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Arts intern explores gender and climate change in Ethiopia

Mimi Sheriff (centre, back) is pictured outside the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa with a group of children who delivered a poverty message to conference delegates.

By Janet Harron

Currently, Memorial’s women’s studies department is the only university in Canada to offer a graduate-level degree program that can be completed through internship. This innovation, established in 2001, continues to attract some very interesting students.

Mimi Sheriff had already completed both an undergraduate degree in gender studies and a law degree at the University of Capetown when an adviser suggested that Memorial might be a good fit.

“I wanted a change for graduate school and I knew I wanted to come to Canada. The internship option was a huge selling point,” said the Ethiopian/Zimbabwean native, who arrived in St. John’s in September 2009.

Ms. Sheriff recently returned from a four-month stint working as an intern for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“I wanted the opportunity to get practical and professional work experience in an area – climate change – that I think is important to know more about. And I want to do research relevant to my country,” said Ms. Sheriff, who hopes to work in international development.

The UNDP is one of the leading organizations dealing with climate change in Ethiopia, in collaboration with the Ethiopian government and through partnerships with various UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.

And how does an interest in climate change relate to her work in gender studies?
Although climate change is affecting the whole world, Ms. Sheriff explains that in Ethiopia, like many other developing countries, because of their gendered social roles, rural women are still the main firewood and water carriers. They feel the daily effect of issues related to climate change most drastically.

“I wanted to learn how the UNDP is using gender mainstreaming (using both men’s and women’s concerns and experiences as major aspects of various planning at different levels) and applying it to their climate change projects,” she said.

She went on to explain that the UNDP has a comprehensive gender mainstreaming strategy that is built into their entire institutional action plan.
Ethiopia is still ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world and is closely associated with powerful images of drought and poverty. According to Ms. Sheriff however, Ethiopia is changing and so should its public perception.
While interning with the UNDP, Ms. Sheriff assisted in organizing a conference on behalf of a UNDP partner, BioEconomy Africa. The organization considers the social, ecological and economic factors associated with sustainable farming and climate change adaptation.

She also managed some of the logistics for the Africa China Poverty Reduction and Development Conference, edited the Millenium Development Goal’s booklet (a government and UNDP publication), and began co-writing a best practice booklet explaining an Integrated Bioeconomy System (IBS) for policy makers, farmers and development workers.

“Mimi’s experience is a great example of how the master of women’s studies internship program is designed to work," said Dr. Katherine Side, head of the Department of Women's Studies. "To date, students have completed internships in a variety of settings – from immigrant settlement organizations in Atlantic Canada to non-governmental organizations in Tanzania to the United Nations. The internship route is a really important option and one that continues to attract applicants.”