|RUC2014 Blog 14: This journey never ends! The University of Limpopo Women's Academic Solidarity Association experience|
|Friday, 27 February 2015 12:20|
How can research contribute to empowering women academics in South Africa? This article, first published by University of Limpopo is a result of part of a Research Uptake Communications [RUC2014] coaching programme, and discusses how the University of Limpopo Women’s Academic Solidarity Association is succeeding in this. as a community that cuts across disciplinary boundaries and categories such as age, rank and race in the pursuit of women’s development as academics and researchers.
University of Limpopo Women’s Academic Solidarity Association is succeeding as a community that cuts across disciplinary boundaries and categories such as age, rank and race in the pursuit of women’s development as academics and researchers.
The journey of academic women at University of Limpopo, South Africa
Higher education in South Africa, as in other parts of the world, has always reflected disparities between men and women. These disparities relate to access to education, appointment into permanent positions and promotion to senior positions (Boshoff, 2005; Kim et al, 2010; Lues, 2005; Zulu, 2007). The advancement of women as academics and researchers has been some- what slow despite progressive legislation to promote the participation of women in South African higher education.
The original research article that this blog serves to briefly introduce you to is well worth a read, both if you are a woman academic at University of Limpopo who may wish to get involved in this solidarity initiative, or if you wish to discover, debate, discuss or perhaps even emulate this resourceful and effective supportive network. ‘This journey never ends! The University of Limpopo Women's Academic Solidarity Association experience, Agenda: Empowering women for gender equity’is co-authored by seven women who belong to a self-help group, the University of Limpopo Women’s Academic Solidarity Association (ULWASA) and is a narrative that explores the personal, social and institutional challenges they have faced in their experience as women in a historically-black university with a deeply-entrenched culture of patriarchy. It describes the experience of establishing a community of women academics supporting women academics, in which they have collaboratively evolved ways of working that promote the academic development of women in context.
How it works
The paper argues that despite progressive legislation and incentives for women to participate in knowledge production and dissemination, it is the collaboration between women, guided by feminist principles of cooperation and democracy, that facilitate the emergence of women researchers and scholars. The stories of the five women featured in the paper describe in detail each personal situation when they started their journey as an academic/researcher. Each story has common threads of revealing: what personal and institutional challenges each woman faced in becoming a professional; what personal and institutional challenges they faced in becoming a professional woman; and in what ways ULWASA helped them achieve their goals. Collectively these stories lead to conversations in which many unexpected issues emerged.
Though the story does not bunch each individual story into a general narrative, common themes of challenges faced by women academics did emerge and included: financial difficulties, juggling family and career and the stress and anxiety of maintaining academic excellence with the dual demands of family and work, and a mass of institutional changes that ranged from deep-rooted gender discrimination and patriarchal values of entrenched and unchallenged male authority and from systemic structural impediments
Organisational principles of ULWASA
What unites ULWASA members is the need for a support system with other women who face common chal- lenges. The women work together, not against each other, by creating an environ- ment in which dialogue is promoted and differences are acknowledged and resolved.Members of ULWASA experience the academic world as highly competitive, and find themselves involved in many activities, including committee work, projects, study- ing for a higher degree and in the case of senior members, supervising large numbers of students. In such circumstances, it is tempting for women to focus exclusively on their own commitments and achieve their goals at the expense of others. However, through discussion and debate, ULWASA has managed to instil in its members a sense of responsibility towards other women. The organization rotates leadership as a skills development opportunity. The most significant aspect of ULWASA is organized writing retreats for members where they have support and quiet, dedicated writing time to achieve specific written academic writing goals. All participants work individually in this public space, the presence of others providing motivation and constructive pressure to produce.
Support leads to success stories
A cursory analysis of the data shows that since being in ULWASA, women have published 33 scholarly papers, seven Honours students have graduated, five women completed their Masters, four women obtained their PhDs, four funding proposals were accepted, one woman was chosen as the NRF’s most promising young black researcher in 2010 while another was chosen as one of the 100 most influential women for the Mail & Guardian’s Book of South African Women for 2011. In late 2012, two women became associate professors and one attained full professorship.
This journey never ends!
One of the academics interviewed said at the close of her interview, ‘‘This journey never ends!’’ One may inter- pret this assertion to mean that the struggle, the challenges, the uphill battle is unending. In this sense it would reflect the spirit of the authors of the book Tedious Journeys (Robinson and Clardy 2010) who lend voice to the journeys of ‘women of colour’ in predominantly white institutions. But it could also, more positively, refer to the conviction that the journey to knowledge and understanding, to a life of the mind, and exploration never ends. In this second sense, the journey is a life-long one. As the ULWASA women have shown, it is possible to embark on such a journey, when one is supported by a community driven by com- mon interests and passions. Its identity is determined by a commitment to shared activities within a domain of interest.
Read the full original research article ‘This journey never ends! The University of Limpopo Women's Academic Solidarity Association experience, Agenda: Empowering women for gender equity’ that includes the story of five women at University of Limpopo who describe the personal, social and institutional challenges they have faced as women researchers and scholars.
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