Congratulations to the 2020 GEST Cohort!

22 May 2020
Congratulations to the 2020 GEST Cohort!

Today, the GEST programme celebrated the graduation of 20 fellows. This was the first cohort to graduate from GRÓ GEST, now that the GEST programme under the auspices of UNESCO. The fellows were awarded a postgraduate diploma in International Gender Studies from the University of Iceland. The twenty fellows graduated, representing Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana, Nigeria, Afghanistan, South Africa, Palestine, and for the first time Sri Lanka, Russia (Arctic), and Cameroon. The graduation ceremony took place at the University of Iceland and was attended by Ms. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former president of Iceland and the patron of the programme; Mr. Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development Cooperation; Dr. Jón Atli Benediktsson, Rector of the University of Iceland; Guðmundur Hálfdanarson, Dean of the School of Humanities, as well as GEST fellows, supervisors, staff, and other guests.

The GEST programme during Covid-19
The 20 newly graduated fellows now join the other 132 GEST alumni in the GEST alumni network, bringing the total number of alumni to 152 and the network’s reach to 25 countries worldwide. This semester has been an unusual semester for the GEST programme. It started off like any other semester, where the GEST team welcomed the 2020 cohort during the darkest days of winter in January. After two months of adjusting to a very different environment, the fellows had to prove their resilience and determination once again, as the University of Iceland closed mid-March due to the Covid-19 restrictions. Throughout this period, the fellows continued their studies using online platforms, and as the University of Iceland reopened at the beginning of May, the fellows had all managed to keep on track, completing their final assignments on schedule on the 10th of May. At the ceremony, the Minister of Foreign Affairs recognized the fellows’ impressive strength as he addressed the fellows: “Not only have you been presented with a demanding educational environment, you have also shown great resilience and strength – your graduation here today is proof of that”.

The Rector of the University of Iceland, congratulated the fellows on their achievement, and encouraged them to “embrace the challenges and get ahead of the change”. Fellow and 2020 graduate Allen Asiimwe addressed the guests at the graduation and shared her reflections on the programme. She highlighted the positives and the challenges as she said: “The time here has provided us with an opportunity to reflect, rethink and question ourselves on who we are and what we stand for.“ She emphasised that this end is a new beginning as the group of fellows return to their home countries, stronger and more determined to make a change within their communities.

The Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Award
The 2020 GEST fellows and the ceremony’s guests were honoured by the attendance of Ms. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former president and patron of the programme, in whose name an award, the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir award is presented for the best final assignment. Despite the challenging semester, never before have as many final assignments received an honorary mention as 11 of 20 assignments received a first-class grade with distinction. The Dean of the School of Humanities, Dr. Guðmundur Hálfdanarson, gave the award speech as Ms. Finnbogadóttir handed out the awards. This year, for the first time and henceforward, the award is presented in two distinct categories. The first category is for applied projects or project documents, in which the fellow addresses and provides practical recommendations for an issue in relation to gender equality in their home country. The second category is for essays or research proposals, which aim at contributing to the existing academic literature on a particular topic relating to gender equality or outlining a proposal for a future PhD project.

For all final assignments, in order to be considered for the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir award, it applies that the work has to address gender issues that are of concern in the fellow’s home country. It must show evidence of sophisticated gender analysis with appropriate academic references, and it shall be well-structured and written.

Two final assignments truly stood out. In the category of applied project and project documents, Brenda Apeta, of Uganda, succeeded in formulating a commendable practical project that centres on the promotion of gender responsive pedagogy in primary education. Her assignment is titled Equipping Primary Teachers in Gender Responsive Pedagogy to Strengthen Quality and Equity in Schools at the Imvepi Refugee Camp. In the category of essays and research proposals, Nadhiya Najab put forward a nuanced analysis of microfinance institutions, and the gendered social and economic implications that result from increasing levels of indebtedness. The findings are broadly analysed within the context of Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern Provinces, which were directly impacted by an armed conflict. Her assignment is titled Spiralling Into Poverty, One Debt at a Time.

The GEST team congratulates the fellows and thanks its partners
The GEST team congratulates the 2020 fellows and hopes that the fellows will travel home safely in the next weeks. The GEST team thanks the University of Iceland and the International Office for its valuable support. The GEST team also thanks Félagsstofnun Stúdenta for support and flexibility during this challenging semester. GEST thanks its main donor the Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs through GRÓ, Centre for Capacity Development, Sustainability, and Societal Change, as well as international partners such as the Icelandic Red Cross, the Icelandic Equality Fund, MFA Arctic, and Erasmus+ partnership.

More photos from the ceremony can be found at the University of Iceland's webpage here.