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Gender Equity Tensions in South Africas post-apartheid higher education: in defence of differentiation

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Abstract

This paper presents a theoretical and thematic exploration of gender equity in post –apartheid South African higher education. The paper argues that while South African women played a very important role in the struggle for political liberation, the current situation in South Africa’s political, economic and education institutions seems to suggest that the effort they put in the struggle does not commemorate the gains thereafter. A majority of South Africa’s girls and women still struggle to access quality education and excel at most levels, which is a direct contravention of the Constitutional guarantee of equality for all who live in this great nation. Although the gender equity paradigm in South African higher education can be credited as having recorded some formidable achievements in terms of increased enrolment for female students especially Black women in higher education, a deliberate effort has to be made to shift attention from aggregations to impediments in order for the promise of equality and equity to be realized for those who experienced most barriers in accessing higher education, In the current South African context, one needs to deal with disadvantages that are perpetuated through the socio-economic positioning of families, the inability to use the language of power, content complexity, embedded institutional cultures and practices, among others. Key words: Gender, equity, higher education, Post- apartheid
South African Journal of Higher Education http://dx.doi.org/10.20853/30-1-557
Volume 30 | Number 1 | 2016 I pages 1-16 1 eISSN 1753-5913
GENDER EQUITY TENSIONS IN SOUTH AFRICAS POST-
APARTHEID HIGHER EDUCATION: IN DEFENCE OF
DIFFERENTIATION
B. Akala
Wits School of Education
University of the Witwatersrand
Johannesburg, South Africa
e-mail: akalabetty@yahoo.com
J. J. Divala
Department of Education and Curriculum Studies
University of Johannesburg
Johannesburg, South Africa
e-mail: jdivala@uj.ac.za
ABSTRACT
This article presents a theoretical and thematic exploration of gender equity in post-apartheid
South African higher education. The article argues that while South African women played a very
important role in the struggle for political liberation, the current situation in South Africas political,
economic and education institutions seems to suggest that the effort they put in the struggle does
not commensurate the gains thereafter. A majority of South Africas girls and women still struggle
to access quality education and excel at most levels, which is a direct contravention of the
Constitutional guarantee of equality for all who live in this great nation. Although the gender equity
paradigm in South African higher education can be credited as having recorded some formidable
achievements in terms of increased enrolment for female students especially Black women in
higher education, a deliberate effort has to be made to shift attention from aggregations to
impediments in order for the promise of equality and equity to be realized for those who
experienced most barriers in accessing higher education. In the current South African context,
one needs to deal with disadvantages that are perpetuated through the socio-economic
positioning of families, the inability to use the language of power, content complexity, embedded
institutional cultures and practices, among others.
Key words: gender, equity, higher education, post-apartheid
INTRODUCTION
Finding solutions to gender related inequities and inequalities has been a subject of discussion
in the past three decades. Notwithstanding the achievements that have been realized so far;
promises and guarantees provided through the constitution and international statutes are yet to
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
2
change the situations of the formally marginalized women substantially. This is because gender
related inequities and inequalities continue to haunt the same cohort of girls and women in
institutions of higher learning today. For instance, although the South African Constitution
(1996) recognizes education as a fundamental human right, areas of serious marginalization
still exist within the current higher education system. On the international plane, whereas the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women1 (CEDAW)
adopted in 1979 by the United Nations (UN) serves as the international bill of rights for women,
gender related inequities and inequalities are still being grappled with. In relation to the above,
the Beijing Conference held in 1995 (The United Nations 1995), the United Nations Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs) and the African Union Protocol developed in 2003 all foreground
the need to have gender related inequities tackled. Centrally, any forms of discrimination and
violence against women at all levels regardless of race, creed and geographical position ought
not to be tolerated.
Reforming higher education was one of the areas that were undertaken by the African
Nation Congress (ANC) government upon gaining independence in 1994. It was imperative to
change the higher education landscape that had been gendered and racialized by the apartheid
regime and structures. For instance, The Department of Education, White Paper 1 (1995)
prefaces the need for equity of access, fair chances and non-discrimination. Similarly, the
inclusion of the equity clause2 in higher education was aimed at a catalyst of the reform process
while at the same time aiding institutions of higher education to overcome sexism and racism.
Consequently, Pityana (2009) illustrates that the equity paradigm in higher education was
adopted in order to expand opportunities, to extend potential to those who might have been
construed as unworthy and to treat everyone with fairness.
Section 37 of the 1997 Higher Education Act states that:
In their admissions policies, all South African universities are required to comply with appropriate
measures for the redress of past inequalities, but they may not unfairly discriminate in any way
(Department of Education 1997a, 37)
Attempted definitions of gender equity have proven problematic because equity is not about
providing equal opportunities alone but rather an engagement with the source of disadvantage
and dealing with the plight of disadvantaged groups. This in itself will highlight on the
magnitude of the problem and how well to resolve it. Whereas we concur with the Office on
the Status of Women (OSW) definition of gender equity as the fair and just distribution of
means of resources and opportunities to men and women (OSW 2000), we note that mere
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
3
distribution of resources and opportunities does not necessarily provide a base for an adequate
equity position since injustices in question are complex, have a long history and are insidious
in nature. Furthermore, when redress policies are presented in universalistic and egalitarian
terms, they tend to be simplistic because the underlying conditions and circumstances that
exacerbate injustices are often ignored.
In this article, we discuss gender equity by using a discourse that has been advanced by
Taylor (1994) and Young (1990) that calls for consideration of the unequal treatment of certain
individuals through special arrangements as an avenue of attaining gender equity in higher
education. We argue that in opposition to maintaining the status quo, a closely guarded3
positive discrimination that is necessitated by the context and content of the intervention is
desirable. We make this argument by first presenting a general overview of gender construction
and its implication on women in higher education. Secondly, the discourse of transformation
and gender equity policy is sketched. We conclude by providing a few relevant theories and
literature regarding justice and education.
THE DISCOURSE ON GENDER
Those who propagate gender differentiation rely on ideologies such as gender essentialism that
positions men and women as being fundamentally and inherently different, by nature. This
outlook produces domination, differentiation in role assignment and allocation of privileges.
Reproduction and sustainability of gender inequality is further perpetuated through patriarchy,
notions of femininity, masculinity and the rigidity of the religious and cultural systems to
accommodate change. The role that social establishments play in accelerating gender
inequalities cannot be underscored either because it is in these social establishments that the
reality of being gendered is played out and felt.
Simone de Beauvoirs (1989) contention that one is not born, but, rather, becomes a
woman is rather profound. The inseparable questions of whether gender is a product of nurture
or nature are still less clarified as much as they have been in the public arena for a long time.
Juxtaposed to these questions is the internalized inferiority by women themselves and hence
contributing to their own current disadvantages. Butler (2004) iterates that gender ostensibly
constitutes the liveable, the relationship between gender norms and human survival. Butler
further argues that nurture and nature play a complimentary role to each other. The genetic
predisposition guarantees minimal survival whereas the social attribution intervenes at the onset
life; the two establish conditions for a liveable human life.
Basic gender differentiation arguments are also derived from the discrepancy of innatists
biogrammer box. Testosterone that is predominantly found in men is associated with
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
4
aggression, strength and superiority whereas oestrogen that is found in women is linked to
weakness, irrationality and emotionality (Bowlby 1969; Lorber and Moore 2002; Connell
2005). Firstly, using the biogrammer box to privilege and marginalize a fraction of a population
lacks the necessary credibility because men and women have the propensity to exhibit either of
the character traits depending on the situation they find themselves in. In such a case, how can
one be conclusively male or female? What happens to women who exhibit equal strengths and
exuberance in male dominated domains? Secondly, previously material possessions and gains
were looked at as a source of power for the male gender but women are beginning to have
possessions of their own and hence such a stance is less appealing and ought not to be used to
disenfranchise women (Wharton 2012; Mead 1935; Oakley 1985; Afonja 2005).
The generationally and culturally entrenched images, laws, values and practices prescribe
the appropriateness of certain behaviours and roles for girls and boys within designated private
and public spaces. At an early age, girls are socialized into motherhood and wifehood roles
whereas boys are taught to be tough like men and not to be soft like women(Afonja 2005;
Lorber and Moore 2002; Ortner 19891990; Oakley 1985; Bowlby 1969; Lerner 1986). While
acknowledging the profound place of values and practices in African communities in particular,
we argue that the advent of formal education has exposed women to similar opportunities
professionally and otherwise as men whence the dilemma of drawing a thin line between male
and female designated roles.
The intended or unintended offensive and demeaning messages that are carried through
the daily usage of language exacerbate the oppression and devaluation of women. For example,
Obododimma (1998) explains that, the use of proverbs in the Igbo language in Nigeria is
orthodox, masculine, derogative and devaluing. The rhetoric and proverbs in this language and
other African languages extol masculinity and sustain patriarchy while degrading femininity by
using derogative and demeaning illustrations and objects. Through proverbs, women are
presented as irrational, childish, devilish, morally incapacitated and fragile. Likewise, the
metaphors for gender express the male as norm and the female as deviant; the male as whole
and powerful, the female as unfinished, mutilated, and lacking in autonomy. Further, women’s
talk and knowledge has been classified negatively as intuitive and gossip (Lerner 1986).
Popular beliefs and practices espoused by religions such as Christianity have also
contributed to womens disenfranchisement. Through the guidance, observation and adherence
to pertinent scriptures and doctrines, members come to believe that gender was ordained by
God. However, the case of the biblical creation account and the fall of mankind are two
scenarios that place a woman in a place of weakness, susceptibility and inferiority as is noted
in the Holy Bible (Genesis chapters 1, 2 and 3, Standard Version), despite that there are also a
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
5
number of inferences in the bible that exalt strong women such as Ruth, Mary mother of Jesus,
Mary Magdalene and Naomi (Holy Bible, Standard Version).
Butler (1988, 2004) argues that since the construction of gender is unconvincing, it is
possible that the marginalization that is associated with it can be reversed. She further notes
that gender has been conceived by conforming to repetitive acts that are historically and socially
shared. These acts are revised and consolidated over a period of time so as to suit the prevailing
context. The cleavage in Butlers argument though very technical and hard to achieve opens up
a window of opportunity and possibility for gender transformation today. The key is in the
understanding of the subjective relationship between the actions being reproduced and
designing a different pattern that does not produce marginalization and subjugation but
empowerment and liberation.
As shown through the various views, gender relations are made complex through nurture
and the social constructionist attempts. Oakley (1985, 16) argues that ‘“sexis a word that
refers to the biological differences between male and female: the visible difference in genitalia,
the related difference in procreative function. “Genderhowever is a matter of culture: it refers
to the social classification into “masculine” and “feminine”.’
PATRIARCHY, APARTHEID AND GENDER IN SOUTH AFRICAN
HIGHER EDUCATION
Gender inequality and the general annihilation of women in the South African context can also
be traced through the trajectory of the entrenched patriarchal systems and structures that have
been in existence for many years. Patriarchy puts males at the centre of decision making,
headship and occupation of the political and production spaces. It has been nuanced that
patriarchy transcends all race groups in South Africa and therefore it is not a preserve of African
cultures as many have come to believe. But rather it runs across Afro centric and Eurocentric
mythologies and civilizations globally (Republic of South Africa 1998; Badat 2009). In essence
through patriarchy men are brutalized while women get to be neutralized across racial lines.
The education sector in South Africa and other parts of the continent have been greatly
influenced by paternalistic tendencies. Marshall (2000) notes that the formal and informal
curricular reinforces and reproduces the dominant hegemonic views of stereotypical
masculinity and femininity. Likewise, Labode (1993) and Msimang (2001) contend that the
exclusionary nature of missionary education was part and parcel of the perpetuation of
patriarchal ideology. As a result, gender issues are given less prominence since they are
relegated to private spaces where family, emotions, nurturance and relationships ‘belong’.
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
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The quest for equality and in particular gender equity in higher education was exacerbated
by the exclusionary, segregated and sexist apartheid policies that kept Black South Africans
and women from participating meaningfully in higher education. Msimang (2001) elucidates
that segregation during the apartheid era was both formal and informal. Formally, group
movements and participation in education at all levels was controlled through laws enacted by
the apartheid regime. Every day practices and experiences mirrored the informal control
mechanisms as well. Furthermore, education under apartheid was very polarized (apart-hood)
with the majority of the citizens (Black) being relegated to inferior education through Bantu
Education (Union of South Africa 1953; Jansen 2003; Lindsay 1997) and the closure of Open
Universities through the Extension of University Education Act (Union of South Africa 1959).
Fiske and Ladd (2004) and the National Department of Education, White paper
(Department of Education 1995) note that, education under apartheid was structured in a
manner designated to foster the apartheid ideology. While the presence of Black (Africans,
Indians and Coloured) people in institutions of higher learning was minimal, that is, in 1991,
out of every 1000 White South Africans, 51 were enrolled in postsecondary institutions as
opposed to 35, 13 and 9 out of every 1000 Indian, Coloured and African populations
respectively (Herman 1997). Reflections on earlier scenarios show that Black women
representation in higher education in the 1960s and 70s was very marginal. For instance, Badat
(2009) shows that in 1960, women constituted 13.3 per cent (502) of the total Black enrolment,
in 1970, 18.9 per cent (1 580) and in 1975, 21.6 per cent (3 928). Due to the racialized state of
higher education then, representation of women in Natives universities was far greater than the
national overall figures. Concomitantly, this trend reflected in the staff composition too. The
Native universities were monopolized by males up to 1975. The 22 per cent Black female
participation was mainly populated in nursing and paramedic courses with the exception of
teaching that had slightly more women than men during the same period (Badat 2009). The
National Department of Education, Green Paper (Department of Education 1996, 10) notes that
White men still hold prestigious positions in institutions of higher learning. The manifestation
of this problem is a pointer to the few women who either lack the required qualifications to hold
such positions or the institutional structures that are still embedded in sexism and patriarchy as
well as racism.
AGGREGATION AND GENDER EQUITY
Post-apartheid South Africa had to reflect the achievements of the struggle movement and
hence the crafting of an ideology that is anchored on human rights, redistribution and the
realization of social justice was necessary. The South African Constitution (1996) desegregated
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
7
the formerly White universities whereas the National Commission for Higher Education (1996)
aligned all institutions of higher learning under one national system so as to echo the principles
of equity, democracy and transformation (Du Toit in Ndebele et al. 2010; Jansen 2003). The
intermittent themes in the policy initiatives are based on creating a non-racist, non-sexist,
democratic and a unitary system of higher education.
Subsequent statistics (19942005) show an increase in enrolment of Black students (male
and female) in institutions of higher learning. In 1986, White studentsshare in the universities
stood at 60 per cent while the African students’ share stood at 27 per cent. By 1994, the White
students’ enrolment had dropped to 38 per cent while the African studentsenrolment rose to
50 per cent. As of 2005, White students’ enrolment was at 25 per cent, and African students at
62 per cent (Bunting and Cloete in Ndebele et al. 2009). However, although the numbers reveal
an increase in enrolment for African students, a close scrutiny against the overall population of
each race group reveals that very little has changed for the Black community. It can be argued
that, whereas during apartheid inequality was informed by race, after 2001, a new sophisticated
and complex structure of inequality that is race and class based emerged (Bunting and Cloete
in Ndebele et al. 2010). This situation has hence threatened the presence of students from
economically deprived backgrounds in higher education, a majority of whom are Black and
Black women in particular.
Similarly post 1994 data shows that women are steadily gaining entrance into higher
education in South Africa. For example, by 2002, 54 per cent of the total university enrolment
was dominated by female students and in 2006, the percentage rose to 55.1 per cent. By 2007,
the total enrolment of women had shot further to 56 per cent and in 2009; women formed 57
per cent of the total enrolment in institutions of higher learning. Comparably, there has been an
increase of 9 per cent in female enrolment in institutions of higher learning since 1993 (Council
on Higher Education 2009).
Despite the fact that women enrolment in higher education has improved tremendously,
gender imbalance in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) is a worrying phenomenon.
These imbalances can be traced from as far as the apartheid era. Inasmuch as a good percentage
of women (48%) were attending higher education as per the statistics in 1993, Martineau (1997)
argues that the data is deceptive. A majority of the women who were in higher education were
enrolled in part time courses and therefore lacked contact hours with academicians.
Additionally, Martineau notes that a majority of women then were enrolled in the traditional
female dominated courses (languages, social sciences, humanities and education). The 1995
Information Directorate figures from 15 to 21 universities show that women graduates
accounted for only 9 per cent in engineering, 28 per cent in agriculture, 38 per cent in medicine,
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
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and 47 per cent in the sciences (Department of Education 1997b; Badat 2009; Department of
Education 1996).
Currently a similar pattern of underrepresentation and participation of women across fields
of study can be deduced from available data post 1994. National statistics show that the
Classification of Education Study Material (CESM) category (i.e. the field of study) men
dominate engineering and sciences; 57 per cent of enrolments in 2007 were men, whereas in
2007, 56 per cent of students in business, commerce and management were women; in the
human and social sciences, 59 per cent of students are women; and in education, 73 per cent of
students were women. These patterns of enrolment have been consistent since 2004 (Council
on Higher Education 2009).
While the undergraduate figures show a promising picture for the position of women in
higher education, post graduate enrolment rates show that women are underrepresented. In
2008, 45 per cent of doctoral graduates were black and 41 per cent were women (Department
of Higher Education 2012; Council on Higher Education 2010; Badat 2010). One can conclude
that the delineation of women from SET is a reinforcement of the traditional female roles of
nurturing and caring. The poor representation of women at higher degree level confirms that a
large number of women would become relegated to subordinate roles in the work place.
In brief, it can be noted that although numbers reveal that many Black students are
accessing higher education, parity has not been attained as yet. The dilemma of the inability of
Black students and women to overcome socio-economic challenges is a daunting reality (Fiske
and Ladd 2004). Secondly the reality of the crippling effects of primary and secondary
education cannot be ignored (Schofer and Meyer 2005). The picture on representation of
women given above demands that a deliberate effort has to be undertaken to create a synergy
between higher education and the lower tiers of education. Practical steps need to form part of
the urgent measures to be taken by the departments of Basic and higher education so that the
numbers of women taking higher degrees can begin to compare with that of men. These can
include resourcing of rural and Township schools with adequate facilities and competent
workforce; adoption of special incentives for women to excel at higher level. Lastly, an
undertaking towards shifting current race based equity enterprise to include social class and
gender disadvantages will be a right move towards addressing gender equity in the higher
education sector.
GENDER AND THE SOCIAL JUSTICE PARADIGM
The preamble of the South African Constitution (1996) acknowledges the injustices of the past
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
9
and pledges to build a just society that is based on democratic values, social justice and human
rights. The social justice project is largely premised on fairness and justice in terms of provision
and allocation opportunities and resources to members of society. It is against this background
that Stowell (2004) counter-argues that just procedures do not always guarantee just outcomes.
Stowell is of the view that concepts such as justice, equal opportunity and fairness are not
defined succinctly. This situation is made worse by the fact that unchallenged institutional
cultures, structures, processes and the formal and informal curricular are left out of justice and
equity policies. It is in view of this that we also argue that if the playground is not always level
mere equal distribution will not be sufficient. In other words, circumstances may call for
implementing what could be deemed as unfair means while questing for justice for all. This
speaks more to the application of Rawls’ (1971) difference principle.
Fraser (2008) notes that there two forms of injustices; the socio-economic injustice that is
rooted in the political and social structures and whose remedy is redistribution. Marginalization,
exploitation and deprivation are ways through which this form of injustice is felt and
experienced. The second form of injustice is cultural and symbolic; its rooted in social patterns
of representation, communication and interpretation. Its manifestation is through the subjection
to alien cultures, being invisible in ones culture and being subjected to demeaning cultural
stereotyping and misrepresenting. This form of injustice requires recognition so as to redress
the harms of disrespect, stereotyping and cultural imperialism’ (Fraser 2008, 93). We argue that
womens marginalization in higher education can also be located in the two forms of injustices
(socio-economic and misrecognition) that have been proposed by Fraser.
Nussbaum (1999) argues that as human beings we are entitled to dignity and integrity
regardless of our natures and conditions (poor, rich, male and female, rural, urban). Thus, our
dignity is based on the shared humanness principle and not on how fortunate we are. Although
Rawls (1971) makes the same observations as Nussbaum on the equality of all human beings
and the equal entitlement to the appropriation of equal liberties, Rawls calls for further
compensation to the economically and socially challenged masses. The compensation or equity
measures that he calls for have to be undertaken within the confinements of the institutions in
question. Rawlsviews on social justice are clearly articulated in the two principles of justice
in which the first one calls each persons equal rights to the most extensive scheme of basic
liberties available to everyone in society. The second one acknowledges that somehow total
inequality is impossible and therefore states that inequalities can be accepted if and only if they
are to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged or if they are attached to positions of office
that open to everyone to compete for.
Nevertheless, the appropriate paradigm on which social justice ought to be premised on
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
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has proven to be very contentious. Whereas formal equality plays a vital role in the
conceptualization of social justice, it doesnt guarantee itsattainment due to the fact that human
beings are gendered, racialized, classed and boxed in political and other affiliations. To
demonstrate this complexity, Alcoff (1988) argues that it is becoming increasingly impossible
for feminists to hold onto the claim that they know and understand what is good for all women.
This is so because even if womanhood is the point of departure in feminist theory, there is no
such a thing as a unified sisterhood. Womanhood is like an onion, it has many caveats and
layers to it that have to be unravelled and understood in their own contexts and environments.
Further arguments by Kant’s (1970) on equal dignity egalitarianism approaches whose basis is
liberty, equality and brotherhood have been questioned and seen as being flawed because by
treating everyone equally; the inequality that exists in the society is not taken into cognisance.
On his part Barry (2005) advocates for equal allocation of opportunities and rights unless there
are convincing reasons. He puts a lot of emphasis on peoples choices and accountability which
could be plausible because choices are informed by amongst other factors, social capital and
domination. Thus, Satz’s (2007) argument on the complexities in interpretation of what the
principle of equal opportunity may mean in educational reform accentuates the implausibility
of the egalitarian approach to justice.
On the other hand, the distributive paradigm to justice whose primacy is the allocation of
material things does not appeal to Young (1990) either. She believes that focusing on material
distribution lessens the concentration on social structures, power struggles and institutions
within which distribution takes place. Young states that it would be imperative for social justice
to encapsulate the specific and particular circumstances of individuals, and not the sameness
and universalized conditions. Moreover, advocating for equality for all is potentially dangerous
for it is bound to reproduce and assert the oppressive and dominant systems of the past that are
responsible for the current inequalities in society. Young (1990) further observes that people’s
contexts ought to be named and assigned appropriate meaning (looping effect) so as to avoid a
repetition of the past inequalities. Within this thinking, exploitation, marginalization, cultural
imperialism, powerlessness and violence are identified as representing the five faces of
oppression that women go through. These five faces can also be traced from our earlier
discussions on discourse of gender under the auspices of patriarchy, colonialism and sexism.
It is equally complex to decide on justice on the basis of achieving the common good for
all because determining what is perceived as good varies from individual to the next. Young
(2000) argues that issues of justice cannot be based on the achievement of common good
because injustices differ from one structurally different group to another. Satz (2007) explicates
that the sources of differences start in the raceof life (parentage, income, gender, religion,
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
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geographical positioning, and race). If women are to deal with the disparities in their own lives,
Hassim (1991) suggests that their differences have to be recognized first. Hence in the same
vein the symbolic recognition of the different’ and ‘particularhas been supported as a possible
mechanism to foresee justice and fairness (Fraser 1995; Mackinnon 1993; Taylor 1994).
The call for the inclusion of the particular and specific contexts of justice into policies, as
argued by Omora (2000), is based on the argument that the same policies that purport to serve
the interests of the larger public bolster policies and practices that support the privileged and
the dominant culture. Similarly, Taylor (1994) also notes that the crucial role society plays in
constructing and exposing identities is put at risk within procedural liberalism that is based on
neutral application of rights. In view of these, Nussbaum (1999) suggests that we have to be
expeditious in acknowledging the cultures and daily experiences of women in developing
countries instead of homogenising the experiences of women through universalized concepts
of justice, human rights or human development. Such constructs are synonymous with Western
ideologies and colonialism. Taylor (1994) proposes that instead of the politics of universalism
focusing on the uniformity of the shared humanness and respect of equal rights, (higher
education) policies should focus more on the recognition of the uniqueness and individual
identities of groups and people that distinguish them from each other because differences
cannot be resolved through assimilation nor annihilation’ (1994, 38).
In rejecting a universalist approach to justice, Satz (2007) argues that justice ought to
transcend the allocation of equal resources and opportunities to individuals. This needs to take
the form of adequacy for citizenship that is based on equal civic status of citizens and a fair but
not equal access to opportunities above citizens thresholds. The adequacy approach in
developing human capabilities has the potential to transform education in several ways. First,
it sets the minimum thresholds of attainment for governments and other state apparatuses on
which accountability can be based. Secondly, it is founded on the democratic role of education
that is missing in the equal opportunity approach. Thirdly, it can offer an explanation as to why
some inequalities may require greater remedial attention than others and lastly, it is a more
realistic approach for diverse communities such as South Africa and the particular context and
position of women in the higher education system.
Our main argument is that dealing with the unprecedented marginalization of women
requires a different approach, a substantive approach to equality and justice, which surpasses
egalitarianism through the acknowledgement and recognition of the differences that separate
womanhood, wifehood and sisterhood form one another (see also Mackinnon 1993; Young
1990). For meaningful engagement to exist, oppression and domination have to be part and
parcel of the discussions that precede justice (Young 1990). In the case of gender inequality in
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higher education, redistribution alone or simply giving one access cannot attenuate the gap. An
understanding of the social positioning of groups in relation to each other, how and who enjoys
the non-material goods (respect, power and opportunity) and finally the role that social relations
play in the sustainability of the enjoyment of the non-material things is fundamental if we are
serious about correcting the gender imbalances. Hence ‘social policies have to offer special
treatment for certain groups of people’ (Young 1990, 158). It is not enough to just open the
gates of opportunity. All citizens must have the opportunity to walk through those gates
(Msimang 2001, 1) quoting President Lyndon Johnson of the United States of America in 1965).
According to this thinking, equality should not be pursued as a right and theory, but as a fact
and as a reason.
THE CENTRALITY OF WOMENS PARTICIPATION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Factors ranging from freeing and releasing ones potential, enabling one to function adequately
as a useful member of a society and developing basic and higher functions that lead to freedom
of choice and liberation from domestication and oppression have been pivotal in advocating for
education for women (Sen 1994; Sen 1999; Nussbaum 1999; Freire 1985). Sen (1999, 75)
specifically notes that ‘a person’s capabilityrefers to the alternative combinations of
functioning’s that are feasible for her to achieve. Capability is thus a kind of freedom: the
substantive freedom to achieve alternative functioning combinations and various lifestyles,
what Sen (2009, 231) later refers to as the achievement of things that one has reason to value.
Taking Sens line of thinking, one can argue that an educated woman has higher chances of
living a meaningful life and her well-being is guaranteed because she can participate in decision
making both in and out of her home precincts. She also has the capacity to reclaim her legal
rights as opposed to the uneducated woman. If that is the case, then the stakes for obtaining
higher education are even higher. Sens thinking resonates with Nussbaum’s (1999) capability
approach which among other things argues that, availability of resources needs to be
interrogated to find out if they enable or stifle the functioning of the woman. Thus, in brief,
Nussbaum questions the positioning of women in the society in relation to good living after
attaining recognizable levels of education. If women and men are to do the same work, they
must receive the same education(Kamtekar 2001, 219). But most importantly the capability
approach at stake here is concerned with is our ability to achieve various combinations of
functionings that we can compare and judge against each other in terms of what we have reason
to value in life not just incomes or commodities’ (Sen 2009, 233).
Akala and Divala Gender equity tensions
13
REFLECTIONS AND CONCLUDING REMARKS
While concluding we want to observe that the complexities of merit, race, gender and class
inequalities in Higher Education have made it impossible for gender equity to be attained.
Although lauded for increasing the number of women (especially Black) and additional Black
faces in higher education in comparison to the colonial and apartheid days (Council on Higher
Education 2009), a lot more needs to be done in order for meaningful change to be realized. For
example, there is urgent need to resolve the paradox that has been created by the government
and universities pursuing social equity, redress and quality simultaneously on one hand while
financial difficulties and academic incapability continue to incapacitate the Black/rural/working
class students, especially females (Badat 2010; Macleod 2006). Secondly, Morrow (1994)
indicates that there seems to be confusion between formal access to universities and what
Morrow calls epistemological access-learning (how to become a participant in an academic
practice). Morrow argues that epistemological access cannot be automaticallytransmitted to
those who pay fees, or collect hand-outs and attend classes regularly. Special attention needs to
be paid to those whose needs and experienced forms of exclusion are endemic in society, such
as the thinking that black males and females are equal. Young (1991) concurs with this view
and states further that, material and institutional access gained from distributive justice may not
be meaningful if it does not include empowerment and meaningful participation by the formerly
marginalized and the women who in the case discussed are double or triple marginalised. If real
human potential and talent are to be harnessed in the South African higher education system,
the false egalitarianism that is presented in procedural Affirmative Action processes, the game
of numbers, overshadows the real agenda of transformation. The system of higher education,
therefore, ought to focus on the development of human capabilities and human functionings in
which women and girls and reason to value.
NOTES
1. For the purpose of this study, the term women/woman will be used in a general way in reference
to women of all race groups in South Africa, however, when need arises, direct reference to
black women or any other category will be done directly.
2. The equity clause is part of the affirmative action initiative that was introduced in 1998 through
the Department of labour as a way of improving the employability of black South Africans and
other minority groups that had suffered marginalization through the apartheid structures.
3. By closely guarded I mean positive discrimination that is under check and balance so as not to
repeat the mistakes of the past structures.
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