Gender equality in the higher education arena : a public policy perspective.
International research has shown conclusively that the struggle for employment equity and gender equality is a major challenge to both the private and the public sectors. In South Africa, with the legacy of colonialism and apartheid fresh in one's mind the question of gender equality and equity has been debated thoroughly both in academic and other intellectual forums as well as in political platforms. The reality is that both the elements of equity and equality in terms of gender are elusive in terms of actual implementation in South Africa. The present thesis is a policy-oriented examination of the process and implementation of gender equity at a "Historically Black Institution", the University of Durban Westville, which in 2004 will join the University of Natal to create the University of KwaZulu Natal. It is thus, a case study of the implementation of existing legislation associated with affirmative action and employment equity. The thesis recognises the reality that women in South Africa face a great number of challenges because they still lag far behind in the equity stakes at all levels of society and economy. This reality is based on a number of macro and micro roots and present circumstances. Thus one of the reasons for choosing UDW as a case study was to uncover such reasons and roots, examine and analyse their dynamics and draw significant lessons. This was because UDW had led provincial and national struggles for transformation for many years. UDW staff, for example, was in the forefront of the creation of UDUSA and its relentless efforts for transformation in education, before and after 1990. The concepts of affirmative action and gender equity are examined in their national and international dimensions in the literature review. As affirmative action has its supporters and detractors, the debates were examined in their social and historical contexts. The various theories and societal applications of the quota and target strategies were touched upon in this section of the thesis that utilised both international and national literature as its guide in the understanding of the dynamics of a much debated, disputed and challenging phenomenon. The post-1994 South African legislation that made gender equity and affirmative action an inseparable ingredient of the new democracy was examined in direct relation to the measures, rules and regulations that inform public policy on these phenomena. The Employment Equity Act and the Skills Development Act were scrutinised in order for the reader to comprehend their vital role in the shaping of new relationships and societal and legal dynamics. The relevant historical and recent South African literature dealing with gender equity was examined in order to give the reader the picture of the debates and viewpoints that informed the process from apartheid to the post 1994 period. This section acclimatised the reader with the various initiatives and forums that were to become the stepping stones for the policy strategists of the post- I 994 Department of Education. The empirical component of the thesis was based on both comparative quantitative and qualitative methods. Primary documents related to human resource realities at UDW were analysed. There followed a thorough scrutiny of the "3 Year Rolling Plans" of the University, i.e. the official documents that unveiled the strategic initiatives of its leadership to implement affirmative action and gender equity. Additionally, the empirical, mostly qualitative analysis of a large number of interviews of key stakeholders and role players, revealed a set of social, historical, administrative and political dynamics associated with these processes. In the pursuit of the empirical realities characterising gender equity at UDW, the following hypotheses were formulated: Although there were affirmative action initiatives there was a narrow focus on race that excludes gender equity as a powerful ingredient of equity within the institution. The participation of stakeholders and role players at UDW regarding gender equity initiatives was limited. The dissemination of information regarding major steps to address affirmative action and equity at UDW was restrictive. There were limited efforts to review and monitor equity targets and plans. The non-existence of gender-related forums, committees, monitoring and review structures was a major impediment in the achievement of gender equity. Gender equity never became a key priority area at UDW. Capacity building efforts at UDW for all levels of staff were limited 8. There was no tangible research or other such incentives for women researchers at an institutional level at UDW. Monitoring and review mechanisms to ensure the advancement of women to decision-making and leadership positions were non-existent. Following the empirical analysis, at both qualitative and quantitative levels, it was shown that all hypotheses were confirmed in their entirety. Some reasons for such a reality were identified in the study as historical legacies; apathy amongst staff in general; poor management and leadership, a lack of political will on the part of management etc. This seems a disturbing picture; however, it cannot disguise the achievements that several UDW constituencies have gained through their relentless struggles and continuous sacrifices. The new paradigm of transformation in terms of gender equity and equality cannot be based only on a number of legal measures promuigated by the new government. In fact, it is up to the leadership of institutions, stakeholders, and role players to ensure implementation of progressive legislative frameworks. There was change at UDW but it lacked solid policy guidelines, direction of energy, as well as the honest, continuous and active participation of all the stakeholders and role players. There was little evidence of well-coordinated cooperative efforts that could carry transformation forward. The legacy of struggle of UDW should not become a burden to the new institution, but its management culture and organisational dynamics could.