Global Challenge Research Fellows at the University of Sheffield are set to tackle some of developing countries' biggest problems


University of Sheffield welcomes women Research Fellows

University of Sheffield welcomes women Research Fellows

The University of Sheffield welcomes a group of Research Fellows to the university as part of a £1.5 billion Government investment to ensure UK research takes a leading role in addressing the problems faced by developing countries.

Six of the Global Challenge Research Fellows are women. They are based across different University of Sheffield faculties and are tackling some of the most challenging problems faced by those living in the Global South as they translate cutting edge research into local impact.

Funded by The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) the Fellows are focusing on: Equitable Access to Sustainable Development; Sustainable Economies and Societies; and Human Rights, Good Governance and Social Justice. These areas are closely aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Where Women Work profiles the six women Fellows below.


Dr Elaine (Lan Yin) Hsiao, Sheffield Institute for International Development

Dr Elaine Hsiao (pictured above) will focus on community conservation and its revitaliaation in modern African states.

"Ever since I began research in environmental peacebuilding and transboundary conservation, I have been convinced that the Albertine Rift represents a confluence of all of the world’s peace and development challenges in ecologically unique and unforgettably beautiful landscapes with an equally rich diversity of cultures. If it is possible to build positive peace between people and with nature alongside regenerative development without compromising cultural heritage in the Albertine, then it is possible anywhere," explains Elaine.

"The story of conservation in Africa has historically been externally-driven, looking at colonial game reserves and parks as examples of a North Atlantic approach to fortress-model conservation implemented in tribal wildlands. In reality, conservation was embedded in many cultures across these landscapes, but these knowledge systems and practices have not been well-protected against political, economic, and social changes in the last decades (and arguably, hence, has resulted in significant environmental change).

"The role of traditional and local communities in modern African states is uncertain and even long-recognized communal lands are fragmenting into fenced private properties. Yet, if conservation is left to a few State agents in sequestered parklands, the state of the environment will only continue to decline. It is imperative that conservation take root outside and in between protected areas, ie connectivity and for systems of environmental governance and stewardship to be driven by people and not just a regime of paramilitaries and penalties that may or may not be effective. These are the issues that underlie my motivation to focus this research on community conservation and its revitalization.

"As a Global Challenges Fellow, I will be following on previous fieldwork in this region beginning in 2010, allowing me to go deeper with critical questions about the interstitial zones between countries and especially between communities and parks, where the greatest social, political, and development challenges arise. Most excitingly, this fellowship gives me an opportunity to strengthen my connections with local institutions and partners in Rwanda, connect them to the incredible community at the University of Sheffield, in particular those at the Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID), to co-produce research that can influence policies and practices on-the-ground."


Dr Kang Lan Tee, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Dr Tang Tee University of Sheffield

Dr Kang Lan Tee will focus on tackling the environmental damage caused by persistent plastic waste, through the sustainable production and consumption of bioplastic.

"The Science journal published an article in 2015 that showed that five Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries (Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia) are in the top ten countries with mismanaged plastic waste. Ranked second, Indonesia generates 3.22 metric tons (MT) of plastic waste annually while Thailand is the world's sixth biggest contributor at 1.03 MT per year. As the world continues to seek a more sustainable way of producing and consuming plastic, it is clear that the Global South bears the brunt of this plastic epidemic. In partnership with the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC) and the National Metal and Materials Technology Centre (MTEC) in Thailand, my project aims to create a circular economy approach to the sustainable production and consumption of bioplastic. We will leverage the agricultural capacity of Thailand and ASEAN by using agricultural wastes, such as cassava pulp and sugarcane bagasse, as sustainable feedstock for bioplastic production. Production of compostable and biodegradable polyhydroxyalkaoate (PHA) in this project will also help to tackle the environmental damage caused by persistent plastic wastes," she explains.

"I am thankful to the University of Sheffield and those involved in making this award, and the opportunity presented to the Global Challenge Fellows to lead efforts in addressing the key global challenges our world faces. More importantly, the award demonstrates commitment to solving plastic waste/pollution as a pressing issue and validates the importance of engineering sciences and partnership in delivering that solution. Support from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering has also been crucial for the development of this research project. Having worked with BIOTEC in various GCRF schemes since 2016, the fellowship is a unique opportunity for me to intensify and broaden our collaboration to create a dynamic and long-lasting partnership.

"Working closely with Thai researchers on a daily basis, I look forward to sharing research experience and training young researchers to help strengthen the research capacity in Thailand. This experience will give me greater insights into the culture and people in Thailand and the challenges they face, through which I hope to tailor our future partnership to maximise impact delivery. As a long-term vision of this partnership with BIOTEC and MTEC, I want to establish an ASEAN researchers network to pool expertise and the unique resources in individual countries for innovation that can support clean and sustainable growth in the region."


Dr Ellie Gore, Department of Politics and International Relations

Dr Ellie Gore Sheffield

Dr Ellie Gore will examine the relationship between gender and forced labour in Ghana, undertaking intensive field research in three regions of the country.

"My project entails a comparative study of gendered vulnerability to, and experiences of, severe labour exploitation across three sectors in Ghana: cocoa; sex work; domestic work. It aims to build an in-depth understanding of the intersections between gender and forced labour in the Ghanaian economy and to identify policy interventions to address this. The study focuses on two primary research questions: What factors determine women workers’ vulnerability to forced labour in Ghana? And how does gender shape these workers’ experiences of forced labour?" explains Ellie.

"I am delighted to be part of a cohort of Global Challenges Research Fellows at the University, who are conducting innovative and important research into some of the most pressing global issues of our time. The fellowship is also a really exciting opportunity to work in partnership with colleagues at the University of Ghana and to establish new empirical evidence on women’s experiences of labour exploitation in the Ghanaian economy. This evidence is intended to inform wider policy and academic debates on preventing and combating forced labour, in both the Global South and the Global North.

"This is an important fellowship for me, as it offers a platform to fully establish myself as an independent researcher and to work on a new study that consolidates and advances the lines of inquiry I have been developing since my doctoral research. I am also excited to be staying on at SPERI, where I will contribute to the Labour and Decent Work research stream, as well as benefiting from the intellectual stimulus offered by colleagues and their expertise in policy impact and engagement work.

"I’m particularly looking forward to building on, and deepening, my existing relationships and networks at the University of Ghana, both in the Sociology Department and across the wider university."


Dr Sally Cawood, Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Dr Sally Cawood Sheffield

Dr Sally Cawood will be leading a project with WaterAid to improve the lives of sanitation workers in India and Bangladesh.

"Over the next two years, I will be working with the non-governmental organization WaterAid to explore the lives, and livelihoods of female sanitation workers involved in latrine cleaning and emptying in towns and cities across India and Bangladesh," she says. 

"The research will involve six months of qualitative and ethnographic fieldwork to understand the everyday experiences and collective strategies of sanitation workers to improve their lives, and move out of hazardous forms of work. The project forms part of a global movement to recognise the rights of sanitation workers, by placing their needs and priorities at the centre of research, policy and practice.

"The fellowship is a fantastic opportunity to work directly with meaningful partners, such as WaterAid, on important global challenges. It also enables me to work with interdisciplinary teams in Urban Studies and Planning and Engineering, and embed myself in a University that prides itself on research and teaching excellence. I am delighted to be awarded this fellowship, and see it as a critical step for me to continue developing as a reflexive, impact and partner-oriented researcher. I can’t wait to get started!

"Within the fellowship, I’m most looking forward to the long periods of fieldwork where I will be placed in the WaterAid offices in Delhi and Dhaka. Once there, I will work directly with colleagues to gather and build on detailed insights into the lives and priorities of sanitation workers. I’m also looking forward to feeding back findings within WaterAid, across the University (e.g. SIID, USP) and to wider audiences via conference presentations, papers and blogs, so watch this space!"


Dr Laura Martin, School of English

Dr Laura Martin Sheffield

Dr Laura Martin will explore the relationship between humour, violence and gender in Sierra Leone.

"This project explores the relationship between humor, violence and gender in Sierra Leone. More specifically, it examines how humor can both instigate and mitigate different forms of violence, with a focus on sexual and gender-based violence. In partnership with the local access to justice organization, Timap for Justice, we are looking to use humor as a starting point of discussion in order to find new and innovative approaches to addressing this highly critical issue in rural parts of Sierra Leone," explains Laura.

"The approach to discussing sensitive subject matter is a starting point to a much more substantial discussion about how to more readily promote gender inequality, reduce inequalities and promote social justice. My overseas partner Timap and I seek to work with rural areas that do not necessarily receive much attention from NGOs, and through the workshops we want to understand the gender-based issues in communities, how they are addressed amongst community members and why they are or are not reported.

"After we have gathered this information we want to work in partnership with these communities to find sustainable solutions that will ultimately help address these gender-based issues, either through local community structures and/or working alongside other organizations to design new ways of reporting abuse. Based on our findings, we intend to write reports that will help inform local and national policy, which will in turn transform how gender-based violence is dealt with in rural Sierra Leonean communities."


Dr Sarita Punday, Department of Politics

Sr Sarita Punday Sheffield

Photo by Rod Searcey

Dr Sarita Panday will focus on improving maternal health service provision in Nepal, bridging the gap between women service users, their local healthcare providers and policy-makers.

"This fellowship is an extension of my postdoctoral and doctoral research. In my PhD, I found that marginalised women often underuse healthcare services even when they are specifically encouraged and the services are free. When I asked those women why they were not using the services, many hesitated to participate in interviews, let alone engage with the issues. My subsequent postdoctoral fellowship introduced me to using Participatory Video (PV) methods, and I found this approach to be a more productive way of engaging with rural communities on complex problems. I really liked the way the participatory process allowed me to interact with local people so that they could talk openly, which would not have been possible in one-off interviews," she comments.

"Therefore, in this fellowship, I will be using similar participatory approaches, such as PV, storytelling, interviews and focus group discussions. Working in the two hill districts of Nepal, Dhading and Sindhupalchok, I will try to understand why women from marginalised communities such as Dalits, indigenous and ethnic minorities, feel reluctant to use maternal and child healthcare services. I will be asking questions about women’s experience of the health systems when they do seek care, and also interview local health workers to understand the relationship between their practices and service uses by women. I will then share these findings with concerned policy-makers through workshops at local municipal, provincial and central level. In doing so, I hope to bridge the gap between women service users, their local healthcare providers and policy-makers.

"At the end of the project, I expect to contribute to a greater awareness and understanding of socio-cultural, economic and political factors influencing the use of maternal and child healthcare services within marginalised communities in rural Nepal.

"I am extremely honoured and grateful to be awarded with this prestigious fellowship and am very much looking forward to implementing my first independent research project in Nepal. I will be working with excellent mentors, Dr Simon Rushton (Department of Politics) and Dr Amy Barnes (School of Health and Related Research), to establish a strong partnership with Kathmandu University. Together with them, I plan to apply for future projects with focus on empowering women in rural Nepal."


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