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History of the Gender Equity Unit Women and gender concerns at UWC were addressed within a very specific context​

 

 ​History of the Gender Equity

 

​History of the Gender Equity Unit Women and gender concerns at UWC were addressed within a very specific context. In the mid-1980s and up to the early 1990's the country was still embroiled in the liberation struggle and women and gender issues were not of any concern to activists or intellectuals. However, a small group of feminists and men supporting feminism at the UWC were deeply concerned about the structural inequities that existed between women and men on campus.

 

These inequities included disparities in salaries between women and men; men generally earned more than women; women did not receive housing subsidies; there was no maternity leave for women; there were no promotion opportunities for women; women could not go on sabbaticals and all the professors were male with white men in the most senior professorships.


Feminists were concerned about the lack of substantive equity. Issues with regard to bodily integrity, reproductive health and safety and security were of the first items on the transformative agenda for women on campus. As one woman lecturer commented: 'I practically gave birth in the classroom.' During the mid-eighties the then Rector, Jakes Gerwel, was approached by women staff to address their equity concerns. Subsequently a Women's Commission was formed in the late eighties that drew up a list of discriminatory practices, proposals to address them and submitted it to the Rector, Senate and Council.


The list included issues around maternity benefits, housing subsidy, childcare facilities, a sexual harassment policy and the safety for women on campus. Systematically public presentations were made and gains were achieved. The university management was compelled to become more supportive and gender-sensitive in their dealings with women. Women's concerns became part of the broad political social transformative discourse at the university.


In 1993, the Gender Equity Unit was formally established and the first Gender Equity Coordinator, Rhoda Kadalie, was appointed. The Unit was established with seed funding from the Ford Foundation. It was realized that the broader national liberation movement under the auspices of the Mass Democratic Movement did not include the liberation of women. The denial of women's liberation was acutely felt on campus as many of these activist organizations were based at UWC during the height of apartheid. Many of the women on campus were also involved in UWCO (United Women's Congress); the ANC Women's League and the United Democratic Front (UDF). There was therefore keen political awareness of the marginalization of women's concerns. The university is well known as a site of struggle against the apartheid regime.


Women students on campus were also particularly aware of the oppression of women. Collette Solomons, an anthropology honours student, submitted a mini thesis: 'Sexism at the University of the Western Cape: with reference to progressive student organizations'. This thesis evoked strong debates because it focused on issues of rape and harassment amongst the student population on campus and it challenged the notion of justice and respect for women students. Women students demanded that gender justice be included in the quest for democracy in the students' struggle for freedom.


The pressure for the university to become inclusive of women's rights as human rights came from both the students and staff. The Gender Equity Unit staff started to hold countless public debates, forced the student disciplinary committees to change, conducted awareness raising workshops, educated and trained student leadership and hosted extensive conscientising programmes in the residences to transform the gender hostile climate on campus.


By the mid-nineties UWC had the best maternity benefits in the country ' 5 months fully paid leave and 7 days paternity leave for men; housing subsidies for married women; chief invigilation duties for women; and an educare centre for children of staff. The unit also developed a Sexual Harassment Policy; a Gender Policy and a Non-Sexist Language Policy. Resource booklets on sexual harassment were developed and distributed. Ad hominem promotion was granted to women academics and they for the first time had equitable access to study leave and research funding. A Women's and Gender Studies Programme was also established.


Women students formed a volunteer group, called Kopanang and began to raise gender awareness amongst students. UWC became the centre for women and gender awareness raising in the country well in advance of the post-apartheid liberal language framework and rhetoric.

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