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



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
Volume 30 | Number 1 | 2016 I pages 1-16 1 eISSN 1753-5913
B. Akala
Wits School of Education
University of the Witwatersrand
Johannesburg, South Africa
J. J. Divala
Department of Education and Curriculum Studies
University of Johannesburg
Johannesburg, South Africa
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
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
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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
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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.
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
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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
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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”.’
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’.
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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.
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
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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,
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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.
The preamble of the South African Constitution (1996) acknowledges the injustices of the past
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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
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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,
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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.
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).
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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.
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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... Whether we possess the means and tools to later choose how we lead our lives, also depends on many factors outside of our control. These factors include the notions of gender and racial strata (Crenshaw, 1989;Luckett & Luckett, 2009;Chilisa & Ntseane, 2010;Akala & Divala, 2016). For many Black women, the notion of their racial and gendered inferiority, compared to everyone else, is a colonial ideology (Lugones, 2007(Lugones, , 2010. ...
... Completion rates in undergraduate studies for Black women have increased more than any other group (Lehohla, 2016). However, few Black women occupy senior positions in the academic arena (Beckmann, 2009;McKenna & Boughey, 2014;Akala & Divala, 2016;Clegg, 2016 Yosso, 2001;Bamberg & Andrews, 2004). This is a tricky balance because we are neither a homogenous group nor are we absent from HEIs. ...
... Unfortunately, the impact is that few Black girls achieve education which they would be capable of under favourable conditions. As was the intent of the Apartheid regime, Black girls are most likely to be left behind suffering under societal and cultural constraints (Akala & Divala, 2016). It is towards change of their reality and those of us who go before them that I write this thesis. ...
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This is an autoethnography of a black woman who tracks her educational trajectory through and beyond Apartheid South Africa. In addition to the formal educational journey, the inseparable cultural education is included. For comparison, she employs the stories of other black women in similar academic positions and institutions in South Africa, to depict an inclusive, yet often exclusive, reality of being a black (Black, mixed, Indian) woman academic in South Africa. Deconstructing the academic experiences in these spaces aims at “unsettling [white occupation] grip over mundane as well as high stakes decisions” (Arday & Mirza, 2018b). In South Africa, more black women acquire undergraduate degrees than any other group, yet they remain underrepresented in the acquisition of postgraduate degrees, senior academic and top management positions. Currently working in academia in South Africa, the author aims to understand the development of sense of identity and show how this influences the interplay, and thus the progression, of the individual within the higher education context. Previous studies investigating black women academics’ positions and perspectives of social, cultural, and educational experiences are relevant. However, this thesis addresses the role of experiences and perceptions as vital influencing factors in the interplay between individual and institution. This thesis takes on a role adding to the “polyphony” of voices and perspectives from black academics. It aims to contribute to “loosening the grip of positivism on theory and practice in the human sciences” (Lather, 2017). As theorists, we do not automatically reflect deeply on the political influences on our professional lives. Reflection is, however, key, not only to connecting past and present, but in improving future experiences for ourselves and others. The act of re-collecting past experiences can be cathartic and educational. It allows us to “weave” and connect the dots between who and where we were as opposed to the world we aspire to (Lather, 2007). The purpose of this “weave” is to identify and examine patterns, to make sense of and improve the world we inhabit. Framed theoretically within critical and intersectional feminism (Crenshaw, 1989; hooks, 1994), this study is grounded in experiential storytelling. Stories which are seldom taught as History address issues which are often rather avoided. Using a unique methodology, the collected data is assigned thematically for analysis, to show the centrality to understanding why black women remain on the lower rungs of academia is the interplay between individual and context. The results of this study signify problematic avoidance and silences around the need of a caring environment for all academics, but especially for black women. It shows that due to historical, societal, and cultural silencing of black women, there is a need to develop a vocabulary to describe the experiences by and of black women in academia. Cultural capital, or lack thereof, influences a sense of belonging and inflicts other “micro-aggressions” upon the black woman academic (Sue, 2015; Henkeman, 2016). Relevant transformational features cannot adequately be addressed, much less achieved, if the spaces to navigate these discussions are not radically owned equally by all but also accepting that it is time for the amplified voices of black women.
... Paternalism has greatly affected the South African education sector [22]. Dominant hegemonic views of stereotypical masculinity and femininity have opposite effects on the education of women. ...
... Historical, cultural, and socio-economic factors play a significant role in the impediments that arise in the progress of South African women [23]. There is a need to investigate the educational system for discriminations against women within the context of South Africa's norms and ideologies [22]. The disparities in the level of educational attainment between women and their male counterparts sometimes go beyond the inequality in the education system [24]. ...
... Low levels of enrollment and inconsistent quality of education have been identified for women, especially in science and engineering [22]. A pattern of underrepresentation of women across traditional fields of study has been recorded since 2004 [22]. ...
Conference Paper
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This study applied the Social Cognitive Career Theory to determine the factors that influence student's persistence in construction programs in the South African Context. The study further explores the possible differential validity of SCCT variables for men and women. A survey of 108 conveniently sampled South African undergraduate students, including 48 women and 60 men, enrolled in construction-related programs was conducted. The samples were drawn from student cohorts enrolled in construction management, civil engineering, property development, land surveying, building and quantity surveying. To test for gender differences in the degree of relationship between persistence and the socio-cognitive variables(predictors),the Fisher z test was performed by testing for differences in correlation coefficients between groups. Stronger relationships between persistence and social supports was found for women compared to men. Self-efficacy, outcome expectations, learning experiences and social supports were the most salient predictors for both men and women in construction programs.
... Furthermore, the challenges are explicitly exacerbated by the high cost of higher education and accommodation, historical debt and other hidden costs which among other factors make higher education inaccessible for students from low-income backgrounds. This is notwithstanding the gains from the promulgation of free higher education (HE) for students from low-income families (Akala and Divala 2016;Akoojee and Nkomo 2007;Badat 2010;Bitzer and De Jager 2018;CHE 2010). ...
... The apartheid epoch education left indelible marks on women and black people in general by institutionalising racism and sexism (CGE 2000;Hassim 1993). In the current dispensation, gender, racism, sexism and classism are no longer being used explicitly to prejudice and exclude students (Akala and Divala 2016;Badat 2009). ...
The greatest achievement of any education system lies in its ability to harness and develop human capabilities indiscriminately. This paper aims to show that the development of capabilities is crucial in bolstering individual well-being while at the same time propelling human beings to function adequately at various levels in society. I argue that, for a symmetrical development of capabilities to be attained for all, institutionalised unfreedoms that are perpetuated through entrenched classism, racism and sexism need to be addressed. The claims in this paper respond to the dilemma of continued marginalisation of women in South African higher education by arguing that a capability approach (CA) to human development should be considered as a possible framework through which gender and gendering can be investigated and evaluated. The paper has adopted a critical exploration methodology in discussing theories of social justice and a capability approach to human development. The paper concludes that education is an essential component of human development that should be enjoyed by all regardless of their creed, gender, race or social class.
... Establishment Males have been placed at the centre of decision-making, leadership and the occupation of political and productive arenas due to patriarchy (Akala & Divala, 2016). Women's voices are muffled by the attitudes of those in positions of authority and the victim-blaming culture. ...
... Nowadays, the institutional demographics is more representative of the country population, although still struggling to balance staff and management positions that are still in white and mostly in male hands (Institutional Audit Report 2016). Nonetheless, as we know, the representation issue does not uniquely rely on race divisions but also on gender and other intersectional characteristics that ignore minority groups and their embodied discrimination and deprivation of freedoms (Akala and Divala 2016;Van Reenen 2016). Hence, the participatory project aimed to challenge some of these issues to bring about change and contribute to the current transformation being carried out by the institution itself. ...
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Epistemic justice is central for participatory practices; indeed, social justice is not possible without considering epistemic inequalities in knowledge generation. Nevertheless, although this debate is theoretically clear, we still have little literature exploring and reflecting on how this can be achieved. Thus, this chapter draws on findings from a South African case study called “Democratic Capabilities Research”. Using extensive and rich qualitative data collected during the space of one year, the analysis of the findings shows that epistemic justice is not an end for higher education practitioners but rather a way of applying research practices in non-ideal settings, where colonial conversion factors are in place. The chapter concludes by suggesting that the contribution of this DCR project, towards epistemic justice, lies in its impact minimising the adverse consequences of colonial conversion factors in the research participants and the use of different multi-epistemic strategies as a way to balance knowledge inequalities instead of achieving epistemic justice as an end.
... The consistent structural problems experienced in terms of gender inequality is a reflection of profound disparities in institutions of higher learning. In the post-apartheid era the number of women entering HEIs in South Africa has increased; nevertheless, the prospects for women to attain higher positions in workplace are modest (Akala and Divala 2016). In South Africa, the majority of women and girls still struggle to access education and excel at most levels, thus contravening the Constitution which guarantees equality for all (Commission for Gender Equality 2015). ...
Privileges of race and gender remain characteristic of the South African landscape despite the end of apartheid in 1994. Little is known in the country about race and gender (in)equalities in the production and dissemination of knowledge. This paper reports on the race and gender profile of authors who published in the Acta Criminologica: African Journal of Criminology and Victimology with particular reference to first and second authorship, academic positions, research methods and the universities from which publications originate. Interval sampling was used to select 385 articles that were published between 1993 and 2018. The results show that, overall, White male scholars dominated publications and nearly two in five articles originated from one university. A statistically significant shift featured in publications from Black male and female researchers, as well as articles from marginalized universities, although these changes only occurred towards the end of the study period. The study further confirms racial homogeneity in multi-authored publications, and that men are mostly responsible for quantitative research articles. Male and female scholars from minority groups were virtually absent from publications in the journal. Overall, the study shows that transformation of the Acta Criminologica is taking place at a slow pace.
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This chapter looks at how arts-based feminist participatory action research (PAR) can be utilised for developing political capabilities of women and facilitate their contribution to epistemic justice. The data draws on co-production of 8 videos with 24 young conservative women university students in Istanbul, and the videos display these women’s multiple and diverse experiences of gender inequality. In this research, we approach PAR as a means of reducing political poverty (Bohman, Public deliberation: Pluralism, complexity, and democracy, 1996) whilst redressing the epistemic injustice (Fricker, Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing, 2007) the women had been exposed to. Thus, we conceptualise feminist and political functionings as complementary concepts essential for influencing the outcomes of public deliberation and initiating public dialogue. The research shows that PAR espoused by feminism can create counter public space as a response to anti-egalitarian spaces that favour dominant voices. It can also contribute a counter narrative and confront a one-dimensional depiction of what gender equality is and what feminism should look like.
While South Africa is a world leader in terms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights, the disjuncture between policy and practice—especially for more invisible cohorts within LGBTI communities—means that the formal rights that exist are often not translated into practice. There is no research to date in South Africa on sexual and gender minority ageing and LGBTI elders remain almost entirely invisible in terms of policy and public service provision. The chapter focuses on African perspectives on ageing and presents the narrative account of an older lesbian couple. Findings are that the experiences of ageing for African LGBTI elders are necessarily inflected through community norms and through power, privilege and oppression. Recommendations include the capacitation of home based support services to engage the needs of LGBTI elders and the inclusion of sexual and gender diversity in policy and approaches to the care of older people
What are the differences between the sexes? That is the question that Ann Oakley set out to answer in this pioneering study, now established as a classic in the field. To answer it she draws on the evidence of biology, anthropology, sociology and the study of animal behaviour to cut through popular myths and reach the underlying truth. She demonstrates conclusively that men and women are not two separate groups: rather each individual takes his or her place on a continuous scale. She shows how different societies define masculinity and femininity in different and even opposite ways, and discusses how far observable differences are based on biology and psychology and how far on cultural conditioning. Many books have discussed these vital issues. None, however, have drawn on such an impressively wide range of evidence or discussed it with such clarity and authority. Now newly reissued with a substantial introduction which highlights its continuing relevance, this work will continue to inform and shape dialogues around sex and gender for a new generation of scholars and students.
This chapter discusses the politics of multiculturalism as a kind of identity politics. It argues the concept of structural difference, as distinct from cultural group. Analysing structural difference and structural inequality, then, helps to show why these movements are not properly interpreted as identity politics. The chapter defines social structure, and more specifically structural inequality, by rebuilding elements from different accounts. Norms of inclusive communicative democracy require that claims directed at a public with the aim of persuading members of that public that injustices occur must be given a hearing, and require criticism of those who refuse to listen. Common good theorists no doubt fear that attending to group differences in public discussion endangers commitment to co-operative decision-making. Only explicit and differentiated forms of inclusion can diminish the occurrence of such refusals, especially when members of some groups are more privileged in some or many respects.
In this classic work of feminist political thought, Iris Marion Young challenges the prevailing reduction of social justice to distributive justice. It critically analyzes basic concepts underlying most theories of justice, including impartiality, formal equality, and the unitary moral subjectivity. The starting point for her critique is the experience and concerns of the new social movements about decision making, cultural expression, and division of labor--that were created by marginal and excluded groups, including women, African Americans, and American Indians, as well as gays and lesbians. Iris Young defines concepts of domination and oppression to cover issues eluding the distributive model. Democratic theorists, according to Young do not adequately address the problem of an inclusive participatory framework. By assuming a homogeneous public, they fail to consider institutional arrangements for including people not culturally identified with white European male norms of reason and respectability. Young urges that normative theory and public policy should undermine group-based oppression by affirming rather than suppressing social group difference. Basing her vision of the good society on the differentiated, culturally plural network of contemporary urban life, she argues for a principle of group representation in democratic publics and for group-differentiated policies. This is a superb book which opens up many new vistas for theorists of justice. Young makes a number of insightful arguments both about the issues that need to be addressed by a theory of justice, and about the kind of theory capable of addressing them.
Creating a system that provides quality education and training for all - young and old, regardless of race, class, or gender - is probably the greatest developmental challenge facing the South African government today. Women (and girls), particularly those of African origin, have been largely excluded from analyses of South African education. This article seeks to address this gap in the literature by examining South Africa's educational progress generally and that of its women specifically, especially African women, along with a discussion of the factors affecting the education of women in South Africa and possibilities for future redress.