Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

The Challenges Facing Women Aspiring for School Leadership Positions in South African Primary Schools

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

The Challenges Facing Women Aspiring for School Leadership Positions in South African Primary Schools

Article excerpt

Studies indicate that women in education management are in the minority in countries that are still developing and in those whose development is already fairly advanced (Celikten, 2005), such as Greece and the United Kingdom (Mitroussi & Mitroussi, 2009), Turkey (Celikten 2005; Inandi, 2009), Uganda (Sperandio & Kagoda, 2010) and New Zealand (Brooking, 2008). In a study on women leaders in Namibia, Kotze (2004), discusses in detail how gender inequality and inequity place women at a disadvantage in the Namibian education system. In South Africa, this inequality seems to go even further. Research shows an underrepresentation of women in management positions at all levels of the education system, including primary schools, high school, universities and other educational institutions. In South Africa, there is a relative paucity of literature on women leaders in schools. One of the few research studies on this topic is Tertia King's work that she completed in 1981, entitled "The new 'role' of the woman in the education system for whites in the Republic of South Africa" (De Witt, 2010:516; Coleman, 2003a:103).

In searching for a more acceptable approach to address the educational imbalance of the past, important steps were taken to transform education in South Africa following the democratic election in April 1994. In South Africa, the government acknowledged in the White Paper on Education and Training (Department of Education, 1995) that women were underrepresented in school leadership positions, and that for affirmative action purposes they would be classified as a disadvantaged group. The Bill of Rights (section 9(2)) in the Constitution of South Africa, 1995, makes provision for gender equality. In the White Paper on Education and Training of 1995, the Department of Education acknowledged that women are underrepresented in school management as a result of discrimination against their gender, and promised to rectify this state of affairs. The Department of Education continually implemented strategies and initiatives to effect transformation in the education system, and in 1996, a task team was appointed to investigate ways to achieve gender equality in education.

According to Chisholm and September (2005), at the end of 1997, the task team appointed by the Department of Education compiled a lengthy report detailing the creation of many new opportunities for women in South Africa on the basis of gender sensitivity. According to the Gender Equality Task Team's report (1997), discrimination had prevented women from entering management positions as institutionalised by apartheid (Chisholm & September, 2005; Wadesango, Rembe & Chabaya, 2011). The Gender Equality Task Team also mentioned that there had previously been letters calling for attention to be paid to gender inequality in education administration, but that these discriminatory practices had continued in many instances (Wadesango et al., 2011) According to Chisholm and September (2005), these practices should be identified, challenged and transformed. From the perspective of career differentiation, the challenges facing women as school leaders need to be tackled.

There is a perception in society that women are mothers and carers, and this does not promote the advancement of women. Even though the Gender Equality Task Team's report (Chisholm & September, 2005) puts forward proposals to promote equality in the education profession, women are still underrepresented in management positions. Since 1997, more women have in fact been appointed to leadership positions, but without their having been properly really prepared for this role.

Researchers have documented numerous factors suggesting that it is difficult for women to fill management positions in education. These factors include gender discrimination, the pressure of family responsibilities and sociocultural considerations. De Klerk (2004) asserts that leadership is increasingly being redefined and that a more democratic and interpersonal style is emerging to replace the autocratic, hierarchical and task-oriented style. …

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