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Gender in climate change research

Participants at the CIRCLE proposal writing workshop for female applicants to cohort 3

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change. They have a higher dependence on natural resources which are increasingly in short supply; natural disasters, which are becoming more commonplace, kill more women than men; and women often lack the social capital in society to adapt to changing circumstances or to make their voices heard. Involving women and other marginalised groups in tackling climate change and in shaping approaches to cope with and adapt to its impacts can greatly enhance their effectiveness.
During the Paris climate talks in December, gender was one of the key topics under discussion. However, some have suggested that the debate did not move far enough beyond the impacts of climate change on women to consider how women themselves can be active agents within the climate change debate. There is some discussion about women in agriculture and how they should be engaged in developing solutions on the ground, but what about women’s engagement within higher level policy discussions?
Though Africa will be one of the continents hardest hit by climate change, there are still not enough researchers within the continent examining the impact of climate change and exploring approaches to mitigate and adapt to its effects. Women in sub-Saharan Africa are especially underrepresented, making up just 30% of researchers.
Recognising the lack of African researchers in the field of Climate change, the Climate Impact Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement in Sub-Saharan Africa (CIRCLE) was developed to support 100 one year fellowships over the course of three years for early career researchers to conduct a research project at leading African institutions in the field of climate change. The programme is now going into its second year with the start of the second cohort of CIRCLE visiting fellows.
CIRCLE also aims to award 50% of its fellowships to female researchers, in an effort to address the underrepresentation of women in this field. To date, 48% of CIRCLE fellows have been female researchers. Over the course of last year a number of female researchers from the first cohort of fellows have contributed their experiences to the CIRCLE blog and it is evident that a lot has been achieved by both male and female fellows.
At the final workshop for the first cohort of CIRCLE Visiting Fellows (CVFs), a presentation was made by Mercy Derkyi on her plans to establish a Centre for Climate Change and Gender Studies at the University of Energy and Natural Resources, Ghana, inspired by the work undertaken during her fellowship. This exemplified one of the key aims of the CIRCLE fellowships, to foster the leadership skills of CVFs so that they can have a wider reaching positive impact. It is hoped that the female CVFs will act as role models to encourage, inspire and assist more women to undertake climate change research.
The CIRCLE programme is also an important opportunity for female researchers to strengthen their profile and contribute to the academic dialogue on climate change. Another CVF, Catherine Mungai, recently won an award for her research paper, emerging from her CIRCLE research, presented at the Symposium on Climate Change Adaptation in Africa 2016, CGIAR.
There have been some challenges, however, in ensuring equal representation of male and female fellows as part of the fellowship. During the application process some institutions struggled to find female candidates for the fellowships. Furthermore, the applications that were received were often not as developed in their scientific design and climate change relevance as those of their male counterparts.
To confront some of the challenges around attracting sufficient numbers of high quality applications from women the CIRCLE management team put in place a number of measures:
  • Greater flexibility was allowed for fellows whose family circumstances would affect their ability to travel to other countries to take up their fellowship;
  • The specification of a maximum 5 year gap between PhD completion and fellowship was extended for those who had a career break for family reasons
  • Home institutions were made aware of the 50% target and any institutions nominating more that one candidate had to nominate at least one woman.
  • In February 2016 a workshop was run for potential female applicants for the third and final cohort of CIRCLE fellows to help strengthen their proposal writing skills, with particular reference to their CIRCLE proposal submissions.
With reference to the last initiative, each home institution was invited to nominate up to two female researchers to attend the workshop, run by Dr Maggie Opondo and Dr Sari Kovats, both leading female researchers in the field of climate change. Not only did the workshop cover proposal writing skills, but also a more in-depth look at gender in climate change and the workshop leaders spent some time with participants reviewing their draft proposals for the programme. One workshop participant commented:
“The workshop has helped to broaden my understanding on proposal writing especially with respect to climate change. I was able to review my CIRCLE proposal and I feel more confident now that I can approach proposal writing with ease. I also acquired new and relevant skills which will be beneficial for my academic discipline.”
Another workshop participant observed:
“The important aspects explained on how to make your proposal feasible as well as using the gender lens in climate change studies were wonderful. I have benefited not only as a CIRCLE programme fellow but as a researcher.”
The drive to increase female representation for the application process seems to have been effective, with 60% female nominations for this cohort compared to 39% for both cohorts 1 and 2. Participants at the workshop in February also indicated that their confidence in writing their proposal has been increased and the workshop leaders identified a number of exciting proposal topics, which we are looking forward to receiving for the final round of CIRCLE applications.

Caroline Moss is a programme Officer at the Association of Commonwealth Universities


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