender pay gaps and career advancement. Furthermore, women are also less likely to be entrepreneurs, and they are underrepresented in private and public leadership positions. Overall, progress has been slow and there is a strong need for further policy action to close gender gaps in education, employment, entrepreneurship and public life.

Sabo-Attwood connected with the group via Skype video call, and she gave an overview of “Challenges and opportunities for women in sciences – a U.S. perspective.” A recorded presentation was aired, and participants interacted with her following the presentation. She reiterated that situational analysis of gender equality in Europe is very similar to that of the United States. However, the U.S. lags behind most developed societies and ranks 20 out of 142 countries in the global equality index. Gender violence, forced or early marriages, systemic exclusion from socio-economic and political leadership positions are some issues of concern in the U.S. and globally. Women are as ambitious and intelligent as male counterparts but often lack confidence. Therefore, they need supportive environments and women role models to succeed. Women in leadership positions were urged to give younger women opportunities to grow.

An African woman’s experience and perspectives was shared by Opeolu. She gave a presentation titled “Roadmap to a fulfilling and rewarding career in environmental sciences.” She highlighted some challenges such as male gender preference for educational opportunities by an average African parent, the “octopus woman” factor, which refers to the many “arms” that juggle expected roles and responsibilities outside of work, workplace challenges, for example, a woman needs to work harder to prove competencies, access to resources for personal growth, challenges and sacrifices necessary to make decisions for balanced personal and career choices. A clear vision on a desired future, goal-setting and strategies for achievement, choices, emotional intelligence, peoples’ skills, team playing, pragmatism and spirituality are some attributes that have been helpful for her career growth.

Participants were arranged into groups and asked to list twenty important things in their lives, discuss and rank them in order of priority. The top four priorities for most women in the four groups were family, health, financial freedom and career, in that order. The 5th to 10th rankings differed for the groups and included spirituality, beauty, adventure, marriage, charity, leadership, etc.

SAFWE participation surveyDiscussions among the participants showed that irrespective of background, culture or geography, the perceived challenges were very similar.

A post-workshop evaluation questionnaire appraised the relevance of the event to participants. A summary of the feedback is presented in the figure to the right.

All participants expressed an interest in having this event be a regular feature at SETAC Africa meetings. A few would like it opened up to male participants so that they can understand the challenges of women colleagues. Some lessons learned included the wish of many women to have and become mentors, acquire competencies, be visionary, stay focused, have a role model and to increase resilience in the midst of challenges.

At future events, participants want to be further trained in a vast array of topics. These include scientific writing, grant-winning proposal writing, career mapping, hands-on risk assessment, maternal and child nutrition toxicology, among other relevant topics.

On behalf of the awardees of the SAFWE travel grant, we express our gratitude to Jen Lynch, Charles Menzie, Bart Bosveld, Veerle Vandeveire and all SETAC Europe and North America staff that helped with the crowdfunding and selection of beneficiaries. Participants also acknowledged and appreciated all the people who contributed to the fund, and we hope to have sustained relationships with them.

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