Women Vice Chancellors as Change Agents in Africa

Prof. Victoria Ngumi (centre) with Nigeria’s Prof. Freeman Miri (right) and another participant during the forum

How can African women vice chancellors be effective agents of change in the continent? This was one of the questions that dominated discussions during the second forum for Africa Women Vice Chancellors (FAWoVC), held, Sunday October 21 in Nairobi. The over 30 women academics, researchers and leaders, were candid about the challenges facing women in their effort to climb academic and leadership ladder.

Out of the 1,500 universities in the continent, only 40 are headed by female vice chancellors. The figures don’t hold well beyond African boarders too. Globally, only 34 of the top 200 universities, have women at the helm.

Often times, even the most knowledge women in Africa don’t make it to the decision making table simply because of their gender. Those who manage to break the glass ceiling in various professional fields have, therefore, had to deal with an inexhaustible list of personal and patriarchal laden challenges, prevalent in Africa.

Identified bottlenecks to women advancement in academics include balancing career with motherhood, lack of funding, a prevailing gender bias and few mentors.

The Nairobi meet therefore provided the participants an opportunity to share experiences and chalk new ways of bringing female voices to bear on Africa’s development.

In a keynote address to the participants, former Environment Secretary, Dr. Alice Kaudia made some suggestions of what could propel women to the apex of scholarly, economic and political centre stages.

The participants to the second forum for African Women Vice Chancellors

She identified resilience, passion and optimism as key ingredients of success. Dr. Kaudia also encouraged the participants to be proactive in creating functional networks while pushing for diversity and inclusiveness in the institutions they serve.

While giving her experiences, immediate former Kenyatta University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Olive Mugenda noted that women tend to underestimate their potential; yet given a chance, they can deliver just like their male counterparts.

To be successful managers, Prof. Mugenda challenged the participants to start off with a vision, work closely with all university stakeholders; actualize easy yet incremental targets that eventually lead to the realization of excellent success.

Participants were encouraged to actively mentor upcoming women scientists and leaders besides documenting and disseminating own achievements. Other takeaway messages from the forum included finding sustainable ways of dealing with personal challenges while embracing excellence in service delivery.

To strengthen the association, the leaders resolved to have a standing secretariat based at JKUAT with rotational leadership among member institutions.

Dr. Kaudia (centre), Prof. Imbuga (left) and DAAD Director, Dr. Helmut Blumbach shortly after the forum’s opening

JKUAT Vice Chancellor Prof. Victoria Ngumi welcomed the decision, reiterating her support and readiness to promote advancement of the initiative. She said her University had the unique experience of having had two female vice chancellors at the helm.

It was the second time the female vice chancellors were meeting to chart a new path for women leaders in the continent; having convened the inaugural forum in Nairobi in August 2016, under the leadership of former JKUAT Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mabel Imbuga.

The forum was held as a side event of RUFORUM Biennial Conference which brings together African universities that train in Agriculture.

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