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11 January 2019
What Do Women Want? Carmine Rustin Explores Gender Equality And Happiness

(Published - 11 January 2019)

Everybody wants to be happy - but is that possible in a country where everybody isn’t always equal? University of the Western Cape (UWC) PhD candidate - and former gender researcher and then Head of Research in the Parliament of South Africa - Carmine Jianni Rustin decided to find out, exploring the nuanced relationship between gender equality and happiness.

Carmine’s study, appropriately titled Gender Equality and Happiness, explores a group of South African women’s subjective experiences of gender equality and happiness, referring to life satisfaction and a positive affective state.

“My research is about happiness - women’s happiness, and especially the links between gender equality and happiness. I was interested in the impact that gender laws had on women’s happiness. Had these laws made a difference in women’s life satisfaction? And do the women see their happiness as linked to gender equality efforts?”

The study found that most women report themselves as happy and that gender equality and happiness are linked, yet the relationship is nuanced and continues to be shaped by complex entanglements of race, class and gender.

Carmine’s work powerfully evidences the gap between policy and lived experience for South African women, raising valuable areas for further scholarly and policy engagement in the larger project of social justice.

Life, Equality and the Pursuit of Happiness

Carmine was born in Vanguard Estate, Athlone. “I went to Vanguard Primary School and then to Cathkin High and Carlton-Van Heerden Senior Secondary School in Upington.” She completed both her undergraduate and postgraduate studies at UWC - it’s her academic home, and it didn’t even cross her mind to register anywhere else.

“I should rather not say what my first year of registration was,” she says. “But I can say that when I registered for my doctoral studies in 2014 and went to get my new student card, the student assisting me thought I’d made an error with my student number. I don’t think he thought that such numbers existed!”

So, how do we actually address the gap between policy and lived experience for South African women?

“This is a difficult one to answer, as there are so many challenges, and they can be quite complex,” Carmine notes. “But perhaps a first step is to involve women in the solutions to the challenges, so that decisions that affect women’s happiness aren’t made just by groups of powerful men.”

It’s not going to be easy - but happiness research really can help.

“What I find most interesting is how happiness research can play a role in policy development,” she says. “I think that this development is still very much untapped, and I look forward to writing about the value that happiness research has for policy development.”

Graduating definitely contributed to her own happiness.

“It feels quite surreal that I have completed my studies, but I’m really excited. Both my mom and dad have passed away, but I can just imagine how they would have been beaming on my graduation day. They always supported my studies and were very proud of my achievements.”

Carmine will continue her research as an Andrew W Mellon Postdoctorate Fellow in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at UWC.

“I hope to establish myself as a scholar in the next 10 years,” she says. “I have some catching up to do with writing and publishing. But most of all, I want to live a meaningful and flourishing life.”