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KENYA-WOMEN: FEMALE ACADEMICS QUIT AMID ‘GENDER BIAS’ CLAIMS

CHARLES WACHIRA

NAIROBI, Mar 18 1995 (IPS) - FEMALE ACADEMICS FRUSTRATED BY WHAT THEY VIEW AS UNEQUAL CONDITIONS OF SERVICE ARE ABANDONING KENYA’S UNIVERSITIES FOR GREENER PASTURES.

AS FAR BACK AS THE EARLY 1980S, WOMEN UNIVERSITY LECTURERS DENOUNCED PRACTICES WHICH THEY CLAIMED WERE GENDER-BIASED, SUCH AS THE AWARDING OF HOUSING AND PROMOTIONS.

MARRIED WOMEN ARE DENIED A HOUSING ALLOWANCE, WHILE SINGLE WOMEN WHEN HOUSED ON THEIR INSTITUTIONS’ PROPERTY OFTEN FIND THEMSELVES FAR FROM THE CAMPUS.

SUCH DISCRIMINATION PROMPTED DR. JENNIFER RIRIA-OUKO, THE MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE KENYA WOMEN’S FINANCE TRUST, TO QUIT KENYATTA UNIVERSITY, ONE OF THE COUNTRY’S FIVE VARSITIES, WHICH IS SITUATED 30 KM NORTH-WEST OF NAIROBI.

“ONE AFTERNOON IN 1986 THE UNIVERSITIES AUTHORITIES CAME TO MY HOUSE,” SHE TELLS IPS. “THEY TOLD ME I COULD NO LONGER OCCUPY THE INSTITUTION’S QUARTERS BECAUSE I WAS MARRIED. BELIEVE ME, THEY GAVE ME ONLY 48 HOURS TO SEEK ACCOMMODATION ELSEWHERE.”

OTHER WOMEN LECTURERS, FED UP WITH BEING PASSED OVER FOR PROMOTIONS THEY BELIEVED THEY DESERVED, DECIDED TO SEEK THEIR FORTUNES ELSEWHERE.

A SENIOR LECTURER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NAIROBI’S GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT, DR. MARIA NZOMO, RECALLS THE FRUITLESS EFFORTS OF HISTORIAN DR. TABITHA KANAGO TO GET A PROMOTION.

“SHE HAD FULFILLED ALL CRITERIA FOR PROMOTION,” NZOMO SAYS. “SHE HAD PUBLISHED EXTENSIVELY, TAUGHT FOR SEVERAL YEARS AND REPRESENTED THE UNIVERSITY AT VARIOUS INTERNATIONAL FORUMS, BUT SHE WAS NOT GIVEN THE ASSOCIATE PROFESSORSHIP THAT SHE SOUGHT”.

CONSEQUENTLY, KANAGO LEFT FOR THE UNITED STATES TO TAKE UP AN OFFER AT BERKELEY UNIVERSITY.

SHINYSA KHASIANI AND WAITHERA GIKONYO SWITCHED TO PRIVATE CONSULTANCY “AFTER MANY YEARS OF FRUSTRATION” AT NAIROBI UNIVERSITY. THEY HAD SUCCESSFULLY SERVED AS ACTING DIRECTORS OF THE INSTITUTE OF POPULATION STUDIES AND THE SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM, RESPECTIVELY.

TO THEIR SHOCK, NEITHER WAS OFFERED THE POSITION PERMANENTLY, BUT WERE MERELY REASSIGNED THEIR FORMER POSTS. MOREOVER, KHASIANI’S APPLICATION FOR A SENIOR LECTURESHIP WAS REJECTED.

THE FRUSTRATION OF FEMALE ACADEMICS LED 3,600 OF THEM TO LAUNCH AN 11-MONTH STRIKE WHICH ONLY ENDED IN NOVEMBER 1994 AFTER THE INTERVENTION OF KENYA’S PRESIDENT, DANIEL ARAP MOI.

“IT WAS ONLY WHEN PRESIDENT MOI FINALLY HEARD UNIVERSITY WOMEN’S PLEAS FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY THAT THE ANOMALY WAS RECTIFIED,” SAYS DR. WANGUI NJAU, A SOCIOLOGY LECTURER AT NAIROBI UNIVERSITY.

DESPITE THIS, SOME KENYANS BELIEVE IRREVERSIBLE HARM HAS BEEN DONE TO THE QUALITY OF TERTIARY EDUCATION AND PERCEPTIONS OF FEMALE ACADEMICS.

“DEFINITELY, ONCE THE (MANPOWER) RESOURCES OF A COUNTRY ARE DEPLETED THE COUNTRY FEELS THE CRIPPLING EFFECT BY THE PRODUCT IT PRODUCES IN THE MARKET,” NOTES DR. ADAR ONYO, INTERIM CHAIRMAN OF AN ASSOCIATION OF STUDENTS UNIONS (UASU).

“AS IT IS RIGHT NOW EMPLOYERS ARE COMPLAINING THAT UNIVERSITY GRADUATES ARE HALF-BAKED AND THEREFORE CANNOT MANAGE POSITIONS GIVEN TO THEM,” HE STATES.

A FEMALE VETERINARY PROFESSOR AND LEADING ADVOCATE OF WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT, WANGARI MATHAI, ADDS: “WITH WOMEN LEAVING IN DROVES FROM UNIVERSITIES, THERE IS A LIKELIHOOD OF MALE STUDENTS GETTING THE ILLUSION THAT WOMEN HAVE NO PLACE IN LEADERSHIP POSITIONS.

“AT THE SAME TIME, WOMEN MAY PERCEIVE THE GOING AWAY OF WOMEN LECTURERS AS AN INDICATION THAT WOMEN WERE BORN TO BE SECOND TO MEN, WHICH IS WRONG BECAUSE A NATION IS BUILT BY BOTH MEN AND WOMEN,” SAYS MATHAI, WHO HEADS AN ENVIRONMENTAL NGO AND HAS WON THE PRESTIGIOUS HUNGER PRIZE.

BUT OTHERS INSIST CHARGES OF DISCRIMINATION ARE OVERBLOWN AND ARGUE THAT THE FEMALE ACADEMIC ‘BRAIN DRAIN’ IS DOWN TO OTHER FACTORS.

ONE EXAMPLE CITED IS THAT OF DR. JACQUELINE ODUOL, WHOSE APPLICATION FOR PROMOTION WAS TURNED DOWN AT NAIROBI UNIVERSITY. SHE MOVED OVER TO THE PRIVATELY-OWNED U.S. INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY (USIU) WHERE SHE WAS IMMEDIATELY MADE A SENIOR LECTURER.

“BUT THAT WAS NOT THE REASON FOR MY MOVE,” EXPLAINS DR. ODUOL, WHO FULLY ACCEPTS THE GROUNDS ON WHICH HER APPLICATION WAS REJECTED.

“THE UNIVERSITY OF NAIROBI HAS FAIRLY HIGH STANDARDS WITH REGARD TO SCHOLARSHIP. THEY ARE PARTICULARLY STRICT WHEN IT COMES TO PUBLICATIONS AS A BASIS OF PROMOTION, AND WHILE I HAVE PUBLISHED A GREAT DEAL IN CONFERENCE PUBLICATIONS, MY WORK HAS NOT APPEARED IN A ‘REFEREED JOURNAL’ WHICH WAS THE BASIS ON WHICH MY APPLICATION WAS TURNED DOWN,” DR. ODUOL SAYS.

ANOTHER FEMALE SENIOR LECTURER, DR. EDDAH GACHUKIA, SHIFTED FROM THE PUBLIC UNIVERSITY SYSTEM AND BECAME HEAD OF THE AFRICAN WOMEN EDUCATIONISTS (FAWE), WHICH SHE FOUNDED TWO YEARS AGO. “THIS IS WORK WHICH I WHOLEHEARTEDLY BELIEVE IN AND WHICH TAKES ALL OF MY TIME.”

AMERICAN-BORN SOCIOLOGIST, DR. ROBERTA MUTISO, WHO BECAME ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AFTER 16 YEARS OF TEACHING, DESCRIBES THE UNIVERSITIES’ PROMOTION PROCEDURE AS “VAGUE AND IMPRECISE”.

“THERE IS NO DOCUMENTED EVIDENCE OF SYSTEMATIC DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN, WHICH IS NOT TO SAY DISCRIMINATION DOES NOT EXIST. BUT IT IS EXTREMELY SUBTLE,” EXPLAINS D. MUTISO.

 
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