International Women’s Day 2023 - "Golden Star”
Tell us briefly about yourself, who is Rosalia?
I am currently serving as Women in Vector Control Regional Coordinator for Central and Southern Africa at PAMCA. I hold a BSc in Environmental Biology, and an MSc in Medical Entomology from the University of Namibia. I am the first female medical entomologist in Namibia, a public health researcher, a malaria youth leader, and an MBA candidate with UNICAF University. I have previously worked as a researcher at the Multidisciplinary Research of the University of Namibia, where I supported the national vector-borne disease control programme as a medical entomologist, offering technical support, capacity building of the district health officers and technicians, overseeing the supervision of the country’s two malaria insectaries and leading entomological surveillance studies.
Entomology is a male dominated field and less attractive to women, what motivated you to study entomology?
I have always had a strong passion for medical research, particularly vector-borne diseases, which I discovered during an entomology lesson in my final year in undergraduate. It caught my attention and seemed like a good fit to complement my knowledge on environmental factors that contribute to the occurrence and distribution of disease vectors. A year after that, a master's fellowship opportunity presented itself through joint partnerships, and I seized it.
Where do you draw your strengths/drive from? Any examples?
I was born and raised in a region where malaria is endemic and bordered by an equally malaria-endemic country. This formed part of my drive and intrigued me to be part of solution seeking and alleviate suffering. Moreover, malaria, which is of particular interest to me, continues to be a public health challenge despite years of effort, and I am compelled to play my part in ending the debilitating effects on African soil. I could say what drives me more are the sociocultural challenges that I face as a young career woman and a change maker. The odds aren’t in our favor due to the gender challenges that we face as career women, especially as female scientists. Additionally, there is a lack of an enabling environment for young change makers such as me who are keen and ready to make the Africa we want!
Are there any benefits in your professional career that entomology has exposed you to?
Absolutely yes, pursuing a career in entomology has surprisingly opened various doors and opportunities for me. First, I was fortunate to have provided research evidence that resulted in policy change of vector control in Namibia. I have also worked with reputable and renown global malaria partners such as the University of California San Fransisco – Malaria Elimination Initiative, World Health Organization AFRO II, Clinton Health Access initiative, Wits University who have really impacted my performance and extended my network. That notwithstanding, I now have the pleasure of working for PAMCA, a Pan-African organization for Africans that not only tackles vector-borne diseases but very keen on inclusivity and ensuring that everyone plays an equal part in eliminating VBDs from Africa. I'm currently being equipped with the skills and expertise needed to meaningfully contribute to the fight against VBDs.
What is your success story? Any achievements in the field so far?
I cannot emphasize enough the pleasure of being a female medical entomologist; this was a paradigm shift at both my personal and professional levels. With this, I had the honor of being recognized as one of the early-career scientists contributing tremendously to the control of VBDs through the PAMCA WiVC Excellence Awards in 2021. I have also had the pleasure of being invited as a Forbes under 30 Africa delegate to the first Forbes Under 30 Summit to be held in Botswana, Africa. This was another opportunity that presented opportunities, networking, and a change in perspective.
What is your role as PAMCA WiVC Coordinator for SA & CA?
My role at PAMCA has been nothing short of learning so far. Since June 2022, I have led the advancement and visibility of women in science in 18 countries in central and southern Africa. My focus is on women, especially in Africa, this is because of gender discrimination and cultural norms that I faced since my journey in entomology. This was founded by the Pan-African Mosquito Control Association's Women in Vector Control initiative on the basis of empowering women to combat vector-borne diseases in Africa. As per the research conducted, "men hold 75 percent of all leadership positions in global health—even though women perform 70 percent of all healthcare services worldwide and, perhaps even more important, hold the key to implementing effective malaria control measures at the household level." I am part of the statistic of this underrepresentation and believes that there is a need to have women at the table when important decisions are made regarding health.
At PAMCA, I facilitate the implementation of PAMCA activities within central and southern Africa, activities that advocate for gender inclusivity and equity, the enhancement of collaborations and partnerships, and meaningful participation of women at the community and professional levels to combat VBDs.I also facilitate training and capacity-building initiatives for women to effectively contribute and ascend to leadership roles.
I was also part of the WiVC PAMCA team that organized a 3 days workshop held prior to the 8th PAMCA conference in Kigali on effective communication and leadership skills for 25 women in the sector of science and public health from 17 African countries. This was tailored to provide leadership training to women in science, help rising leaders find mentors, and communicate effectively to advocate for workplace policies that support women.
I am currently overseeing the mentorship of six mentees from my region and aiding in the recruitment and retention of more women in this fight.
With your experience, what challenges do women face in taking up leadership in the control of VBD’s?( Professional and Non Professional)
Women in control of VBDs face various challenges, driven mainly by misconceptions and cultural norms. These norms enable the bullying and exploitation of women, which is also aided by the lack of implementation of the respective policies. Barriers to participation and contribution by women are largely shaped by intersections between gender roles and relations within the family, society, and the workplace. This normally creates a poor work-life balance for women and, in turn, fosters a cumulative disadvantage that limits women from performing at their full potential.
Moreover, society will object to women taking up space in their career. In addition to this, there is also a lack of institutionalized capacity building and mentorship for women in their workplaces. These are very important etiquettes for any institution helping women's careers, just to mention a few.
What advice/recommendations can you give on Engagement of women in control of VBD? To the Governments/Institutions and Women at large?
I would like to call on women to improve and increase support amongst themselves to create a formidable force and solicit the support of male allies in this fight. It is very crucial that men are aware that women are not trying to take over but to complement the current workforce to combat issues that primarily affect us and those around us. It is imperative that we tackle this in a holistic manner to our advantage.
Institutions and the government should implement and adher to policies that protect women against sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace. Due to the work-life balance we face daily, it is imperative that institutions implement policies that provide staff with more practical support for childcare and parental leave.
It is also important to foster institutionalized action for mentorship programs that offer psychosocial support for women and invest in capacity-building programs for leadership trajectory and soft skills. Institutions also need to advocate for the inclusivity of women at decision-making levels; important decisions can certainly not be made without the presence of a woman at the table.
As we celebrate IWD, let us renew our commitment to creating a world where women are respected, included, valued and empowered to archieve their full potential. Together, we can create a beautiful future for all WiVC.