No Wasted Lives celebrates women in science: Pilar Charle Cuellar

5th July 2018

Can Community Health Workers increase the number of children diagnosed with and treated for severe acute malnutrition outside of health facilities? The C-Project in Mali, supported by No Wasted Lives, tested this innovative approach. Due to its positive results, the research team is already working in other countries such as Niger and Mauritania in the Sahel region.

Pilar Charle Cuellar oversees the research, and coordinates its expansion as the principal investigator of the study. She trained as a medical doctor in Spain, and graduated from a Master’s programme in Tropical Parasitology. After having worked for several years in the field, Pliar obtained another Master’s degree in Public Health.

Working as a woman in her profession, she often experienced – both in Africa as well as in Spain – that people assumed she was a nurse, rather than a doctor. “It is harder to establish yourself as a woman; if there’s a man next to you, people will always turn to him first,” Pilar recaps. However, once her position is clear, she always felt well respected. Having worked in Africa for more than twenty years, she still feels that a woman needs to work harder to gain respect. In the humanitarian sphere, there are still a lot more men than women, especially in higher positions with more responsibility.

Pilar describes that a shift has happened, but women have yet to benefit from it. “When I first came to Angola in 2001, there were no nationals trained in the field, it was just white expatriates,” she recounts. Over the years, she has seen an evolution. Now most nutritionists and doctors working with Action Against Hunger are from Africa.

What is still missing is what she calls a feminisation of education. “This is a priority for us at Action Against Hunger,” she says. “We’ve got some great examples of women in coordination positions or working as doctors.” She mentions Fanta Touré from Senegal, the Nutrition Advisor for Action Against Hunger in West Africa, and Salimata Samake from Mali who is the deputy nutrition and health coordinator in the country. “But it’s harder. There is still a lot of work to do for female representation at field-level,” she closes.

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