NRF Women's Month 2022: Dorothy Ngila

NRF Women’s Month 2022: Dorothy Ngila

Women’s Month 2022 is celebrated under the theme of “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future” and links to the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5) of Gender Equality by 2030. In celebrating Women’s Month 2022, the NRF reiterates its commitment to the support of women in the advancement of their careers, their establishment as researchers, as well as the support of research aimed at uplifting women.    

NRF’s Participation in Global Group Tipped to Boost Transformation

The National Research Foundation’s (NRF) involvement in the Global Research Council (GRC), a virtual organisation of national science and engineering funding agencies, is paying dividends in terms of facilitating the identification of strategies to grow gender equality within in local academia. The GRC provides a platform for heads of science and engineering funding agencies from around the world to discuss cooperation and funding practices. Sharing and analysis of data pertaining to funding dynamics also tops the list of activities at the GRC.

Dorothy Ngila, Director: Strategy Planning and Partnerships at the NRF, has represented the organisation for some years at the GRC. She is a member of the GRC’s Gender Working Group (GWG), a structure created in 2017 to advance and coordinate initiatives in support of promoting the equality and status of women in research, serving as the Committee’s de facto representative of the sub-Saharan Africa region along with her colleagues from Tanzania, Senegal and Zambia.

Ngila predicts that the GRC’s work around gender equality will have a lasting impact on the NRF, “Our involvement in the GRC has given us the opportunity for introspection as an organisation on whether the transformation document that we have put in place adequately addresses the issue of women in research. We have even advanced that topic a little bit to ask whether it is addressing the questions of equality, diversity, and inclusivity?.”

“The answer, we have found, is it has not addressed these areas adequately, and therefore the conversation that we need to have internally regarding equality, diversity and inclusivity is a document that accompanies the NRF’s transformation framework to be able to specifically spell out the interventions that need to be put in place.”

Ngila identifies the GRC’s 2016 report, entitled The Gender-Disaggregated Data at the Participating Organisations of the Global Research Council, as one contribution poised to improve gender equality in funding. She states that the study’s focus topic, the equality and status of women in research, was sparked by the consistent recognition that funding agencies are funding fewer women. Says Ngila, “When they fund women, they are funding women at grant sizes that are lower than those of men. When they fund team research, the team research is likely to be led by males.”

“Furthermore, the principal investigators of the majority of projects that are funded across the world are led by men more than women.”

The discussion was that if you are a funding agency and you are responsible for catalysing your national system of innovation, how do you deal with this particular issue? According to Ngila, it emerged in the study that some funding agencies did not have policies relating gender funding parity.

“Some councils lack the mechanism to collect the data or to analyse the data in a way that puts them on path to prioritise gender equality,” says Ngila. “The issue around data is very different because some countries are actually not allowed by law to collect certain data that would be so critical to informing them on how they could change the narrative.”

This is an area in which the NRF differs. The organisation collects the data for its transformation objectives.

Says Ngila, “One thing that I am proud of in terms of the NRF is that, statutorily, we are required to collect not just gender disaggregated data but also data pertaining to race, disability, socio-economic status. Data collection is one of the instruments that places the NRF in a position to be unapologetic about advancing the transformation agenda.”

“Other countries often find it a difficult and sometimes contentious issue. It can be a politically charged statement if you have to say that we must focus on race and gender,” adds Ngila. “In fact, I find that when we state that say we have ministerial quotas about who we must fund, certain organisations question our justification for it in our system.”

“I am proud that we’re being unapologetic about gender and other important issues.” Ngila asserts that the GWG is an important structure of the GRC in its efforts to deepen gender equality within academic funding across the member countries.

Adds Ngila, “The key responsibility of the GWG is to champion and support funding agencies looking to deepen their work on equality and status of women in research. It walks that journey with them, whether it’s supporting them to write policies or considering interventions.”

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