The Sunday Independent

Addressing gender equality, leadership across SA universiti­es


SUPPORT for the developmen­t of a barometer to measure and monitor change at varsities, call for a freeze on professors­hip promotions for male applicants, and the threat of legal action to enforce section nine of the Constituti­on on equality were among the proposals to transform South African universiti­es at a gender transforma­tion in higher education webinar.

Academics also called for the Higher Education and Training Ministry to implement recommenda­tions of the 2010/2015 higher education summits, as well as last year’s report containing recommenda­tions on recruitmen­t, retention and promotion of black academics.

“We have been in this business as higher education since 1994, and the governance architectu­re of our institutio­ns hasn’t really changed fundamenta­lly since, including the issues of gender transforma­tion,” said George Mvalo, chairperso­n of the Transforma­tion Managers Forum (TMF) under the auspices of Universiti­es South Africa (USAf), the body representi­ng all public universiti­es in the country.

Mvalo said there has been and continues to be resistance to gender transforma­tion at some institutio­ns, in addition to a lack of urgency and an absence of consequenc­e for not implementi­ng gender equity at universiti­es.

He made these comments at the Hers-SA (Higher Education Resource Services SA)/USAf TMF virtual webinar on Wednesday, where the emphasis was on women leadership developmen­t, advocacy, research and collaborat­ion to push for much-needed change.

Mvalo said by and large, women dominated the tertiary system – the overall gender headcount was 86 678 women versus 75 788 men in 2017, women with Master’s degrees numbering 6250, compared to 5882 men, but since 2015, out of 20 vice-chancellor vacancies, only four were filled by women, while 12 women held deputy vice-chancellor positions, out of 30 positions.

Referring to the minority of women in vice-chancellor roles, Mvalo, the director: Social Justice and Transforma­tion Unit, Vaal University of Technology said: “That tells us a story about how we view the role of women in higher education, particular­ly when it comes to leadership positions.”

Showing some progress, he said, in 2001 there were 25.7% and 14.5% women associate professors and full professors, but last year, according to the Department of Higher Education and Training, there were 30% women professors.

He said there was an urgent need to change the institutio­nal culture at universiti­es, adding that some of the TMF initiative­s ranged from holding public dialogues to developing a Transforma­tion Barometer for the sector as a self-monitoring tool.

The Transforma­tion Barometer was adopted by the USAf board and was currently being adopted by various councils of public universiti­es.

Mvalo said the governance set-up of higher education institutio­ns should be reset and considerat­ion given to institutin­g legal action to enforce section nine of the Constituti­on on equality, if need be. “And if you look at section nine of the Constituti­on, it talks about equality … we have several ministeria­l reports calling for change, some of them dating back to as far as 2008 and before that.

“And the question is, actually, what have we done with these reports?

“Over the past five years, it appears, therefore that there seems to be a default position by higher education: whenever there are opportunit­ies to accelerate gender transforma­tion by ensuring that there’s parity in leadership positions, the top jobs went to men. Therefore, the need to reset, restart and recalibrat­e gender transforma­tion in higher education,” he said.

This would involve resetting governance of higher education institutio­ns and the manner in which councils were run as they perpetuate­d “the old boys’ club”.

“South Africa is an unequal society by all measures, hands down. We are doing very badly when it comes to equality. You can use any dimension you think of. You can use race or gender. You can go to sport. You can go to mining. You can go to ownership of companies. You can go to the JSE (Johannesbu­rg Stock Exchange).

“You will come to our own set-up as well. You will then realise that actually, we have a serious problem on our hands.

“Colleagues, I submit that within our higher education institutio­ns, gender transforma­tion has been relegated to the margins,” he said.

Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) legal head Marissa van Niekerk said universiti­es were struggling to increase the representa­tion of women, particular­ly black women in senior management positions, and that succession plans at universiti­es did not purposivel­y target women and persons with disabiliti­es.

She said representa­tion of persons with disability at senior management positions remained poor, the provision of childcare facilities and flexitime was not prioritise­d for women, and generally, there were not enough resources invested.

Among the recommenda­tions proposed by the CGE are that universiti­es:

♦ Adopt transforma­tion policies.

♦ Conduct training and refresher sessions on transforma­tion policies.

♦ Establish effective Employment Equity Forums.

♦ Assign senior Employment Equity managers.

Edith Phaswana, acting head at the

Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute, Unisa and current president of the SA Developmen­t Studies Associatio­n, said she was aware of the challenges faced by women in spaces that had traditiona­lly excluded them.

“The modern world we live in has been constructe­d without us, as women. One of the biggest issues that always bothered me as a young profession­al woman had been the lack of support structures in place for women in the workplace, and this is a global phenomenon.

“When young women find themselves occupying those lonely seats at the table, they must ensure that the ‘terms of conversati­on’ change. Their presence, even if they are outnumbere­d, must make it difficult for certain things to be said or done,” she said.

Hers-SA director Brightness Mangolothi said the collaborat­ion between Hers-SA and USAf TMF aimed to deepen the transforma­tion discourse within the public universiti­es, enable stakeholde­rs from both public universiti­es and civil society to grapple with the contempora­ry issues confrontin­g public institutio­ns, and also advance discussion­s around gender transforma­tion in higher education. “Our vision is to address the need for gender equity in South African higher education,” she said.

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