Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

Asserting Agency by Negotiating Patriarchy: Nigerian Women's Experiences within University Administrative Structures

Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

Asserting Agency by Negotiating Patriarchy: Nigerian Women's Experiences within University Administrative Structures

Article excerpt

This paper focuses on how African women negotiate the administrative structures of universities as subordinates as well as agents, based on three Nigerian examples. Gender relations within these institutions capture the unequal social status that formal education usually confers on women and men along with its cultural and colonial inscriptions. But as disenabling as this tertiary academic terrain might be, Nigerian women still find ways to negotiate power and mobilize agency in order to enhance their status. This case study exposes the various ways that women creatively interact with a fundamentally patriarchal structure to navigate varying configurations of power in a public space where their presence remains a transgression to established norms. It also suggests conclusively that women's qualified status and limited participation in decision making could undermine efforts to transform Nigerian universities.


This study explores the dynamics of gender relations in Nigeria's university administration, based on the experiences of women in three institutional contexts: the University of Nigeria (UNN), a federal public institution founded in 1960, the year Nigeria gained its political independence from Britain; Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), a federal public institution founded in 1999; and Madonna University (MU), a private Christian institution established in 1999. The three universities are located in southeastern Nigeria. Similar to other first generation universities in Nigeria, UNN was established to meet the demands for human capital in a postcolonial era. In contrast, UNIZIK and MU reflect the more recent trend of higher education's massification. (1)

The study attempts to capture the experiences of women academics and administrators in the academic and nonacademic ranks. It highlights, in particular, the creative ways these women negotiate their interactions with male employees in order to sustain their privileges or build agency. Further research and contributions to similar streams of discourse have allowed me to place the participants' views in a broader historical context that captures recent debates in the field. (2) Although the field work for this study was completed awhile ago, my extensive review of the literature as well as my personal observations as an adjunct professor, research fellow, and visiting professor in a number of Nigerian universities, suggest that the trends and data analyzed below still exist. (3)

Women's roles in the administration of African universities underscore the centrality of gender in efforts directed towards their transformation. Existing literature suggests, for instance, that the neglect of gender as a crucial component of institutional culture, administration, and curriculum development has undermined the capacity of African universities to compete globally. (4) In the 1970s, debates on gender and higher education in sub-Saharan Africa (henceforth referred to as Africa) dwelt largely on women's poor access and underrepresentation. (5) With the emergence of a thriving international women's movement from the mid-1980s, these debates expanded to include African women's role as equal partners with men in nation building. (6) The momentum to expand African women's opportunities in higher education has, however, been hindered in part by endemic political crises and economic recessions heightened by the drastic structural adjustment policies (SAP) of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. (7)

Nevertheless, the need to harness women's potential contributions as an "untapped resource" remains on the political agenda, especially with the growing importance of information in a highly competitive global community. In more recent times, the discourse has shifted to questions about women's agency, voice, and power in the administration of the African university. African women, a good number of scholars argue, have increased their representation and presence in universities, but they are not yet in a position to think and act for themselves, contribute to policy making in significant terms or confront an institutional culture that renders them subordinates to their male counterparts. …

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