ECLIPSE chooses to challenge gender inequalities
The theme of the 2021 International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. It highlights everybody’s duty to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. Below you can see the ECLIPSE team members and their pledge to help forge a more inclusive world.
Our commitment to gender equality
ECLIPSE has a female co-leadership and a strong emphasis on gender balance in the team. This is important in conducting our research (e.g., some women may be more comfortable talking to female researchers) and in developing research capacity and training the next generation of female research leaders. Our commitment to promoting gender equality is heavily underpinned by an intersectional approach. In our work with community members, academic and health policy partners equality is at the core of all of our activities, as structural gender and wider societal inequalities are systemic in many communities around the world. The ECLIPSE team includes several social scientists who have robust experience and expertise in inter- and cross-sectorial working where gender imbalances are rife. We are guided by relevant international policies, including the UN System-Wide Policy on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN SDG 5 and the gender equality charters of the ECLIPSE academic institutions.
The spotlight on 4 inspirational ECLIPSE women
You can read here the inspirational stories from Clarice in Brazil, Bethlehem in Ethiopia, Thilini in Sri Lanka and Linda in the United Kingdom.
I come from a family of women. Women have always been in the majority and their strength also stood out to me. I come from a family of women educators. They were all teachers at some point in their lives and are proud of that. I grew up listening to stories of these women and learning to wish that for me too.
I once heard a phrase that left me thinking: “You are the result of your ancestors’ dreams” (“Você é o resultado do sonho das suas ancestrais”). I never doubted that. My grandmother was a librarian, writer and educator. In her house, she had a room for books. Every year she gathered her grandchildren to choose a book and produce a play. We then acted it out for the whole family. My grandmother recited poetry at the living room table – poems from famous authors and hew own poems. One of my aunts, who passed away last year, opened a little school for impoverished children. As a child I spent the afternoons at her house producing the materials she would take to the school the next day. I was extremely proud of it! Another aunt of mine, also deceased, was a great educator in the quilombola communities of Ilha de Maré. She was responsible for establishing the schools in these communities and training women on the island who became popular educators. Many years later I returned to these communities and I was also able to contribute as an educator.
Throughout my life I have been looking for ways to honour these women and their journeys. At first, I knew I would spend my life studying and that is why I chose to study social sciences. My mother was doing a PhD in sociolinguistics. She researched Brazilian migrants in the United States. I was delighted with the readings she was doing. The inspiration and desire to enter the health field also came through my mother’s experience with breast cancer. At that time, she started to attend a Catholic religious healing group and I became interested in this topic. I was interested in understanding the interaction of religious experiences with sickness experiences.
A few years later, I became a professor at the Institute of Collective Health (ISC) at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) in Brazil. This is a complex public tender process in Brazil. I am surrounded by strong and inspiring women. Leny Trad, who welcomed me into her research group and is a great research partner, as well as Yeimi López and Joilda Nery, are all inexhaustible sources of knowledge and affection for me. My postgraduate students, all women, are also part of this network of women who support and grow together. “One goes up and pulls the other” (“sobe uma e puxa a outra”), is a phrase used here in Brazil to express this sorority. The university can often be a misogynistic space and, therefore, the partnership between women must be a strategy of resistance.
I cannot fail to mention the experience of motherhood as a source of inspiration for my own trajectory. I became pregnant while I was finishing my undergraduate degree and had Julia at the age of 23, which coincided with the beginning of my Master’s in Public Health. Although it was a challenging experience, especially as a single mother with no stable financial life, motherhood gave my life meaning and the strength to follow my dreams. This year Julia turns 20 – she is an amazing woman who I admire a lot! My youngest children, Tainá and Caíque, arrived at another stage in my life, married and with a job at the university. Although more mature, this experience of motherhood has also been a continuous source of learning. They make me reflect on the world we are building. The world we want and what we are doing to build the world we want for our sons and daughters. We certainly want a less racist, less misogynous, less homophobic, fairer and more equitable world.
I was raised by a single mom. Raising a child without a father is very difficult in Ethiopian society. But even with all the difficulties and social burden, my mother has done a wonderful job raising her two kids. My mom was a teacher and she encouraged me to pursue my education. She always believed that a woman should stand strong for herself and for her family. Raised under the shadow of my mother, I became a person who believes in myself and is ready for the dynamic environment we are living in. Watching every decision my mother made in her own life helped me to become what I am today. In every life changing decision I made, my mother’s impact is very much visible. As my role model, my teacher, my hero and my mother, this woman played a central role and continues to have a big influence in my life. My husband, who is a clinical doctor, also encouraged me alongside my mother to be where I am today.
After I finished my BSc Nursing program, I worked as a clinical nurse and started my Master’s degree. I finished my course and started working on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief project, which was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I worked with female sex workers to improve their quality of life. Working on this project helped me to see that there is a lot to be done to ensure equality for all women. This starts in the home, where a mother shapes her kids for life. Now I am the Project Coordinator for the Ethiopian team in ECLIPSE.
I have two daughters. I want them to be as strong and as vibrant as my mother when they grow up. A girl should be confident and strong in what she believes. In Ethiopia, we need more women who are resilient and visionary, so please be that woman for your family as well as for your country! For all women out there who are mothers, be a role model for your kids so that your kids will be where they want to be in the future!
I think the most wondrous nature of a woman is the ability to be dissolved into the diverse roles that are laid in front of her. I was a very shy child at school although I was able to do many extra-curricular activities including music, speech and drama, creative writing and many others. Starting as a brownie and developing into a Presidents’ guide enabled me to gain skills to “Be Prepared”- the motto of the scouting movement adopted by Sir Robert Baden Powell- for the challenges ahead. I was known as “the silent member of the student council” although I was the Vice Head Girl of the school. I think that the beautiful Sri Lankan culture with the essence of Buddhism shaped my conscience to be honest, modest and pleasant to others.
I obtained my basic medical degree (MBBS) from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka (2001). I was able to possess double masters: in Community Medicine (University of Colombo, 2005) and in Public Health (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, 2013). After an academic break due to family commitments, I obtained my PhD in 2018 and became the first female professor of the faculty and the first professor in Social Epidemiology in Sri Lanka in 2019.
I have multiple roles in my university carrier: a medical officer, a community physician, a mentor, a student counsellor and an academic at the Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka. I really enjoy teaching, counselling, maternal and child health service provision in the field and the propitious opportunities on diverse research activities I am able to engage in in this wonderful rural context.
As a mother to three children and married to an always engaged professor, I had to carefully plan my career and step through my academic path. Women always have little time for themselves but immense commitments for others and this ‘little time’ owned, I think, is best spent in the most productive way. I would always advise my students to do the best in the opportunities they are gifted of and learn to accept what is received with a modest heart.
When a mother is mindful, peace follows for generations.
I studied Maths part-time whilst looking after my three young children in the 1970s. Once they were old enough, I started my teaching career in Staffordshire, a county in the West Midlands of England. I focussed on maths teaching for 10 years but became a Primary School Head teacher in 1988. In July 1998 I was still a head teacher in Stoke-on-Trent. By September of that year, I was a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) volunteer in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia.
In those days, volunteers were largely ‘service providers’. ‘Capacity building’, ‘enabling’, ‘facilitating’, ‘community empowerment’, ‘sustainability’ were terms of the future, though some would come along very soon. There was still the prevailing thought that a ‘Westerner’ with limited knowledge could ‘teach’ people in ‘developing’ countries.
The book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh by Helena Norberg-Hodge (1991) helped me progress from that naïve person to someone passionate about community involvement in ‘development’ – and still affects my thinking today. This book explores how ‘development’ has threatened centuries of harmonious ecological and social living in Ladakh in northern India. It raises questions about ‘progress’, but also serves as a source of inspiration for the future.
When my husband went to Namibia as volunteers, we planned to be overseas for two years. Those two years became 15 years. Fourteen of those years involved full-time living and working in Namibia, Swaziland (now Eswatini) and Malawi in Africa and Cambodia and Vietnam in South East Asia. After ‘retiring’, I did some short-term contract work in Rwanda, Papua New Guinea and back in Malawi.
One of the difficulties I found living and working overseas was identifying and coping with the perceptions of community members of who I was and what I was doing there. On arrival in Namibia, I was seen as a ‘colonial oppressor’ by some and a ‘hero’ by others. In Swaziland, our projects were seen as an easy source of income. As long as you did not lock yourself away in ‘ex-pat enclaves’, Cambodia was an easy place to make friends with Khmer people and be welcomed into local society. There seemed to be few preconceptions of who we were or our motivations for being in the country. These diverse experiences have taught me that perceptions about me are just as important (or more important?) as my perceptions of community members, particularly if we are to work effectively together.
When I retired, I wanted to help my own community in England and gravitated towards getting involved, as a lay person, with improving health. I am involved in reading many research proposals, though I have sometimes found it difficult to remove my ‘development head’. My involvement with the Keele Impact Accelerator Unit, LINK (Lay Involvement in Knowledge Mobilisation) and the UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) have reinforced my ideas of the importance of the implementation and impact components of a project. I am not a researcher, but I have worked with community members to talk about their needs in order to inform development project funding proposals. In those cases, I have been able to explain how they would be involved and how they would benefit if the proposal was successful.
I thoroughly enjoy being part of the ECLIPSE family. I am learning a lot – and I am being challenged. My advice to girls and young women would be to pursue your interests, wherever they may take you, and to never stop reflecting and asking questions and not to be influenced by others’ preconceptions of who you should be and what you should do.