APHRC: Gender equality will drive better African research

In conversation with Catherine Kyobutungi, Executive Director

Based in Kenya, APHRC is the continent’s premier research institution and think tank, committed to generating an Africa-led and Africa-owned body of evidence to drive policy action for an effective and sustainable response to the most critical challenges facing the continent.

 How has APHRC integrated gender into its programmes?

The vision of APHRC is to transform African lives through research. This vision is not just about the evidence we generate—its about who owns this research, whose voices are heard and how strengthening the capacity of African researchers can build more equitable societies.

Women in sub-Saharan Africa constitute just 30% of researchers. This reflects gender relations in Africa and the pervasive idea that women are primarily mothers and care providers. This inequity challenged us to establish a gender-responsive doctoral programme.

Today, our flagship programme, The Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA), is tailored to advance gender equality. It includes 1) a higher cut-off age for women, who are more likely to start doctoral studies later due to childbearing; 2) supporting women fellows who are mothers to attend seminars with their infants, and covering the costs of childminders; and 3) providing maternity leave.42 CARTA also encourages fathers to take on greater childcare responsibilities and celebrates female role models in research.

APHRC was a high-performer in our 2019 Report. Has this process influenced your approach to gender?

We found the GH5050 exercise valuable, in particular by making us reflect on and confront the gaps it revealed in our performance. For example, while we track gender- related outputs, our human resources reports—where gender-disaggregated data on staff is reported—need to be better incorporated into our overall corporate M&E framework. We plan to update the framework based on the Report findings to ensure we are capturing internal gender challenges and linking them to our theory of change.

In what ways has APHRC sought to challenge power imbalances among partners?

Establishing principles of what constitutes mutually beneficial partnerships versus what could be potentially exploitative has been critical to challenging power dynamics. One primary principle is ensuring involvement in research conceptualisation right from the start (as opposed to being approached for “partnership” after the research has been conceptualised, fleshed out, funded and is ready for implementation). In this way research can be truly co-owned. Engaging potential partners on the basis of these principles, while not pleasant, has resulted in greater respect in the longer term.

The Center has an underlying capacity strengthening ethos in everything we do – and this includes capacity to challenge unequal power dynamics. The most visible imbalances are still north-south. Northern academics hold unequal power in research collaborations (e.g. larger share of funds, information asymmetry, more infrastructure to publish, fellowships benefitting northern students, etc.).

Over time, we have built a cadre of independent, respected researchers that can negotiate engagement in research partnerships on equitable terms by being mindful of these dynamics in academia and having the skills to navigate them.

Going forward, we hope to cultivate an environment where people are learning to trust and build equitable relationships, which is necessary if we want to move beyond the paternalistic way of operating. Our vision is that robust and replicable evidence generated by African researchers will drive the continent’s policy agenda to resolve some of the most critical development issues of our time.