Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg
Director at African Women in Agricultural Research and Development
Every second sentence out of Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg’s mouth is at once inspirational and mobilizing. “I am passionate about the African Century,” she declares, “I really believe this century is the African takeoff.” Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg runs AWARD, the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, which works to bring in more gender responsive research in agriculture. In Kenya, men and women play different roles in agriculture, but Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg says that very little acknowledgement is paid to the important role that women play.
Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg has spent her career focused on the importance of leadership development for women. She founded Akili Dada in 2006 which aims to nurture and empower young women from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Equally as important as mentoring young women and showing examples of success, Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg also thought it was vital to step down and allow for somebody else to take the helm. “Transitioning power,” as she refers to it, is a great lesson for young people to learn and one that unfortunately we do not often see reflected.
“Science has an important role to play in Kenya,” Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg says. “As a continent though, we are going nowhere if we leave 50% of us behind.” Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg is referring to the gender imbalance found in the sciences, which she finds especially hard to understand in agriculture, where women are so involved on the practical side of things and yet the system is set up to ignore and devalue their work. AWARD is the perfect vehicle to address this imbalance. They support women agriculturalists in running their career, research institutions in integrating a gender lens in their research and start up agribusinesses in incorporating a gender lens into their growth plans.
In society, Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg says that gender imbalance is not addressed without the work of men. As fathers they are often seen as the cultural head of the home and therefore the last authority on what is right and wrong. The way that fathers speak to both their sons and daughters has a lasting impact on the way that women’s career possibilities are viewed. Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg cites her husband, himself a scientist, as her greatest source of encouragement as an example. “It is men of purpose and women of courage taking that commitment from the home into the workplace. There is a big piece of this that is calling for our men to lead differently and not just make this woman's work.”
As AWARD celebrates its ten year anniversary, it is certainly leading the forefront. They have partnered with different like minded entities to start the Global Forum for Women in Scientific Research, or GloFoWiSeR, an African led global initiative that will: encourage the building of professional skills for female African scientists, increase sharing between different research institutions to encourage them to be spaces where “women scientists don’t just survive but thrive, excel and innovate,” and foster conversations with research funders to encourage them to wield their power within the research space to demand better environments for women in research.