Harnessing the Potential of Women to become Leaders in African Higher Education

Notwithstanding their many successes and significant progress in the professional sphere, women in Sub-Saharan Africa remain underrepresented in both strategic and essential sectors across board, including in higher education. For instance, only 2.5% of vice-chancellors are women and 5% of CEOs are women. However, women make up 43% of those who receive tertiary education but hold 28% of formal sector jobs.  While there are several initiatives such as scholarship opportunities for women and increased awareness for the need for gender diversity in leadership roles, aimed at increasing and training the number of women in the leadership pipeline, there is substantial gender imbalance particularly at executive and management levels within higher education. A 2019 Education Sub- Sahara Africa (ESSA) study reported that only 24% of academic staff in tertiary education across Sub-Saharan Africa are female. Institutional efforts to increase the representation of women in academia are improving, but there needs to be greater efforts to avail management and leadership roles in higher education to women.

As part of initiatives to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women in the African higher education space, the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) Project (under the auspices of the World Bank and the Association of African Universities) organized a webinar on Tuesday March 29, 2022. Themed “Inspiring Women as Leaders of African Higher Education”.  The webinar sought to encourage young women in academia, particularly students, to actively take up leadership roles in the African higher education sector as well as make efforts towards systemic change through different ways such as entrepreneurship and initiatives to empower women. Over 150 students and stakeholders from across the continent participated in this event. Also, in attendance were, the Secretary-General of the AAU, Prof. Olusola Bandele Oyewole, the ACE Impact Project Manager, Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire, World Bank Senior Education Specialist and Task Team Leader for the ACE Impact Project, Dr. Ekua Bentil and World Bank Education and Gender Specialist for ACE Impact Project, Djénéba Gory.

In his welcome remarks, Prof. Oyewole commended the ACE Impact Project for being instrumental in addressing gender disparity through initiatives such as encouraging female enrolment in the Centres of Excellence. He reiterated the AAU’s commitment to driving the agenda of female empowerment and ensuring that women can contribute equally as key actors in the African higher education space. Dr. Bentil noted on her part that the World Bank considers the gender agenda as a top priority as it seeks to champion the development of the African continent through inclusivity and called on stakeholders to be gender conscious especially as regards leadership positions.

Panel discussions were held on various areas relating to driving gender inclusivity in African Higher Education. The Panel members, seasoned women in STEM, Agribusiness, and Entrepreneurship, shared their experiences and challenges as women in their respective fields. They included Dr. Agnes Kiragga, a Research Scientist and technical lead for data science at the African Population Health Research Council (Kenya); Dr. Angela Tabiri, a Research Associate, and an Academic Manager for the Girls in Mathematical Sciences Program (GSMP) at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Ghana; and Mrs. Zeinabou Hamani, a Coordinator at Agrifocus (Niger), a food security expert and an Agripreneur advocate. The session was moderated by Professor Aissetou Drame Yayé, the Deputy Centre Director for the Regional Centre of Excellence for Pastoral Production: Meat, Milk, Hide and Skin (CERPP), Niger.

Speaking on the relevance of STEM to global development, Dr. Kiragga explained that Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are key solutions to various developmental challenges globally, providing statistics crucial for policy formation in all sectors of the economy, as well as improving productivity and work efficiency. Dr. Tabiri highlighted the importance of Applied Mathematics in everyday life, noting that in Agriculture especially, it can help predict rainfall patterns among other things. She also mentioned the need for mentorship for young girls especially at the basic level. She said, “There are few inspirations for young girls at the basic level of education as compared to their male counterparts especially in STEM. Therefore, it is crucial to strengthen the campaign to increase women in STEM right from the basic level.” Ms. Hamani also emphasized the critical role of Data Science and AI in Agricultural production chains.

The panelists mentioned structural and institutional barriers, societal expectations, gender stereotypes, and the patriarchal nature of many African academic institutions as some of the challenges that inhibit women’s rise to leadership positions in higher education. The lack of female role models and mentors to guide young talented women through their academic careers further worsens the gender disparity.

To address these challenges, the panelists acknowledged the need for stakeholder engagement to understand these barriers and, proffer and implement practical solutions. Furthermore, restructuring of institutional policies to accommodate measures to catalyze women’s progress in African higher education is key to bridging the gender divide. Finally, mentorship programmes driven by female higher education role models would serve as a springboard for bringing more women on board in the sector.

In the Q&A session, participants expressed their appreciation for the experiences shared by the panelists and noted they were encouraged to follow their dreams and build themselves up to be leaders and authorities in their respective fields. The Africa Centres of Excellence for Development Impact (ACE Impact) project intends to follow up with a series of events focused on inspiring and empowering young women in higher education within the region.

Prof Hadiza Shehu Galadanci-The importance of mentorship to develop future female leaders

Prof Hadiza Shehu Galadanci-The importance of mentorship to develop future female leaders

Prof. Hadiza Shehu Galadanci is the center leader for the Africa Center of Excellence for Population Health and Policy (ACE PHAP), hosted in Bayero University Kano, Nigeria.  As one of the two female Centre leaders under the ACE Impact project, the AAU communications teams engaged her to hear her story and to highlight key leadership lessons and qualities for success, in a bid to inspire the next generation of female leaders.


Education and Background

Prof. Galadanci obtained her medical degree (MBBS) in 1987 at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in Nigeria. With an impressive academic track record, she was awarded the Fellowship of West African College in 1998 from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. She then obtained an MSc degree in reproductive health and sexual health research (MSc RHSHR) from the University College London, UK and a Diploma from the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (LSTM&H), UK.   She has been a member of the Royal College of Surgeon (MRCOG) since 2002 and a Fellow of the Royal College (FRCOG) since 2014. In addition, she obtained a Project Management Diploma from Galilee International Management Institute, Israel, in 2018. 


Prof. Galadanci’s Leadership Journey

From 2002-2006, She was the Head of Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, at the Faculty    of Medicine, Bayero University Kano.  She also served as the President of the Medical Women Association of Nigeria, Kano State Branch in the years 2002-2008. Having excelled in the various leadership capacities she had occupied, Prof. Galandanci continued to be noticed, and be appointed to serve in numerous high level positions, including serving as the Director for the Centre for Advanced Medical Research and Training, Bayero University Kano (BUK), the Coordinator of Masters in Reproductive Health Program in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of Bayero University Kano,  and the Vice-Chairperson for the National Reproductive Working Group (NRWG), 2008- 2014.  She has been the Director/Center Leader for the African Center of Excellence for Population Health and Policy, BUK, since 2019.


Key Achievements and Awards Received

Prof. Galadanci made history as the first female professor in medicine in her institution and in her state (Kano State, Nigeria). In recognition of Professor Hadiza Shehu Galadanci’s outstanding efforts and contributions to the medical and health sector, she received the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) Women Award in 2018, at the FIGO World Congress, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.   

She has also received many awards and honors , including ; the Distinguished Merit Award in recognition of her contribution to strengthening maternal health in Nigeria, (July, 2005); Merit Award presented by FEDWA in recognition of her immense contribution to Women’s Development and Capacity Building, (2008); REAGEM Award for her Outstanding Capacity Building in Health and Disease, (2009); and Paul Harrison’s Fellow Award presented by Rotary International in appreciation of her significant assistance in promoting a better understanding and friendly relationship amongst people of the world, (2009). 

Additionally,  Professor Hadiza received a KAMSA Merit Award from the Kano State Medical Students Association in recognition of her immense contribution to the Development and Progress of Medical Students in Kano State, (2010); Red Ribbon Award for Dedication and Outstanding Commitment to Combat HIV/AIDS in Nigeria presented by Masterpiece Health and Development, (2010); Kano State Government Merit Award in recognition of her outstanding achievement/contributions to the Government and people of Kano State, (1st October, 2010); and Kano State Certificate of Honor in recognition of the immense contributions of Professor Hadiza Shehu Galadanci to Kano State. 


Excelling as a Woman

“Being a leader requires a number of skills including being hard working, innovative, a good team player and having good management skill.  However, for a female to be successful as a leader she must work twice as hard as her male counterpart and still find a good balance as a wife, mother, and career woman”, she said.  

Hadiza talks about the importance a good family support system plays and expressed gratitude to her parents, spouse, and children. “I could not have been where I am without the unrelenting support, assistance, and encouragement from my parents and my husband, as well as the sacrifice of my children”.  

She emphasizes the key role mentorship plays and encourages all females in leadership positions to purposefully mentor younger colleagues, and give them all the support, guidance, encouragement, and inspiration, they require to achieve their full potentials. “My first Mentor was my father, whom I always look up to and wanted to become like him, a Professor and I thank God that I was able to achieve that. I have also had my teachers as my mentors along the way. Along my journey I   received guidance, support, assistance and inspiration from my mentors. These have been very key to my success and have contributed greatly to what I am today. Therefore, I think mentorship is very essential to guide, support, encourage, assist, and inspire the younger colleagues to be able to achieve their full potentials. The younger female colleagues really look up to the females in leadership positions to mentor them.”   

Inspiring the next Generation of Female Leaders – Professor Grace Jokthan

Inspiring the next Generation of Female Leaders – Professor Grace Jokthan

Prof. Grace Jokthan is the center leader of the Africa Centre of Excellence on Technology Enhanced Learning (ACETEL) and a member of the University Governing Council of the National Open University of Nigeria. She obtained her Bachelor of Agriculture degree in 1990 from the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Nigeria and her Masters and Doctorate degrees from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria in 2002 and 2006 respectively. Prof. Jokthan’s key message to younger women in all ACE Impact centers, is “all challenges are surmountable through persistence, hard work and remaining focused.” In an exclusive interview with the ACE Impact communications team, she said that the journey to the top has not been easy, because as a woman, you have to put in almost twice the effort a man does to succeed, especially in the male dominated society that we find ourselves in.  “The roles of parenting, housekeeping, academic/office demands can be daunting and requires a delicate balance. I got married at level 100, so all my academic life was also when I had my three children, but with hard work, reaching your goals and being in a strategic leadership position to contribute to the transformation agenda, is within reach” she said.


A glimpse at Prof. Jokthan’s Journey to the Top Leadership Positions Held 

Prof. Jokthan started her career in the Department of Animal Science, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1992 as an Assistant Lecturer and rose to the rank of Associate Professor in 2010. Aside teaching and supervising several students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels within this period, she also served the University in various capacities, including being the Postgraduate Departmental Coordinator, Member of the University Senate Standing Committee and Head of the Department of Animal Science. She was a Member of the Board of Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) Multi Links Ltd, as well as a Member of the Governing Board of the National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI), Shika-Zaria. She also served as the Head, Department of Animal Science and Fisheries at the National Open University of Nigeria from 2016 to 2018.  “I was a pioneer Council Member of the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science (NIAS) 2007 – 2011.  National Process Facilitator and, National Programme Manager for Research Into Use Nigeria (RIU) – Nigeria; a non-governmental DFID funded project that sort to improve the uptake of innovative agricultural research outputs” She added.  Prof Jokthan was previously a consultant on the Innovation Platforms to the West African Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP).


Message to Fellow Senior Colleagues on Mentorship

Having benefitted enormously from the power of mentorship, she is encouraging other senior colleagues involved in the ACE Impact project to mentor the next generation as they strive to attain their potentials.  “Mentorship from my senior colleague who always told me not to give up helped me at my low moments and therefore we need to have more focus on providing such mentors in our institutions”, she said.


When asked whether being a female center leader brings any key difference to the project, she intimated that though the Project deliverables (DLI) remain the same, being a woman provides another perspective often not considered that is valuable and has helped in creating a team strong enough to face the task ahead and deliver on the target.

Bridging the Gender Gap – ACE Impact Champions Women, Girls Education, and Leadership

Bridging the Gender Gap – ACE Impact Champions Women, Girls Education, and Leadership

Having more females empowered through the acquisition of higher education degrees and relevant skills has been a key focus of the ACE Impact project. Female enrolment and involvement in the higher education sector, particularly in STEM subjects, has generally been low, with stakeholders being called upon to invest efforts to ensure that the pipeline of women in higher education as students, administrators, researchers, and leaders increases in proportion to the population of women in Africa.

ACE Impact is strategically responding to this call, by highlighting female enrolment as a key disbursement linked indicator in a bid to encourage all centers to prioritise female student enrolment in their centers. Current figures show that the project is making some remarkable progress in closing the gender gap in higher education. For the period January 2019 – December 2020, the number of females enrolled in ACE Impact Centers stood at 3,333, representing 31% of the overall target of enrolling 10,707 females during the project’s life cycle.

The project is advocating and calling on all centers to continue pursuing the set target, strategising new innovative ways to attract more female candidates into their centers until the gender is well and truly closed.

Within higher education, a key area where women are significantly underrepresented is in positions of leadership. With the month of March being dedicated to the celebration of Women (8th March being International Women’s Day), we focus our attention on one of our female center leaders who is serving as a key role model to young female students and faculty across Africa.

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