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UWC Gender Equity Unit

About UWC's Gender Equity Unit

The Gender Equity Unit’s activities and programmes are geared towards making sure that no one is discriminated against, harassed or hurt because of their gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, and to facilitating the empowerment of particularly women and other marginalised groups, both on campus and within society at large.​

Our Mission

The Gender Equity Unit promotes Women and Gender equity and social justice through feminist research, education and advocacy in the University of the Western Cape and beyond.

Our Vision

The leading Gender Equity Unit recognised for its feminist intellectual activism and capacitating societies towards ensuring equity in all spheres of life.

Our Aims

1) Ensure Women’s and Gender equity in all spheres of life
2) Promote social justice and human rights
3) Enhance the students’ experience to facilitate successfully through raising awareness and education
4) Equipping the University of the Western Cape community and broader communities to become informed, conscious, and active citizens with regard to Women and Gender issues
5) Conduct relevant research to advance the thought leadership and influence

Our History

Women and Gender concerns at the University of the Western Cape were addressed within a very specific context. In the mid-1980s, when the country was still embroiled in the liberation struggle, women and gender issues were of lesser concern than the bigger issue of human rights. However, a small group of feminists – and men supporting feminism – at the university were deeply concerned about the structural inequities that existed between women and men on campus and set about advocating change. ​

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 realised 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 the University of the Western Cape during the height of apartheid. Many of the women on campus were also involved in United Women's Congress; the African National Congress Women's League and the United Democratic Front. There was therefore a 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 the University of the Western Cape had the best maternity benefits in the country, five months fully-paid leave and seven 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.


Food Programme

The Gender Equity Unit’s Food Programme seek to encourage both students and staff to be generous and provide non-perishable food items that are redistributed to students who fall completely through the safety net. These are students who often are not eligible for NSFAS and who is not a recipient of a bursary or scholarship and does not receive any financial support from other sources such as family.


HumaNature is a programme that raises awareness on campus around matters affecting people who are differently-abled. The programme promotes awareness by providing students and staff access to South African Sign Language Classes, exposing students and staff to the lived realities of people who are differently-abled by frequent visits to non-governmental and community-based organisations advancing their interests and attending an annual breakfast in the dark as hosted by Cape Town Society for the Blind.


Imbewu is a student-run newsletter that encourages students to write critically about their experiences and surroundings on campus. The newsletter publishes various writings including poetry, personal reflections, reviews and critical pieces. It always seeks to provide alternative narratives to the dominant narratives undermining the politics of the marginalised.

Student Publications/Newsletter:

Loud Enuf

LoudEnuf is a programme that provides social support and a safe space for LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer/Questioning) students in collaboration with internal and external stakeholders. Since 2007, the programme has hosted bi-annual awareness raising and advocacy months in May (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia: 17 May) and October (National Month for LGBTIQ awareness). The awareness raising and advocacy consist of facilitated film screenings, workshops, seminars, marches, fun runs, student centre performances, generosity drives etc.


Through the Mentoring Programme student volunteers spend time with school learners in the surrounding communities of UWC. Students offer friendship, guidance and social and academic support to learners who often view them as positive role models. The student-mentors and learner-mentees retreat to an annual camp through which they get an opportunity to bond with one another and foster a relationship of trust and comradery.


Edu-Drama is an interactive theatre and dram a programme. The programme consists of six productions that have all been performed at the National Arts Festival and various theatres, tertiary institutions, government departments, conferences and Arts Festivals since 2008. These productions introduce the audience to the women behind statistics of violence against women.

The productions as they currently stand includes the following:
  • Reclaiming the P… Word
  • Reclaiming Body. Reclaiming Self.
  • Words 4 Women
  • Khululekani Emakhaya
  • Sister Sister Sister
  • Admission Reserved
  • #What’sLeftOut
  • The Citizen
  • Complicit?
  • My Daily Bread


  • Gender Equality Award
  • Human Rights and Democracy 2004: Organisational Category from the Chapter Nine Institutions.


Dr Fikile Vilakazi

Position: Director

Dr Fikile Vilakazi is currently serving as a member of various collectives globally including the Lordes’ Love Rebels feminist collective, Ikhwelo Healers Collective, Global Ecovillage Network South Africa amongst others, some of whom she has co-created.

She is also an intellectual activist and a former academic at the School of Social Sciences within the department of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


Maria van Staden

Position: Programmes Co-ordinator
Tel: 021 959 1314

Maria holds a Diploma in Social Work and a MPhil in Women's and Gender Studies. She has extensive experience in the psychiatry and disability sectors where she was involved in clinical and development interventions.

Maria has a special interest in rural development and worked in projects aimed at the eradication of poverty in Northern Cape.

She previously was also the provincial coordinator for disability and therefore has expertise on working with people who are differently abled.

As the transformation manager of the Scouts she developed a gender programme so that girl children could join. As a qualified social worker she is bringing her extensive knowledge and experience concerning social justice, people with disabilities, women and street people to the Gender Equity Unit. Maria intends to study towards her PhD in the near future.

Maria Claassen

Position: Administrator
Tel: 021 959 2812

Juliana Davids

Position: Researcher
Tel: 021 959 2812

Limpho Makapela

Position: Student Projects Officer
Tel: 021 959 3488

Contact Us

Postal address:
University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17, Bellville, 7535
Tel: 021 959 2813

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