A young Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) scientist is leading the charge in the fight for gender equity in science through an innovative online engagement campaign that positions African scientists as superheroes.

The interactive campaign launched in May, and encourages discussions between the scientific community and the public about gender equity in science.

Maphe Mthembu, who is heading the ‘SANTHE SuperScientist Gender Equity Campaign’, is a SANTHE PhD trainee based at AHRI in Durban. She studies the impact of HIV infection on lung immunity. Mthembu won a prestigious award from the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi, Kenya, to do this work. As a wife, young mother, and scientist, she is using her award to shed light on the worldwide problem of gender inequity in science.

Mthembu’s interactive engagement campaign for gender equity in science includes a social media campaign and an interactive webinar on June 1, 2020.

“Today, women account for only 30% of the world’s researchers, and even a lower percentage at higher decision-making levels, and this is an example of the gender disparities/gender power dynamics that exist in various aspects of human activities including science, innovation, and research,” says Mthembu. “For this to change, there needs to be gender equity. This means that men and women in all walks of life, in all their diversity, should be given the necessary conditions and opportunities needed to realise their full rights and potential.”

“This campaign will highlight our standpoint in a creative campaign that positions African scientists as superheroes that have come together in the fight for gender equity in science. These SuperScientists, who come from all over Sub-Saharan Africa and of which I am one, are on an ongoing mission to interactively re-frame problematic narratives that promote gender inequity.”

Interactive online sessions

On 1 June 2020, Maphe hosted “Surviving & Thriving in Science in 2020”, the first interactive online session of this gender equity community and public engagement campaign.

In the session, Maphe moderated a conversation with Dr Lenine Liebenberg (CAPRISA), Dr Dorothy Mbori-Ngacha (UNICEF), and Prof Penny Moore (NICD and Wits University), three successful African scientists.  They discussed their experiences with gender bias and stereotypes, how to combine being a scientist and a parent, and how the COVID-19 epidemic has laid bare structural inequities in science.  The session focused on “tips” and techniques that these women have deployed over the course of their career.  During the question and answer session, they fielded interesting questions about the role of men in the fight for gender equity and how women can cope with sexual harassment.

Watch the webinar below:

A week later Maphe hosted the second session titled Solutions for gender equity in science. This was an interactive conversation with leaders in African science looking at: What trainees and mentors can do, solutions for institutions and funders and how Africa can lead the world in creating a more equitable and inclusive scientific landscape.

Watch the webinar below:

Follow the #GenderEquityInScience conversation on Facebook and Twitter.