Female researchers join forces to make fieldwork safer

While transcribing her interviews, Itzel San Roman Pineda found that the harassment she experienced while doing fieldwork in Mexico had followed her home. “I could hear what the men were saying to me again,” she said.

Ms. San Roman Pineda, a human geography researcher at the University of Sheffield, described the community she had worked in as “very sexist” and plagued by alcoholism. “I had to go to my room at 4 or 5 pm every evening because I was afraid for my safety afterwards,” she said.

After talking in a pub with Ana Zavala Guillén, a British Academy postdoctoral fellow at Queen Mary University in London, the couple found that “this is a subject we talk about informally with other women, but that in science is largely ignored “The words of Ms. San Roman Pineda.

Dr. For her part, Zavala Guillén had encountered violence during her research in Colombia and was afraid of her next round of field research.

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Together, the two decided to set up a network of women to do field research. The aim is to raise awareness of gender harassment among women researchers, to support women who are affected by it, to encourage institutions to improve their protection strategies and, ultimately, to get to the point where women can have their careers free from fear from abuse, harassment and discrimination.

The group hopes to encourage donors and institutions to understand that risk assessments need to better highlight gender vulnerability and that budgets need to support mechanisms that ensure the safety of women when collecting data on the ground. For example, a private driver could help women who work in volatile areas, said Dr. Zavala Guillén.

She also wants the group to help “break out of the idea that the global south is a dangerous place to work and that the north is not”. For example, in an upcoming seminar, “a researcher will speak about the violence she experienced while doing research in Manchester”.

The problem was that research structures made it difficult for women to express themselves, the couple argued. “At a previous university, some colleagues expressed concern, saying, ‘If this goes public, donors will not be willing to fund women doing this type of research because it will be more expensive if we have to take additional action. ” Dr. Zavala Guillén said.

Ariana Markowitz, another member of the network researching extreme and chronic urban violence for her PhD at UCL, agreed. For example, there’s an incentive to get a low risk ethics review when you can because the high risk review takes so much more time, she explained.

Ms. Markowitz, who experienced secondary trauma including nightmares and insomnia after particularly problematic fieldwork, said ignoring the harassment of women also had implications for the research being done.

“When I have difficulty managing risk without assistance or with limited assistance, I become less able to adjust to the needs of my participants, which at best leads to less effective research and treats people unfairly or, at worst, puts them at risk.”

The women on the network told the Times Higher Education that they wanted to see a cultural shift in science. Women often do not speak up because they fear it will be fired or that it will be “normal”, or advice that comes in the form of “do not wear skirts, do not drink” and unnecessarily shift the blame on women.

It reflects the broader talks about women’s safety across the UK and elsewhere that have come to the fore recently following the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard, Ms. Markowitz said. “We internalize all of these things we’re supposed to do to protect ourselves, but then [others] not, ”said Ms. Markowitz.

“We need to recognize that this is widespread, not just conversations that take place on the fringes of conferences or in the pub. We want to normalize talking about it so that women are not ashamed … And we want men to be involved too. “

Dr. Zavala Guillén also wants to help develop training for mentors and supervisors, as well as those who make decisions in safety assessments. “We can’t have people who say, ‘I was lucky because my boss was good at it’ because we can’t count on luck,” she said.