Background

What are the origins of the LfA network?

From 28-30 October 2019, the University of Potsdam (Germany) hosted a conference which was organised as an unprecedented cooperation between members of the Department of English and American Studies and the Coordination Office for Equal Opportunities. The name of the event was Learning from Africa: Equal opportunities for women in academia.

The idea for the conference had been born a few months earlier during a university meeting in which Prof Hans-Georg Wolf (Chair of Development and Variation of the English Language) and Stephanie Wittenburg (advisor to the Central Equal Opportunities Commissioner) sat next to each other. Seeing that there were common interests in the advancement of equal opportunities as well as in topics related to African cultures, combining financial resources, professional know-how and contacts to African researchers seemed only logical. Based on the subjective impression (obtained during research visits to various African countries) that female researchers at African universities seem to be equally represented even without officially imposed quotas, the wish arose to “learn from Africa”. Key questions that the planned conference therefore addressed included:

  • Why does gender parity in African academia seemingly work without female quotas?
  • How can German academia learn from it?
  • What can be done to bring and keep women in academia?

These questions obviously necessitated expertise from various fields of knowledge. The organisers themselves contributed insights from Cognitive Linguistics (i.e., insights on culture-specific ways of understanding social structures, observed in linguistic data) and gender-related policies in the university context. This was complemented by speakers and participants from various other relevant backgrounds.

When the conference then eventually took place, it became clear that there is a lot to be done if opportunities for disadvantaged (groups of) people are to be improved. In this vein, it also became clear that new, interdisciplinary and socially/culturally diverse networks need to be created and extended.

Click here if you wish to read a comprehensive conference report.

Speakers and organisers of the conference Learning from Africa: Equal opportunities for women in academia. (Photo: Thomas Roese)

So what does “LfA” actually stand for?

In the e-mail correspondence prior to the event, the conference name soon became shortened to “LfA”, a convenient abbreviation which developed a sense of its own: As of now, “LfA” stands for the network of speakers, organisers and guests who attended the conference and who wish to bundle their expertise, skills and contacts in order to create equal opportunities for disadvantaged people in and through academia.

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