Tebogo Tebby Leepile

Tebogo Tebby Leepile is pursuing a Doctorate of Philosophy in Integrated Studies in Faculty of Land and Food Systems, and is a UBC Public Scholar. In her research, she aims to understand the association between household food security and the nutritional status of women of childbearing age and young children amongst the Indigenous People (San/Basarwa/Bushmen) in Botswana. She will also explore the development, role and use of Indigenous-knowledge based nutrition interventions. Tebby hopes to expand this work into other African countries in the future due to the scarcity of information on these groups across the continent. Her other research interests include women empowerment, research ethics and policy design and evaluation. She is adamant in engaging with the gendered dynamics in her research, and provoking more academic opportunities for women like her.

Gender and agriculture, gendered economy of land

Where you look at the ongoing challenges of malnutrition and food insecurity, they happen mostly because women find themselves without stable economic status.  Women are the gatekeepers for most households, hence their economic status is a critical factor that determines the welfare of family members. This is why my work focuses on finding ways of trying to improve that. Because I believe that if women have resources, they will be better placed to provide for their families, especially children, the elderly and the sick.

I, therefore, come to the dialogue of gender equity because I am concerned about the economic disparities that exist between men and women. More specifically, I’m interested in understanding the economic benefits that women can reap from agriculture that men are have always enjoyed. Data suggest that women are the backbone of agriculture, especially in Africa and other developing regions. However, women face a myriad of challenges that undermine their role in agriculture; in some regions women are unable to own land, inherit property and rear cattle despite the potentially significant economic benefits. These issues resonate with me; I feel the need to correct these gender-based errors. Moreover, I also explore the role of women in decision making processes at the household level; I usually look at various issues, for example, household expenditure and food distribution with a gender perspective.

Agriculture and cultivating gender awareness

There is a need for a mindset shift especially in rural areas. Due to culture and other factors, women view themselves as insignificant players. For example, in many rural areas, it probably hasn’t entered their mind that they can own land, mostly they see themselves as labourers. We need to cultivate dialogues including men to promote the idea of women as equal partners. There is a need to plant the idea of gender equity in communities as this can enhance the well-being of families. In doing so, communities should be empowered to determine their role within the boundaries of their own culture rather than to impose our perspectives. In a nutshell, I support human development efforts that are hinged on community involvement. This approach will enrich our diversity as humanity. Meetings, such as the upcoming Women Deliver Conference, provide the necessary platform to share experiences and gauge progress as a global family.

Action on gender equity

The main challenge has to do with action. Oftentimes, there is a lot of dialogue with not enough subsequent affirmative action. Actions communicate, and speak louder than words; we have to commit to moving beyond the rhetoric. Governments also need to come on board, the presence of political will can influence funding and participation. One potential approach that has been widely-adopted is gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming is strategic programming that deliberately seeks to acknowledge and accommodate women. In support of these efforts, research has to be conducted with a clear gender lens to provide critical evidence. Gender is everywhere. Researchers across different disciplines could find ways to identify those ways in which gender plays a role in their field.  I’m asking for the consideration of gender when it comes to all fields of research and governance. Another important issue is the promotion of participation of men. When I talk about gender equity I do not anticipate the creation of two parallel systems, instead we to bring men into this conversation and to be part of the process of working to enhance co-existence.

The University can do better

When it comes to female students, it’s very important for us to see other women occupying tenure and high-level positions. It will serve as a motivation for the younger generation as it kind of normalizes the situation, and makes it easier for everyone to experience the reality of what has long been envisioned as a possibility.

My confidence as an emerging female researcher comes from seeing prominent women in positions of authority tackling issues of gender equity. In recruitment processes and hiring, I suggest that UBC, and institutions in general, be intentional with regards gender: disclosing information of the ratios of men and women. As much as you see adverts that encourage underrepresented populations to apply, we should see more of that for women especially in the fields where we need to fill large gaps.

In some settings, there are still those patriarchal cultural norms that still dictate our way of life. When I see other African women coming forward to speak openly about these issues, seeing that also gives me morale, tells me that it is OK to do that.

As an international student I’m always interested in ways of how we, female international students, adjust and navigate new environments. I always wonder about African females’ long-term plans do we want to maintain the status quo, or are we willing to challenge the culture to shift things? UBC as an international institution can set a good example by way of putting their gender mandate out there. Let’s be clear and bold about our gender equity efforts.

If we would like to see changes coming, we should also now look into how we can involve the communities themselves? I am aware of some ground-breaking initiatives to promote community-based research. A lot remains to be done to decolonize research and academia to integrate community’s knowledge and contribution.

Gender and cultural diversity, cultural and tactical reciprocity

We all exist within unique contexts and we want to be the best that we can be in terms of behavior and the expectations of the community we reside in. In the past, while growing up in Botswana, I questioned some gendered cultural practices, but there was no platform for such dialogues. As I traveled, I gradually got out of the cage and gained the confidence to actually get to a place where I can now join the global community to ask these difficult questions and look into these issues more in-depth. It’s still a work in progress. I realize I think the main issue here has to be the culture. Gender equity is particularly important for African women, it is a discourse that requires a shift of cultural mentality that has been in existence for quite a long time. It’s going to require a lot of patience; it’s a long-term process.

On northerners researching the Global South

Some researchers and development practitioners, especially from abroad, have adopted a sole aim of seeking to assist Africans. When you adopt the mentality of “I’m coming in this place because there is a lack that I want to address,” you’ve already closed all channels and possibilities for learning. Everyone in research should begin to view Africa in a totally different way. It is imperative to adjust our work to respect and fit the community’s cultural expectations. Moreover, in doing so there has to be some flexibility in terminology. When we get to various settings, we need to gauge the terrain, the climate, the temperatures, the gender temperatures to bring oneself to the level where the people are at. For example in Botswana, especially in rural areas, I am cautious with the use of the  word “gender equity,” but use other terms such as “gender sensibility ” for cultural appropriateness. In Botswana, people in urban areas have a greater awareness about the gender issues than their counterparts in rural areas.


I hope to see the diversities of our community being maintained by giving all communities the opportunity to chart their own path. It is very important that gender equity be formulated within their own culture and cultural understandings. We are diverse. We shouldn’t be trying to create a monolithic framework that would fit everybody, because that’s not how the world functions.

There is often a misconception about women who are involved in gender. I became an advocate for gender equity in recent years and I am still learning to find my place and position. I have also committed myself to furthering my education up to this level, with the hope of motivating young girls in rural areas. I was raised in a rural area, and I’m very proud of that. I am therefore hoping that my work and achievements inspire someone else.