Introducing Doctoral Candidate: Leul Tadesse Sidelil

Gender Inequality Issues in Science and Technology in Higher Education in Ethiopia.

Leul asks: Where are the women and where are we heading without them?

In October 2016, the Ethiopian Government declared a state of emergency after growing protests against human rights abuses.

Ten months later, in August 2017, it was lifted before the country was again thrown into a state of emergency early this year.

PhD Candidate Leul Tadesse Sidelil was in Ethiopia in October 2017 to explore the question of gender inequity and women’s representation in the Higher Education field of Science and Technology.

Universities were largely occupied by soldiers and the people he was there to interview were in a state of fear and distrust, especially in the face of outsiders.

Ethiopia has two public Science and Technology universities which are both centrally located in and near the capital Addis Ababa.

Leul conducted his research with Government officials, University staff and female students over the course of three and a half months.

He used a snowball method to find his participants.

What this means is that he asked each person he interviewed for other people they thought might be interested in being interviewed.

This worked well in the context of having to exist alongside soldiers, growing protests and increasingly empty universities.

He says:

The snowball approach gave students the confidence to take part.

His already established social networks and the rapport he was able to build with the people he did interview were also crucial to his research method.

While it is still early days in terms of clear findings, there were many things he found fascinating.

From a policy perspective the Government sees the lack of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) related fields as an issue of lack of interest and awareness about what STEM can offer young women in terms of a career.

However Leul, found that there is a mismatch between Government approaches to the issues and the everyday reality of the women he interviewed.

He observed an absence of women in leadership positions within the university and in research as principal investigators.

He notes how important it is to ask the questions:

Where are the women and where are we heading without them?

The sentiment he says, is one of initial denial that there is any problem at all when it comes to gender inequality but once conversation gets going, a list of challenges around how difficult it is to be a woman in academia and in STEM is revealed.

Yet in both of the universities he conducted research at, only one woman in each respective university was in a position of power in the Senate, the highest professional level attainable.

He reports that when he asked female academics about the issue of gender inequality, they would say that it wasn’t an issue, that they themselves had worked hard to get where they are and they weren’t interested in issues outside the pursuit of scientific research.

This reality is one marred by the prevalence of sexual harassment and exploitation of female students at the hands of students, university staff and so-called ‘sugar daddies’.

In Ethiopia, it is still largely believed that a woman must take care of the home, so the women who do have careers either rely on maids or their female family members to look after the house without ever questioning gender roles around domestic responsibilities or the construction of female sexuality.

Like Australia, he says, women aren’t entering into STEM degrees because it’s not a welcoming environment to be a woman in, not because they’re not interested.

He believes that an inequitable education cannot be a quality education and one of the measures of this has to be a consideration of equity issues that exist within society.

Ethiopia has a 70/30 policy directive stating that 70 per cent of students should study the natural sciences and 30 per cent should study the social sciences but a consideration of the significant gender inequality in enrolments in each of these streams isn’t discussed which is where Leul’s PhD research comes into its own.

Like Leul says, economic rationale is important but if we don’t pay enough attention to the issue of social justice and gender equity, humanity goes nowhere.

The Social and Global Studies Centre is proud to foster innovative and ground breaking social research.

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