Women and Education in South Africa: Factors Influencing Women's Educational Progress and Their Entry into Traditionally Male-Dominated Fields

By Martineau, Rowena | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Women and Education in South Africa: Factors Influencing Women's Educational Progress and Their Entry into Traditionally Male-Dominated Fields


Martineau, Rowena, The Journal of Negro Education


Creating a system that provides quality education and training for all -young and old, regardless of race, class, or gender-is probably the greatest developmental challenge facing the South African government today. Women (and girls), particularly those of African origin, have been largely excluded from analyses of South African education. This article seeks to address this gap in the literature by examining South Africa's educational progress generally and that of its women specifically, especially African women, along with a discussion of the factors affecting the education of women in South Africa and possibilities for future redress.

INTRODUCTION

Many in the international community and in South Africa itself are still amazed by that country's transition from an apartheid regime to a multiparty, democratic state. Local and international leaders agree, however, that the battle has only just begun. South African leaders currently face the challenge of transforming their society into one in which all segments of the population have truly equal access to resources and can fully participate in the democratic process. Education is one of the critical areas in need of change.

Under the apartheid regime, basic elementary and secondary education was not widely available to all. Indeed, with 19 redundant administrative structures, separate-but-unequal education was the norm. As the Republic of South Africa Department of Education (1995) notes in its first White Paper on Education and Training, the post-democratic election period marks "the first time in South Africa's history that the government has the mandate to plan the development of the education and training system for the benefit of the country as a whole and all its people" (p. 2). Thus, it is not surprising that the task of developing equitable educational policies is currently of primary significance. As South Africa's educators and educational policymakers wrestle with the vestiges of a bureaucratically unwieldy and racially biased educational system, they must also strive to create a system that provides quality education and training for all South Africans-young and old, regardless of race, class, or gender. Indeed, the redress of educational inequities is probably the greatest developmental challenge facing the South African government today.

Gessler Nkondo, vice chancellor of the historically Black University of Venda, has argued that the process of empowerment for the nation's African students should occur as a result of changing the content of curricula, rather than on symbolic changes of structures. As he notes, "[Only] having a few Africans in positions of power without changing the rules of the game would only guarantee frustration" (quoted in Khosa, 1996, p. 5). A similar argument must be made for the introduction of curricula that are gendersensitive, particularly in the sciences, where the presence of women' is minimal. In addition to the inequities created by apartheid, gender-based discrimination has confronted Black women. This represents a trend that bears careful watching, given that it could easily lead to a system of gendered apartheid.

To counter this trend, the present article considers three broad areas of research on education for African women in South Africa: (a) primary and secondary education; (b) higher education; and (c) the relationship between gender, education, and occupational opportunities. The available literature on the first dimension is rather limited. Until recently, researchers practically excluded consideration of Black South Africans' early educational experiences, much less that of Black girls. The literature on higher education is more abundant, although likewise constrained by its focus on race and its near-exclusion of gender. In this area, several scholars have provided excellent critiques of the inequities between South Africa's historically Black and historically White universities, but few have explored the double jeopardy Black women have experienced in South African institutions of higher education. …

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