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Dr Mariam Hamisi's story #WomeninScience

Dr Mariam Hamisi is a senior lecturer in Biological Sciences at the University of Dodoma (UDOM), Tanzania. Her specialisms are aquatic biology and microbiology. She also works as the director of graduate studies and continuing education at the university.

How did you get involved in supporting gender mainstreaming?

I have been working [to support gender mainstreaming] since I was in secondary school. I talked to the lower classes, encouraging my fellow girls to study hard. I was also a Girl Guide, so I used that time to talk to others too, to visit other schools. When I went to university I continued doing the same, to talk to girls in secondary schools and advise them.

Now, as a member of academic staff, that role has continued, advising female students. I like to do that because I know those ladies, they have a lot of challenges and they need to be guided.

In African countries, most women don't manage to go up to higher or tertiary education. I count myself as a privileged woman, so I have to assist ladies, I have to talk to them, I have to be kind to them, so that they can learn from me.

In 2014, I attended a workshop with INASP and began to discuss doing something to address gender inequity at my institution. I spoke to my colleagues and we realized we had a problem: we were the only women in senior positions in this university. We needed to encourage others to go through this way. So we sat down and wrote a proposal to INASP for a project targeting junior academic female staff.

Mariam and colleagues organized a workshop on gender mainstreaming at the University of Dodoma, which has resulted in changing policies within the institution and the INASP Gender in Higher Education Toolkit that has already been used in other institutions in Tanzania and Ghana .

Why is it important for women and girls to pursue science?

It's very important for women to do science, and to be at higher academic levels because they have the right to do so - we have the right to do so.

Everyone should do whatever she or he wants to do. Research is not only for men. Women should always be considered, but the culture and environment do not favour them so they always need support. They need someone to push them, and also they need to learn from those successful women out there.

What particular challenges do women in academia face?

Women in academia face a lot of challenges. First, being an academic needs time and so for a woman to advance, she needs to be really committed. As a wife, as a mother you have a lot of other responsibilities. Does this mean that men don't? They also have responsibilities, but due to culture and society, in particular in Africa, women have a lot of other responsibilities and men don’t need to do so much multitasking.

What do you plan to do next?

The gender workshop was not the end. Having a gender platform at UDOM was not the end. Having gender policing and sexual harassment policy was not the end. We still need to do a lot of awareness, and continue giving support to women academic staff - because we have seen that it is possible.

From the training we have done, now women feel like they have to do something so they are there in research, they are now writing proposals. Now the issue of kids is not such an issue anymore because we have been talking to them about "balancing their baskets" [which is one of the activities in the Gender Toolkit].

I remember one of the ladies at the college of Earth Science, an environmental scientist, was saying: "Oh I cannot be a head of department. My kids, my whatever, and I cannot do a PhD". In the last three months she came to my office and said: "I have realized that I can do all those things together, and I'm going for a PhD now, I have an admission already, and I'm going for the registration, I just came here to say bye and to really appreciate the encouragement that you have been giving us”.

And that's not the only one - another one came and she said: "I'm deciding to register here at UDOM because I have my family here and I don't want to stay away with them so I will stay with them here and I will get my PhD here”.

And a third said: "You know what, I have been invited for a head of department interview. I will go there because I also need to be someone! Just pray for me."

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