Appreciating the critical role of women in science to transform Africa
By Austin Phiri
Chief Agricultural Research Scientist, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Malawi
2019 One Planet Laureate Candidate
Austin Phiri uses his extensive knowledge to promote the adoption of climate-smart technologies to help farmers in Malawi become more resilient to climate change. His work includes investigating and promoting legumes to improve soil fertility and intercropping maize with pigeon pea and groundnut to enhance nitrogen use efficiency. Phiri, who has a PhD in Soil and Water Management, has advanced into increasingly senior agricultural science roles throughout his career and is now keen to improve his skills in delivering gender-responsive research through the One Planet Fellowship.
Women in science have a critical role to play in advancing gender equality in Africa and the continent’s development. In science, they bring unique perspectives, knowledge, and skills. Yet they often do not have a seat at the decision-making table and have few leadership prospects, remaining mostly subservient to the men who hold those positions. This situation, in turn, means they have limited opportunities to influence future research agendas. Participating in the One Planet Fellowship has helped me understand this and why it is critical to empower women scientists to find solutions to global challenges like climate change.
I have learned that gender-inclusive agricultural research policies would make science much more attractive to women and lead to greater recruitment and retention rates. It would remove barriers and create an enabling environment for innovation to flourish, benefiting society at large. Inclusive policies catalyze active participation by different groups on different levels that go a long way to ensuring that institutions can deliver on their mandates. Yet all too often, their voices, and the voices of other marginalized groups, are overshadowed by those of men. For this to happen, all scientists, including men like me, must embrace inclusivity and not just in the workplace.
We must also build our capacity to carry out gender-responsive research. The One Planet Fellowship has taught me why this is important. Women and marginalized groups often carry an enormous burden on agricultural production, yet it is unrecognized, and research fails to meet their needs and challenges.
The mentoring and support I have received through the fellowship so far have been invaluable for my work.