International Women's Day 2018

By Dian van de Laak | Quality Assurance Officer and Research Assistant, TB Tanzania


Today is International Women's Day, a global celebration of women and their social, economic, cultural and political achievements. The day also marks a call to action to realize gender equality.

International Women's Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first​ ​IWD gathering the support of over a million people. Prior to this, the​ Socialist Party of America, United Kingdom's Suffragists and Suffragettes, and further groups campaigned for women’s equality.

Pendo Msegu in Tanzania. Rat Training Supervisor & Animal Welfare Officer

For its part, APOPO strongly supports the mandate of the European Institute for Gender Equality that states that gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making, and when the different behaviors, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favored and do not give rise to different consequences that reinforce inequalities.

APOPO is a secular organization that embraces diversity in all facets with respect to age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, physical abilities, nationality or ethnicity. APOPO always engages the best possible candidate for the job, regardless of gender. APOPO supports gender parity through employment policies, which are unpinned by human resources best practices that demand, among other things, equal opportunity and equal pay for women. Women hold positions at APOPO at all levels. Notably, our Head of Tuberculosis Detection, our Head of Research and Development, our Head of Human Resources, Head of the Swiss Foundation, and the Chairs of APOPO’s board and APOPO’s U.S. board are all women in senior and highly influential posts.

Across our R&D team and our TB detection department, women are well represented, as in our overall management structure. Our TB partners such as MIKUKUTE who are a volunteer community sensitization group made up of ex-TB sufferers are also well represented. This makes sense because women in the community who suspect they, or members of their family, might have contracted TB, often prefer to confide in other women, as do men. Within our advisory boards such as our R&D board, marketing board and U.S. board women are also well represented.

Ashley Fitzpatrick in Mozambique, APOPO Director of Grants and Contracts

A challenge for APOPO is recruiting women from some of the communities in which we work due to cultural reasons, and for positions within sectors that are traditionally male dominated, specifically mine action. The ratio of male to female detection rat trainers in Tanzania and generally our mine action teams are below parity for a range of socioeconomic, historical, and cultural reasons.

APOPO works to overcome these challenges by actively encouraging women to apply for positions, and making it very clear through our publicity, either generally about APOPO or when posting the vacancies, that we strongly welcome women within the organization. Further, although APOPO only promotes its employees on the merit of their performance, we often find that because of their background, women from these communities are often strongly motivated and that means that they rise quickly through the ranks, always strongly supported by their male colleagues. In doing so, they become role-models for other women within their communities who may initially doubt either their own abilities or their well-being in a male-dominated sector.

Mao Sophea in Cambodia. Mine Detection Rat handler

For many positions at APOPO, the need for academic qualifications is not crucial. For these posts, APOPO provides initial training and on-the-job coaching throughout their career. We push hard to make this clear because this also encourages women who may not have had the education opportunities that their male peers did, and might doubt their credentials for the job.

For APOPO, the bottom line is awareness. APOPO strives to promote gender equality throughout its publicity, and events like International Women’s Day raise this issue on a global level, calling to #PressforProgress to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. Collective action and shared ownership for driving gender parity is what makes International Women's Day successful. Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist once explained "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."

So make International Women's Day your day and do what you can to truly make a positive difference for women.