Addressing gender disparities in scientific publication

Scientific research is a crucial component of the modern knowledge economy and societal development, and academic publications serve as essential channels for the dissemination of research findings to the global scientific community.

However, Africa lags behind other regions of the world in terms of scientific research publications. This problem is compounded by the under-representation of women in science and technology. A recent study titled ‘Factors that affect scientific publication in Africa: A gender perspective’ sheds light on the factors that affect scientific publication in Africa, with a particular focus on gender.

The study collected data through a web-based questionnaire that was pre-tested in previous worldwide surveys in 2013 and 2015. Surveys were sent out in 2016 to authors who had co-authored at least one scientific article in a journal indexed by Clarivate’s Web of Science™ from 2005 to 2015. A total of 7,515 individuals responded. After data cleaning, the final sample analysed for the article consisted of 4,676 respondents.

As with other research on the subject, the study found that women scientists in Africa publish significantly less than their male counterparts. On average, women published 1.8 articles in the previous year, compared to men’s 2.6 articles. This gender gap was observed across all disciplines and types of institutions, regardless of the country’s income level.

Contributing factors

Several factors contribute to this gender gap in scientific publication. Firstly, women are more likely to have familial and caring responsibilities, such as childcare and eldercare, which can limit their time and energy for research activities.

Secondly, women have unequal access to education and training, despite improvements in recent years. They are offered fewer opportunities for advancement, including study-related and work-related mobility.

Thirdly, women have less access to collaboration opportunities and research resources, including funding and equipment, despite spending more time fundraising than men.

Moreover, women face institutional barriers such as gender stereotypes and biases that affect their ability to engage fully in research activities. They are often relegated to support roles rather than being actively involved in such activities. This situation hinders their career advancement and affects the quality and impact of research findings.

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, it is important to emphasise that these findings matter because scientific research is essential for addressing Africa’s challenges, including poverty, disease, and inadequate infrastructure.

Women’s under-representation in scientific publication means that their perspectives, expertise, and contributions are being overlooked. This gender gap also perpetuates inequalities in the workplace and limits women’s opportunities for career advancement and professional development.

Addressing the gender-based challenges that female researchers encounter in Africa is crucial to ensure that all researchers, regardless of their gender, have equal opportunities to participate in scientific research and contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge.

Additionally, gender equality in science and technology can lead to more inclusive and innovative scientific research and greater economic and social progress.

What can be done?

Going forward, several actions can be taken to address the problem of gender disparities in scientific publication in Africa. Firstly, higher education institutions and governments can implement policies and initiatives that support women’s career development and work-life balance, such as parental leave and flexible working arrangements.

Secondly, efforts can be made to reduce bias and discrimination in the workplace, including unconscious bias training and diversity and inclusion programmes.

Thirdly, higher education institutions should provide equal access to resources such as funding and research infrastructure to both male and female researchers. Finally, cultural and societal norms and stereotypes that discourage women’s participation in science must be challenged and transformed.

These recommendations provide a roadmap for institutions to promote gender equality in scientific research and accelerate economic and social progress in Africa. Implementing these recommendations will however require the involvement of all stakeholders in the scientific research process.

For instance, governments and non-governmental organisations should provide funding and infrastructure for scientific research in Africa, while institutions should create policies and programmes that promote gender equality in science and technology.

Moreover, male scientists should support their female colleagues by serving as mentors and advocates for gender equality in scientific research.

We must urgently address the gender-based challenges that female researchers encounter because failure to do so will have far-reaching implications for Africa’s development and progress.

By promoting gender equality in science, we can ensure that all voices and perspectives are heard and that scientific research is used to address the challenges facing Africa and the world.

Dr Corlia Meyer is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Professor Catherine Beaudry holds the Canada Research Chair in Management and Economics of Innovation at Polytechnique Montréal, Canada. Professor Heidi Prozesky is an associate professor at CREST and a member of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Scientometrics and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy, which partly funded the research. Beaudry and Prozesky co-authored ‘Factors that affect scientific publication in Africa: A gender perspective’ with Carl St-Pierre (Polytechnique Montréal) and Seyed Reza Mirnezami (Polytechnique Montréal and Sharif University of Technology, Iran).