Traditionally, women tend to have been denied access to positions in many areas of scientific endeavour, including limnology (or freshwater science).

Sadly, this means their unique perspectives are missing from critical solutions to environmental problems.

But there is a bright side; just look at us!

We are four female scientists taking part in an exciting new program to encourage and champion women in freshwater science working on Africa’s Great Lakes—currently travelling and working in Canada to discover how researchers are doing things here, and to share experience and knowledge with other scientists across the pond.

We are happy to answer your burning questions on the role of women in science in Africa, tell you about our experiences and hopes for the future, and offer up any advice for any burgeoning female scientists anywhere in the world.

Go on and ask us anything. We dare you…

We are Catherine Fridolin, an M.Sc. candidate at the University of Dar es Salaam, focused on fisheries and aquaculture; Gladys Chigamba, a research scientist at Lilongwe University working on an economic valuation of river ecosystems in Malawi; Elizabeth Wanderi, working on fisheries on Lake Turkana at Kenya Fisheries Services; and Margret Sinda, with a focus on Aquaculture in Malawi.

My Proof:

Comments: 223 • Responses: 19  • Date: 

Not-Unfunny111 karma

What is an example from your work when you felt that a woman's perspective (or an African perspective) was missing from the conversation (at an event, in an article, in the field...)?

iisd_ela27 karma

Catherine When I first decided to go into the field of fisheries, I got some really surprised responses from my peers and family. There is not much of a legacy of women working in the fisheries field in Tanzania and so I felt as though I really had to forge my own path and prove that there was a space for women in the field.

Elizabeth I find often in conferences and workshops, there is not a space for me to participate or speak. I notice everything from being discouraged to speak to discouraging facial expressions from male colleagues that create an environment where I don't feel like I can contribute on the same level as my male colleagues.

Gladys These impediments also spill over into practical concerns in the field. There are often many expeditions where women are precluded from certain necessary activities, like touching nets or going on boats. Also, sometimes the expeditions are at night, where it is more difficult to attend.

jh937hfiu3hrhv971 karma

How does your gender give you unique scientific perspective and how do they differ from men?

iisd_ela-72 karma

Women are naturally nurturting and definitely bring that to the work they do.

Especially in Africa, women tend to work more closely with natural resources like fire and water, and so have a great appreciation for their importance, and the desire to protect them.

Men, therefore depend on us to help preserve and protect them.

Also women are great at multi-tasking, which is often necessary when working in the field.

muliejida33 karma

What do you see as the greatest challenge for conserving/restoring the ecosystems in which you work? Or if you can't pick one, what are the top 3?

iisd_ela41 karma

Elizabeth For me there are a couple. Food insecurity is massive, because it can really affect people's behaviour. When people don't have good fishing gear, they are forced to catch small fish near the shoreline, which adversely affect fish populations.

Another massive problem is lack of information. Poor science communication, often only available in English, means that vast swathes of the population do not have a good understanding of their local environment, leading to poor choices.

Catherine Another problem is lack of funding for research. We can't improve anything if we do not have access to funds to further our knowledge of lake systems and ecosystems.

AltharaD22 karma

There’s some exciting news coming from Africa surrounding habitat reclamation and conservation efforts - at least as an outsider looking in. How do you feel it’s going? What are some things that giving you hope and what are your concerns?

iisd_ela23 karma

Once we see better restored aquatic ecosystems, we are hoping to see healthier fish populations on which so many people around the African Great Lakes depend for sustencence and livelihood.

When it comes to rehabilitation efforts, we need to be careful when reintroducing species, as the introduction of proliferation of one species can have an effect on the whole food web and ecosystem - often resulting in effects we did not expect!

under_armpit19 karma

Who is denying access to females?

iisd_ela47 karma

For us, it is cultural.

We often encounter outdated attitudes that women can't partake in science, and we try to forge our own paths and show our potential.

Also, many people suffer from lack of exposure to seeing women in the field--coupled with lack of opportunities for women.

And it's not just men! Women can be down on ourselves, and we don't realise our worth. Sometimes we can be guilty of not supporting each other!

jtim1118 karma

What is the most surprising thing you've encountered or learned in your travels for this program?

iisd_ela25 karma

We visited IISD Experimental Lakes Area and had such a great time.

One of the highlights was a water ceremony conducted by a First Nations Elder at the site to protect the lake and prepare it for some upcoming research. We were really excited to take part and learn more.

There is actually an island in Lake Malawi/Niassa/Nyasa called Mbenji Island where ceremonies are conducted to protect bodies of water--women aren't allowed on the island so we have never seen it and can't tell you more!

Omnicrola15 karma

What is the worst science and/or fish pun you know?

iisd_ela51 karma

Hmmm, your question is so so-fish-ticated, perch-ance I'll answer your other question...

kortekickass10 karma

What is your favorite fresh water fish?

iisd_ela21 karma

Elizabeth For me, it would have to be Oreochromis niloticus Nile Tilapia!

Catherine Even though I don't work on them back home, I would go for lake sturgeon.

Gladys Haplochromis spp. the cichlid species that are very colorful in the aquarium trade.

Margret Oreochromis Karongae.

KingfisherDays9 karma

What are some unique perspectives you bring to the field as women that men would not be able to?

iisd_ela-2 karma

Check out our answer to /u/jh937hfiu3hrhv9's question!

JeffMc8 karma

Are you seeing a lot of differences between how science is done in Canada vs back home?

iisd_ela15 karma

We find that generally scientists tend to have more access to specific equipment and funding here than back home. Governments have a larger role in funding national scientific research, and we have definitely noticed more women in the field here.

When it comes to students or early-career scientists, we find that they have more access to funding and opportunities in the field which are usually reserved for more established scientists back home. They also have the opportunity to greater mentorship, and a variety of tasks to nuture their careers.

Canada also has so many lakes to work on--just look at IISD Experimental Lakes Area; we would never have those places to work on back home as we have fewer lakes and larger populations.

The isolation and the working alone looks difficult though.

Also, more broadly, Canadians eat far too much bread and sugar!

muffin_utensil8 karma

What advice do you have for a young person who wants to become a scientist?

iisd_ela18 karma

First up, you have to remember, working in science is a labour of love. That means you have to dedicate yourself to hard work and going through years of intense of education.

When it comes to working in the field, that passion really becomes necessary. Field work can require many hours and can be tough.

Also, people often forget that you need good people skills. You will always be working with different people, and rarely in isolation.

And finally, don't go into it just because you have a family legacy or because you feel pushed into it.

Simzter7 karma

I'm guessing climate change must have affected - and continue to affect - all the areas you're researching into? How does it affect your work, do you have to take a lot of possibilities into consideration?

iisd_ela13 karma

Of course!

On almost all of our Great Lakes in Africa, we are suffering from increased flooding and more rain. When lakes are flooded, it makes it much harder to work on them, or access them to conduct research. Flooding can also really affect fish breeding patterns.

In fact, in Kenya, we have even experienced flooding in our offices, which we can no longer use!

It can also really change priorities for people. If human populations have been affected or displaced by climate change, helping us out with our research is their lowest priority.

lechatestsurlatable6 karma

Were you all interested in science early on? If not, what was your path towards this?

iisd_ela16 karma

Catherine I was born a scientist, but not necessarily born to work in fisheires. I actually wanted to be a doctor, but that's expensive! It took me a while to get into it; in my second year, I really started to enjoy the program, when I went deeper into the topics of climate change etc.

Margret I have always been interested in the sciences and nature. When it comes to fisheries, I actually found myself doing it as I had to follow the government funding. It also took me a while to get into the program, but once I dived in and started to understand the relevance of my work, I became a fish lover!

Elizabeth I share the same sentiments. I came from a pretty arid area and didn't even know much about fresh water. The first few years were difficult, but my lectures opened my eyes to the importance of the work we do.

Plane_Chance8636 karma

Do you have a blog?

iisd_ela9 karma

Not a blog, but we are on Twitter where we track our work and voyages.

Check out @WanderiLiza, @cate_fridolin and @margret_sinda.

bright_shiny_objects6 karma

Do those lakes compare to the Great Lakes in the USA or are they wildly different?

iisd_ela1 karma

See our answer to /u/kortekickass' question.

kortekickass4 karma

What are some of the parallels between the African Great lakes and those in Canada?

iisd_ela14 karma

There are many differences and similarities between the two sets of lakes--and it is exciting to be here and discover parallels.

On the surface they are quite different; the AGL are tropical (which results in freshwater fish species that reproduce quickly, and are used greatly for food) whereas the NAGL are more temperate.

We have been struck, however, by the shared issues and challenges between the lakes. They all suffer from everything from invasive species to pollution etc.

It seems as though despite differences, most freshwater lakes suffer from similar challenges. We need to approach them in a similar way, and share knowledge, while remembering key differences.

kortekickass3 karma

How did you find out about this program? Any initiatives that an interested party (or angel investors) can support?

iisd_ela4 karma

Catherine For me, I found out about it through a collegue - a fellow student.

Margret A supervisor who was already involved in the program.

Elizabeth I am on a jobs WhatsApp group and I was lucky to see it and apply!

LlamaLimaDingDong1 karma

Have you run into any polar bears yet? They're all over the place here.
p.s. Which is the most delicious freshwater fish in your opinion?

iisd_ela15 karma

YES! We saw them at the Assiniboine Park Zoo here in Winnipeg, although not in the wild.

And like polar bears, we like sweet fish like tilapia.

Intelligent_Rope_912-4 karma

How does European and Chinese colonization affect your research?

iisd_ela6 karma

Because of the centering of western approaches to science, we find that a lot of important Indigenous knowledge gets ignored or completely lost. Some of this knowledge could be critical in helping support freshwater ecosystems.

We depend a lot of foreign money to fund our research, we often means that it is skewed to their different countries' interests and focus areas.

However, we have seen many great things from Western support. Many European and North American countries have played a role in preserving our ecosystems, introducing us to new technologies, and funding our up and coming scientists, so it is really a mixed bag.