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Studying populations to develop Africa

- Wits University

Africa Month: Professor Clifford Odimegwu is passionate about developing a new generation of population scientists in Africa.

“Any professor who has not supervised a PhD student to completion is not worthy of being a professor,” says the Head of the Demography and Population Studies Programme at Wits.

Odimegwu is a Nigerian citizen who spent time as a research fellow at Harvard University’s School of Public Health before joining Wits in 2003.

A sociologist and demographer-social statistician who focuses on health issues in Africa, Odimegwu has implemented a number of research projects, which have important policy implications.

His research interests cover the broad field of demography, sexual and reproductive health and gender issues. One of his key projects is the examination of the role of gender inequality on demographic outcomes in Africa.

“There have been huge investments on issues of gender inequality – women empowerment – over the past 20 years, so we are now looking at existing data sets to find out what has changed in gender relations and inequities,” says Odimegwu.

“Our finding is that despite the investments in gender equality programmes, the inequalities remain.  So we are asking what has happened to the millions of dollars spent on these programmes in trying to achieve gender equality in Africa.”

In most of Africa, women are still subjected to men, and to change this, Odimegwu says a new approach needs to be taken.

“We have to try to find a way of promoting an understanding of what gender equality actually means.”

‘‘Because, in an African society, when you bring up the issue of gender equality, you tend to scare men away, you do not get their support. However, our challenge is to make a man understand that by respecting the rights of women, they are going to get more benefits than when they are undermining these rights.”

Odimegwu cherishes the various studies undertaken by his doctoral students, ranging from examination of the role of community factors on demographic outcomes to issues of teenage pregnancy in South Africa; changes in African family and its consequences across several African countries; adolescent health and sexuality; youth development in Nigeria and South Africa; women’s health and child health in Uganda and Zimbabwe; amongst others.

He is also involved in promoting the use of demographic information to deepen democracy and development in Africa.

Odimegwu has taught students from all over the continent and has graduated more than 80 Honours and 40 Masters students.

He is currently leading a research network on family demography in Africa. With his heart solidly in Africa, Odimegwu loves nothing more than to teach young Africans to become leaders in their own right.

“We need to prepare people who will take over from us,” he says.

“Passion makes a difference. If you are not passionate about helping a young South African find his or her feet, then you don’t belong here,” he says.

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