By Sharon Atieno
In order to ease the burden of choosing between forfeiting parental duties and attending long distance lengthy scientific gatherings or vice versa, scientific organizations are setting apart specialized grants to cater for child care.
Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE), is one such organization, where the grant has been running for around two years.
“In 2015, when we had the first meeting, we had many female scientists who couldn’t come because of child care issues such as breastfeeding,” Victoria Kasprowicz, SANTHE senior strategic Advisor says, noting that, that was the motivation for introducing the grant which they term, diversity inclusion grant.
Lenine Liebenberg, a mother of two, a SANTHE researcher and a beneficiary of the grant notes that if she did not get this kind of funding, she would have to choose one of the two meetings she had to attend despite both being equally important for her career.
Though the grant gave her an option to come with her entire family to Nairobi for the SANTHE annual consortium meeting, her husband’s work schedule would not allow him to travel. Instead, she opted to fly her mother from Cape Town to Durban to help her husband with taking care of the children especially at night.
“We have a nanny who comes in the morning and leaves in the evening and that’s when he needs most help getting the kids to sleep, he can’t manage putting a three year old and a one year old to bed at night or getting him ready for school in the morning, that’s where I come in,” she narrates.
Liebenberg emphasizes the importance of such grants, noting that “your choices are quite limited if you don’t have that support”.
She is not alone. Salome Chira, a mother of two and a SANTHE masters fellow is also a recipient of the diversity inclusion grant.
She notes that despite the expenses one would have to incur for coming with the children and the nanny to the meetings and taking care of their upkeep in terms of meals, accommodation and transport; being away from a child especially a newborn leads to lack of concentration in the meetings as one is always worried of the unknown and in case of an emergency it is difficult to offer assistance.
“But here, you’re just close to your child, if you need to express, you don’t have to store and again, if you’re away from your child for like five days, the milk production goes down,” she explains. “When you’re close to your child lactation becomes easy because you can go out after every two hours, breastfeed then come back. It gives you an opportunity of being a mother and still catching up with your career.”
In Salome’s case despite having a newly weaned baby, her husband and her are both SANTHE researchers hence they could not miss the meeting. The grant enabled her to travel with a nanny for her baby and supported the accommodation and meals during the period of the meeting.
For the consortium, SANTHE awarded 10 recipients with the grant including a researcher who needed an aid in helping him to move around as he is partially blind.
FLAIR (Future Leaders -African Independent Research) and International AIDS Society (IAS) have similar programs for promoting parental involvement.
Such grants are important as they enable women to partake in activities that boost their career growth especially in the sciences on an equal level with their male counterparts without necessarily forsaking their parental duties.
This is in line with the target of sustainable development goal (SDG) five which advocates for gender equality by ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life.