Beyond Common Sense, Unmasking the Structural Gender Gap in Higher Education

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BY: SHATADI PHOSHOKO

DURBAN – The capitalist economy exhibits obvious characteristics of racism and sexism.

The structural power system that governs the direction of the state is fundamentally white and male. In other words, the ruling class that controls the strategic sectors of this economy is pure white, and this wealth is monopolized by men.

Beyond the facade of democracy and the rich rhetoric of gender equality, the women of this country are still chained to the yoke of triple oppression. As a result, the role of women in a global system of gender oppression is relegated to footnotes.

A 2019 data conducted by Statista, which showed the distribution of gender billionaires, revealed that less than 11.9% of women are billionaires and that without a doubt, is the result of patriarchal and capitalist systems that reinforce male dominance. .

Universities are a miniature model of the larger societal and structural framework designed outside the active participation of women, especially at its top. Institutions of higher education are important fields with the basic fundamental orientation to produce correct and diverse epistemologies.

The fundamental responsibility of the intellectual landscape is to provide scientific leadership that aims to remember the dismembered black people and restore their relegated history.

However, the existing disciplines still reflect the monochrome logic of Western epistemology which draws the lineage of the colonial project centered on the reign of oppression and therefore roots the tradition of inequalities in academia. The universal categorization of women as the other despite their significant contribution is preserved in academia. The academic world still sees women as faces of poverty and substandard beings in these spaces of reflection.

There are fewer women in permanent positions in academia. The number of men enrolling in universities is declining, and furthermore, more and more women are completing their undergraduate studies but are struggling to make great strides in their academic careers. In addition, men are projected as universal tellers of the truth, they are the authors of all the knowledge we consume, and the level of control against women is at its peak.

In extension, universities are filled with symbols of men, in the form of names of buildings and statues among others. This culture of colonial and postcolonial symbolism completely displaces the idea of ​​women as capable leaders of society. It locates and defines women as permanent followers.

With the fragments mentioned above, women continue to be subject to the status of subordinate or additional. The theorized leadership from the standpoint of social construction dictates the automatic and effortless rise and acceptance of men into leadership positions, favorable by society as opposed to women.

The leaders of influential positions of authority remain largely men. Exemplified; In South Africa, with its 26 universities, only 4 of the 26 vice-chancellors are women. Unisa, during its 147 years of creation, did not have its first vice-chancellor (VC) until 2021. This demonstrates the ubiquitous system of coloniality that gives birth to patriarchy.

This last paragraph is deliberately structured to paint a picture of how women are still relegated to the status of inability to lead critical positions of power and influence while men occupy those positions.

Politics, which dictates the direction of society, is run by men. Unions, forums, student activism movements and others across the political divide are led by men. As a result, even the structural anatomy of the University is inundated with men in key leadership positions. It is the result of the arrangement of the patriarchal order in society. The level of resources that men accumulate allows them to easily demobilize the top-down views of organized women.

I am the Secretary General (SG) of the Association of Law Students of Unisa (ULSA) and I have become the SG of the National Council of Student Representatives of the University. However, I am the subject of constant criticism because of the gender and, perhaps, men are at the level of questioning our existence. This criticism is constant and unfounded criticism. These are just trends in male chauvinism.

VC and director of Unisa, Professor Puleng LenkaBula has faced a severe backlash from her leadership style. The VC is a highly acclaimed international scholar with unmistakable leadership qualities. Its vision of transforming Unisa into a traditional distance education institution based on an outdated political framework will contribute significantly to establishing an unrivaled intellectual landscape with a competitive business model.

However, there is an organized zeal that seeks to disorganize and relegate its being. These are just the many clear descriptions of our lived realities as women under the yoke of gender oppression.

The antithetical response to the dominant discourse is a prescription of decolonial feminism. Through decolonial feminism in higher education, we strive to unmask deeply rooted culture and also reposition trends that automatically relegate women to their face value.

Legislation in all layers of leadership must be amended to redress past injustices. As ULSA, our organizational policy provides for a 50/50 gender policy. Simplified, this implies that the executive committee must be made up of 50% men and 50% women.

In addition, the 2 senior positions, namely the president and the secretary general or the president and the secretary must also comply with the provision of the gender policy, in the sense that, if the president is a man, the secretary general automatically becomes a woman and vice versa.

The struggle for gender equity will be nothing other than abstractionism if it lacks decolonial feminism to unearth gender stereotypes and further reposition higher education as a harmonious space for development across the divide between the sexes.

* Shatadi Phoshoko is Secretary General of the National Council of Student Representatives of Unisa (NSRC) and an activist for gender equality.


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