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Dr. Jane Wathuta: A champion for family research

Dr. Jane Wathuta (second from right, on the third row) with other participants at the 1st International Scientific Conference of Research n Family Services at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun held in March 2019.

Dr. Jane Wathuta, Director of the Institute for Family Studies and Ethics, presented a paper at the 1st International Scientific Conference of Research on Family Services at the Center for Family Research Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland, in March 2019. Her paper, which she co-authored with Gabriel Dinda, a graduate assistant at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences was titled: Protection of the Kenyan Family by achieving SDG 3.1.

Research papers in Toruń, Jerusalem and Budapest

She has been on a research streak as late last year in November she presented a paper in Jerusalem, at the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics 13th World Conference. This paper focused on ethical issues in tobacco control and is based on a book chapter on addiction in Africa, co-authored with Smith Ouma that is already in press.

And in January this year, she presented a paper at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, in Budapest.

“The paper tackled the dilemma on how to harmonise and integrate the marriage systems in Kenya – customary versus other systems of marriage – based on ongoing work being done with Fadhili Deche, a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies and Philosophy student,” Dr. Wathuta says.

Creating family-friendly attitudes and policies

While in Budapest, she had an opportunity to meet with the Maria Kopp Institute for Demography and Families (KINCS) to hear what they are doing to create family-friendly attitudes and policies in the country; the Hungarian family benefits, the day-care system and the grandparents’ leave supplement in central administration.  At the meeting, Balázs Molnár, Deputy Head of KINCS and András Székely, Head of Policy Analysis, presented the activities of KINCS and outlined in detail the family policy results of the period 2010-2018.

While studying for her undergraduate degree in law at the University of Nairobi (UoN), Dr. Wathuta never imagined herself in academia. “Research was not an area that was presented to us as a career option. We thought we could only practice law. But now I see it is such a dynamic area and more people should be exposed to the reality of academia. I have become more aware of that in terms of mentorship and building capacity where I can.”

Two years ago she completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in the University of the Witwatersrand South Africa. “It was a great push in terms of mentorship and apprenticeship into academia. One has to protect the time for research so that is what I am trying to do.”

Love for humanities and family studies

She chose law because of her love for humanities and her focus on family studies was sparked by the need to understand reality and the human person. Passionate about family, her master’s focused on marriage and family sciences while her PhD was in Bioethics. “It was an offshoot of one of the masters’ courses I had done. An opportunity that came with a scholarship to pursue a doctorate, soon after my masters. I did an ethical and human rights evaluation of HIV prevention strategies in Sub Saharan Africa, which has aspects of family and law in it.”

The only member of the institute for the time being, she is always on the lookout for opportunities to engage in family research as research is a key item in the institute’s mission and vision. “The institute has the three pillars of the university in mind. Everything we do leads there: research, law and policy input, family related education, networking, and partnerships. Some of the recent projects are a capacity building workshop in partnership with the Center for Research on Organizations, Work and Family (CROWF) and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), on family policies and sustainable development goals.”

To prepare for the workshop, she was engaged as a consultant to write a background paper that analyses the National Family Promotion and Protection Policy, which is still in draft form, in light of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Mentoring young women scholars

Together with Dr. Constance Gikonyo, from the University of Nairobi, she started a peer support forum known as Women in Academia. “One of our aims is to mentor younger women scholars who are interested in academia and to also support one another because the academic world can sometimes be very tough for women.”


This article was written by Wambui Gachari.


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