Employ Women Or Face Sanctions

By Rebecca Davis

Campuses are too remote. Women are off having babies. There are few jobs for husbands and partners.

Ms. Tuoyo Mayuku at the African Scrabble Tournament in South-Africa

These are some of the excuses that the Commission for Gender Equality has heard from South Africa’s university management to explain why the number of female academics in the country continues to lag so far behind that of male academics.

University-related activism over the past few years has exposed the shortage of top black academics, but women of all races also tend to be heavily outnumbered by male counterparts in university teaching staff.

This discrepancy has sometimes been massaged by institutions in the past by presenting staff numbers without distinguishing between support staff – for example, cleaners – and academic staff. At universities such as the University of Cape Town (UCT), women are in the majority as support staff, but the opposite is true for academic staff. This is particularly the case for black women.

On Thursday, the commission’s hearings into gender transformation at higher education institutions heard that at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), male academics outnumber females by almost three to one. This is despite the fact that the university is turning out around 9,000 more female graduates than male each year.

UKZN is not alone. UCT also produces more female graduates than male, yet presented figures to the commission late last year to the effect that 74% of full professors at the university were male. Things are more equitable down the academic food chain, however, with 68% of lecturers being female. Vice-chancellor Max Price suggested to the commission that one reason for the discrepancy among top academic staff was the time taken out from careers by women to raise children.

“Many women do take a few years out to have children — more so than men,” Price told the commission. “To become a professor we do have some standard expectations. I don’t think women want to be appointed as professors with a lesser level of achievement than men professors do.”

When it comes to Rhodes, the university told the commission that the reasons for its failure to attract equal male and female academics, as well as black talent, included factors like Grahamstown’s remote location, its high cost of property, low employment outside the university and uncompetitive salaries. It was not explained why these issues should be particular deterrents to women.

The commission says it is not satisfied with these reasons. Spokesperson Javu Baloyi told the Daily Maverick that the institutions should do more to ensure that women raising children can still have academic careers, for instance, by providing more child-rearing assistance and opportunities for flexitime working.

“There must be a change of mindset,” Baloyi said. “We need these institutions to first give the opportunity [to women], and then the support.”

In university management things tend to be more equitable than on the academic side. Senior management at UCT is 59% female. This is not invariable, however; at UKZN, there are twice as many men in top management as there are women. Among the nine top South African universities, just one – the University of Pretoria – has a female vice-chancellor, who as of 2014 was earning less than her male counterparts.

The issue of gender inequality on campuses is not restricted to the appointment of academics. The commission is also concerned about levels of sexual harassment and violence on campuses – as well as the fact that most South African universities do not make specific provision for these issues in their policies. When such policies do exist, students – as was the case at UKZN – often say they are not made aware of them.

The commission is only around halfway through its investigation of South Africa’s 21 public universities, but Baloyi says it is already clear that some institutions are doing better than others. Baloyi identified Rhodes, the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Limpopo and the University of Venda as bodies with which the commission is “not happy”.

Though the Commission for Gender Equality has been accused in the past of being ineffectual, it is not toothless. The commission is empowered by law to make recommendations to Parliament, to institute proceedings of unfair discrimination on the grounds of gender, and to litigate against entities that refuse to comply.

Baloyi indicated that the commission will not hesitate to propose penalties for universities which continue to fail to meet gender transformation targets.

“Definitely we will do so,” he said. Among the potential recommendations the commission will look to make to Parliament is that universities be required to ringfence academic positions for women – or face legal sanctions for non-compliance.

The DA’s shadow minister of higher education Belinda Bozzoli – a former deputy vice-chancellor of Wits – expressed scepticism about this notion.

The doek has become a popular fashion accessory among young South Africans

“Gender equality is a great ideal, but I am not sure this is the way to achieve it,” Bozzoli told the Daily Maverick. Bozzoli pointed out that in terms of the Higher Education Act, universities are already expected to pursue transformation in regard to race, gender and other forms of equality. “There is no need for an additional requirement,” Bozzoli said.

She said that since universities are already expected to submit equity targets annually to the Department of Labour, they are “already obliged to take gender equity seriously”.

Bozzoli also cited a number of programmes by the Department of Higher Education and Training, private funders and the National Research Foundation to assist in achieving gender equity.

“I see no value in taking a different approach,” Bozzoli said. “The transformation of staff in universities is bound to be a slow process given the extremely low turnover in the academic professions, the poor salaries, and the long period – up to 12 years – it takes to train someone to PhD level, in order for them to take on a junior academic job.” DM

Source: dailymaverick

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One Response to Employ Women Or Face Sanctions

  1. Harryrrah January 24, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    Gender equity should be inculcate into the educational system in such a way that the office of the vice chancellor should be rotational.

    Reply

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