Mainstreaming gender in higher education research remains low, posing a risk to the realisation of gender equity in education and development goals, experts say.
The experts – drawn from universities, research institutions, government, and the private sector – said that researchers and policymakers need to work in partnership to conduct research that will generate the knowledge needed for decision-making to ensure gender equity in the education sector.
They were speaking during a virtual meeting in March 2021 to mark the launch of the Gendering Education Research Project in Africa. During the meeting, participants discussed pertinent issues of gender in education research in Africa.
The project is aimed at catalysing a community of education researchers and policy actors with innovative and gendered research methods to produce and consume rigorous and credible research evidence for inclusive policy formulation and intervention in education reforms across Africa.
The project, funded by the US-based Spencer Foundation, will be implemented by the Nairobi-based Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR). In June this year, the project will roll out a three-week online training programme to strengthen participants’ research capacity.
“What is required are critical researchers who approach a gendered education policy research nexus from a critical perspective in terms of their knowledge base and trajectory,” said Professor Kuzvinetsa Dzvimbo, the chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Council of Higher Education.
Dzvimbo urged policymakers and education researchers to reflect on a gendered and engaged education policy research agenda and discourse practice on the African continent to ensure it is not gender-biased.
“Reflexivity in our work as education policy researchers is critical so that we do not reproduce policy-oriented research that continues to perpetuate the inequalities in our societies, especially those based on gender,” Dzvimbo added.
Additionally, he urged education researchers to be sensitive to critical issues such as power, gender, race and class that largely form the basis of a gendered education research policy nexus that marginalises certain groups in society, especially girls and women.
Shaping inclusive policies
Beatrice Muganda, PASGR acting executive director, said that the project will enable educators to explore and engage with innovative and gendered research methods.
“We shall be able to create and sustain a community of education researchers and policy actors who generate and draw on credible research evidence to shape inclusive public policies across Africa,” she said.
Muganda said that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education programmes, slowed research and knowledge production while aggravating inequalities.
She called for a commitment to the calls by key global development blueprints such as the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals that call for leaving no one behind.
“It is, therefore, our sacred responsibility to respond effectively to this call. We need decisive evidence, informed policies and programmatic interventions to redress this situation and increase educational outcomes for all groups,” said Muganda.
She added that drawing the attention of researchers and policymakers to the right gendered research questions and working together to generate a body of evidence is the way to go to achieve inclusive policies.
Eunice Kamaara, a professor of religion from Moi University in Kenya, said that mainstreaming gender in education research is a process that starts from research conception and runs through the entire research process.
“Addressing gender issues in education is not merely looking at disaggregated data but addressing all aspects of gender during the entire research process,” she said.
Dzvimbo called for the development of gendered education research policies that reverse stereotypes of girls and women as inferior to boys and men.
“This is one of the best ways to develop a counter-hegemonic discourse to a gendered education policy research agenda on the continent which continues to reproduce inequalities based on gender,” he said.
Dzvimbo said that social science policy-oriented research has the potential to provide lasting solutions to issues of gender discrimination that emerge in the context of Africa’s transformation quest but only if “approached from a perspective that is transformative”.
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