Gender equality in medical and dental research: a qualitative research in NigeriaProf. Morenike Oluwatoyin Folayan, Department of Child Dental Health, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria
Gender equality can contribute to human development in many ways and it is crucial for the socio-economic stability of many countries, important to stem the effects of environmental degradation and climate change, and it helps to promote and guarantee peace and social justice. One of the areas of social development where gender equality can foster progress is science, education and health. Many medical and dental academia stand at the fulcrum of social development through their engagement in science, education and health. As researchers, they contribute to the global and country economic development through their work on understanding diseases and promoting the development of medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and effective public health responses.
Their work in scientific research and development agencies, colleges, pharmaceutical organizations, and medicine manufacturing companies often requires that they are training and educating others as they try to advance science to support disease eradication and improvement of the quality of life.
Medical and dental health researchers are therefore able to make a difference in human development if they invest in processes that promote gender equality. There is however little known about how female medical and dental health academics use these potentially transformative opportunities. Do they face peculiar challenges and barriers that makes it difficult to support the creation of conducive environments for students of different gender to aspire and achieve their goals? Are there career trajectories that makes it possible for female medical and dental health academics to access and maximize the use of these transformative opportunities for the education and career development of different gender? Does the socio-cultural context of female medical and dental health academics play a role in the decision-making about addressing gender inequality in the academic institution?
This study, carried out by AfWORO-supported Nigerian researcher Prof. Morenike Oluwatoyin Folayan, tried to answer some of these questions.
The objectives of the study study were to:
i) Describe the differences in knowledge and perceptions of female and male medical and dental academic researchers on the factors that limit women from accessing tertiary education, professional research opportunities and advancing as health scientists at the same rate as men
ii) Determine the differences in strategies and actions of female and male medical and dental health academics to promote gender equality and ensure gender balance and representation in African academic research institutions;
iii) Identify the gaps in knowledge, skills and access to resources that limits female and male medical and dental health academic researchers’ ability to integrate sex and gender-oriented theoretical and methodological approaches into their research;
iv) Map the needs of biomedical and clinical research institutions in Nigeria to establish and implement plans and measures to achieve gender equality; and explore female medical and dental health academic researchers’ sorority and solidarity efforts in support of the elimination of gender inequality practices.
The study conducted interviews and utilized a deductive approach to coding, identifying and describing new codes and subthemes until the achievement of theoretical saturation.
The interviews narratives speak to a diverse understanding, knowledge, and perceptions to what is gender equality and their experiences with it. While both female and male participants agreed to the concept of gender equality, the researchers identified that patriarchy within society also influence the expression of gender inequality in research institutions. The socialization for male dominance within the society may however, have influenced the conscious recognition of gender inequality practices. Overall, it was evident that this specific population shared an openness to change and desire to enact it.
To conclude the interviews, participants suggested various methods to support women within the medical and dental academic research field to perform better. This included career guidance, research collaborations, one-on-one assistance, social integration, a welcoming environment, capacity building, and spousal support within the context of family. The shared belief was that through support of women in their professional journey, men may begin to reflect on the inequalities in place for women, while reflecting on their own prejudices and attitudes.
A secondary analysis of the transcripts will be done to identify sub-populations of male and female medical and dental researchers who may be targets for intervention to promote gender equality in medical and dental research institutions in Nigeria. Thereafter, the research results will be written up as policy briefs and manuscripts.