Policy and practice related constraints to increased female participation in education management in South Africa.
This thesis examines South African policies addressing gender inequality in education management, and interrogates whether or not these policies made a difference to the career route of women principals of secondary schools. The under-representation of women in education management has been a long observed problem in many countries including South Africa. A number of initiatives have been put in place to address this issue but little improvement is seen in the South African situation in education management. The purpose was to understand why women are still under represented in school management and to learn from their experiences. The study used data from three sources. Firstly, policy documents and practices were analysed in terms of their symbolic, regulative and procedural functions. Secondly, the personal accounts of 28 women principals in KwaZulu-Natal who had been appointed after 1994 were collected through the use of extended interviews, and thirdly, interviews were conducted with key officials and members of School Governing Bodies that had participated in the selection of principals. The data generated were analysed at two levels in order to understand the factors constraining the participation of women in education management. At the micro level, I use the 'management route model' as an analytical framework that identifies the three phases women principals go through in their career route, namely anticipation, acquisition and performance (van Eck and Volman, 1996). The model reveals that factors influencing women's career paths into management are very complex and based firstly on the individual agency where women grapple with more internal issues such as professional qualifications and experience, aspirations, lack of ambition and family responsibilities. Secondly, these factors are at the organisational level where women suffer discrimination at the recruitment and selection processes, and lack of institutional support through mentoring and sponsorship. Thirdly, it is the social level, which involves the cultural discourses in which women operate. These discourses include sex role stereotypes that inform the social expectations about the role of men and women in society. On the macro level, I use feminist theory to interpret and understand the women's experiences and findings in general. The findings reveal that policy interventions put in place since 1994 to close the gender gap were mostly informed by liberal feminism that focused on affirming women in order to gain access into the school management without tackling the social practices that are defined by sex role socialisation and which therefore continue to work subtly and insidiously towards the discrimination of women. I conclude that although the liberal feminist interventions that have been put in place have been useful to some extent, the problems impeding women's full participation in education management cannot only be tackled at a policy level because this attempt leaves the most problematic social practices intact. However, I argue for policy and legal intervention as a starting point to combat the gender crisis in a society that has inherited so much inequality. While I acknowledge that women of all races in South Africa have all been negatively impacted upon by the historical and traditional values and expectations on the role of women and men in society, I argue that the situation has been worse for women of the Black African race, who suffered dual oppression in terms of gender and race. The study proposes the need to look beyond provision of legal and democratic reforms and more into social practices that prevent legal reforms from reaching the desired goals. Social structures and cultural practices that hamper the greater representation of women should be dealt with in order to allow women freedom to participate in discourses where their choice is not informed by gender subordination.
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