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African Studies conference focuses on transformation

The Canadian Association of African Studies conference hosted scholars from around the world to discuss issues of change in African countries.

[Conference attendees share a laugh during the conference. (Photo: Faculty of Arts and Science)]
Attendees share a laugh during the conference. (Photo: Faculty of Arts and Science)

The Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS) focused their 10th anniversary conference on a broad but important topic: Transformations in African environments.

[Marc Epprecht, Amila Guidone, and Sarah Katz-Lavigne]
President of CAAS and professor in Global Development Studies Dr. Marc Epprect stands at the registration table with Amila Guidone, Research Assistant at Queen’s, and Sarah Katz-Lavigne, PhD candidate at Carleton University. (Photo: University Communications)

“I’m excited to show the progress that Queen’s has made since 2009 when we last hosted the conference. There were many professors retiring then, and it seemed African Studies had had its day here, even though Queen’s was one of the first institutions in Canada to have dedicated, tenured faculty members who taught African topics roughly 50 years ago,” says Marc Epprecht, President of the CAAS and professor of Global Development Studies at Queen’s. “Luckily in the last three or four years, there’s been quite a turn around. We’ve hired new faculty members and there is a new project partnering with the MasterCard Foundation and the University of Gondar in Ethiopia, so we’re getting all kinds of great African talent here with PhD and Masters students. To me, it’s a really exciting time to be studying Africa at Queen’s.”

The conference, held Thursday, May 3 to Sunday, May 6, included panels, round-tables, and a keynote from international scholars and specialists.

Dr. Shireen Hassim, professor (University of the Witwatersrand) and Matina S. Horner Distinguished Visiting Scholar (Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University), gives the keynote speech during the Canadian Association of African Studies Conference. (Photo: University Communications)
Dr. Shireen Hassim gives the keynote speech during the Canadian Association of African Studies Conference. (Photo: University Communications)

Shireen Hassim, professor (University of the Witwatersrand) and Matina S. Horner Distinguished Visiting Scholar (Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University), gave the keynote address on Saturday. Dr. Hassim explored the life of Winnie Mandela and violence under racist capitalism, as well as the history and intersection of racism and sexism in South Africa. She also shared how she introduced a feminist lens into academic discussions throughout her career as a researcher.

Among the many events during the conference, one of the engaging panels was Adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa: From policy to action. Colleen Davison (Public Health Sciences) and Martin Ayanore (University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ghana) presented on the panel with their colleagues Lydia Kapiriri (McMaster University) and Danielle Mpalirwa (Carleton University).

Dr. Davison focused on ensuring rights for vulnerable populations of adolescents in African countries, such as those living in very poor families, adolescents in rural areas, young people living with disabilities, or adolescents from particular ethnic groups in some countries.

[Dr. Lydia Kapiriri, Dr. Martin Ayanore, and Dr. Colleen Davison pose together]
Dr. Lydia Kapiriri, Dr. Martin Ayanore, and Dr. Colleen Davison pose together  after their panel on adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights in sub-Saharan Africa. (Photo: Colleen Davison)

“Almost all of the seventeen sustainable development goals [discussed during the panel] give us opportunity for action related to ensuring that the sexual and reproductive rights for these even more marginalized populations are met,” says Dr. Davison.

Dr. Ayanore discussed Universal Health Coverage and its role in driving the goal of equitable sexual reproductive health rights among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. The discussion centred on how strategic purchasing can be used to improve commodity supplies at national levels.

“There are three dimensions that must fit into the drive towards providing adolescent sexual and reproductive services in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Dr. Ayanore. “Risk protection for vulnerable population groups in terms of access to broad range of reproductive services, context-based evidence for improving services and driving further research, and strong national- and international-level commitments to drive resources to advance better health outcomes.”

Other panels and round tables explored the changing landscape of governance, the coup in Zimbabwe, the struggle against homophobia, the effect of political conflict on sustainable development, ageing research, gender politics, access to disability services, mining, and urbanism in African countries.

To find out about upcoming conferences and events, follow the new Global Development Studies Twitter account.