The Major Influences of the Boundless-Extended Family System on the Professional Experiences of Black Zimbabwean Women Leaders in Higher Education

Article excerpt

General Introduction

The purpose of this article is to discuss some of the influences of the extended family on the professional experiences of black women leaders working within the higher education sector of Zimbabwe, a southern African nation. The article is based on information provided in interviews conducted with thirty female Zimbabwean higher education leaders who revealed their major extended family responsibilities and how those domestic experiences interact with their public professional experiences. The paper examines these women's familial and professional experiences within the context of the interrelated, socially constructed classification systems of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and class as they operate in Zimbabwe. The paper concludes by suggesting collaborative ways of alleviating burdens imposed by extended family responsibilities to improve the professional experiences of the women leaders.

Contexualization

The black women leaders in the study live and work within the shared unique contexts of Zimbabwe; therefore, their extended family experiences are analyzed within the appropriate Zimbabwean power hierarchies based on race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation and class. Feminists of African, Asian, and other Third World descent advocate the study of the complex and multiple intersections of the social systems of stratification mentioned above to critically examine any social situation (Gaidzanwa 1997; Mikell 1997; Hill Collins 1991; Harrison 2001; hooks 1984). Reacting to the tendency of early white, middle class and western feminists, especially those in the first wave of feminism, to universalize and essentialize women and their experiences, non-western feminists, womanists of color, (Alice Walker 1983) and Third World feminists highlight the diversity of women's experiences regarding the ways they are influenced by the intersections of their specific social and power differential systems. In other words, they insist that gender hierarchies be analyzed in conjunction with other systems of stratifications based on race, nationality, sexual orientation, and class. Similar analytical frameworks are also called for and used by many critical social scientists and feminist scholars (i.e. Harrison 2000; Weber 2001; Nicholson 1997; Tong 1998; Sleeter and Grant 1999; West and Fenstermaker 1995).

One major goal of such critical feminist scholars (including global, African, Third-World, black feminists and womanists) is to examine the lives of women in a more holistic fashion, which takes into consideration the diverse influences and differential factors that shape their experiences, (Anderson and Collins 1992; Harrison 2001; Weber 2001; hooks 1984; West and Fenstermaker 1995). Weber (2001, 19) states: "Every social situation is affected by society-wide historical patterns of [nationality] race, class, gender, and sexuality that are not necessarily apparent to the participants and are experienced differently depending upon the [specific social stratification characteristics] of the people involved."

This paper analyzes the impact of the extended family responsibilities on the work lives of the women leaders within the contexts of the systems of social stratification prevalent in Zimbabwe. The analysis examines how multiple systems of oppression and exploitation simultaneously operate to disadvantage, discriminate, disempower, suppress, prejudice, exploit, and oppress women. Bonvillain (2001, 11) writes, "The notion of stratification refers to unequal access to social prestige and power available to and assumed by certain members of a society. It may be linked to unequal access to resources, goods, and political power."

The power and privilege embedded within the systems of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and class are temporal in that the categories gain or lose their meanings and influence in relation to historical epochs (West and Fenstermaker 1995; Weber 2001; Harrison 2001). …