The School of Social Sciences in partnership with Is’thebe Mentoring hosted a colloquium to mark International Women’s Month on Womxn in the Academy: Shaping futures beyond COVID-19.
The colloquium featured Professor Mariam Seedat-Khan (UKZN), Ms Xatyiswa Maqashalala (Mandela-Washington Fellow), Dr Sinazo Nomsenge (UKZN), Ms Londiwe Jali (UKZN) and Dr Maserole Kgari-Masondo (UKZN), and was facilitated by Ms Mosa Nkoko (UKZN).
Nomsenge, the cluster leader for Society and Social Change within the School of Social Sciences, is the founder of Is’thebe Mentoring, a mentoring programme and networking hub for womxn and adolescent girls in South Africa. She said that the colloquium ‘brought together academic and professional staff, students and student leaders to reflect on the experiences and complexities of navigating the modern South African university as womxn of diverse identities and backgrounds.’
Dean and Head of the School Professor Vivian Ojong reflected on the challenges faced by women in the academy during the pandemic. ‘We’ve had to juggle working remotely, household responsibilities, being teachers to our children and so much more. We’ve had to embrace the technological speak space and women have been at the forefront of these new digital engagements. This colloquium offers us a glimpse into the lives of women and our resilience.’
Seedat-Khan presented on an Autoethnographic Journey Navigating the Academy: Womxn in pursuit of Academic excellence, healthy work and personal wellbeing. She shared her failures and triumphs in the academy and reflected on her journey that was peppered with bullying, exclusion, cancer, disappointment and ultimately success.
She argued that ‘it is imperative that we are mindful in our role as womxn in the academy. Failure to align with existing pervasive exploitative practices means that one is not likely to receive recognition, intensifying self-doubt. The imposter syndrome impedes success for the womxn scholars, administrators and support staff that make academic successes possible. Subject librarians, finance officers, communication, media, administrative, operational, security and cleaning staff continue to uplift womxn as we rise collectively.’
Jali gave an account of her journey in academia navigating student life, professional pursuits, purpose and self-preservation. The jobs that she thought were minor, were those that gave her a foundation. Freelancing offered the chance to build networks and gain experience while community engagement enabled her profession to extend itself to others. She advised women to ‘always exceed the expectations of those around you. Be the excellence. Be aware of the skills and personal growth you acquire. Build a legacy and plant your seed.’
Maqashalala spoke about women leadership: ‘The mind is able to take in extraordinary amounts of information, but more often than not, we think we have better understanding of a situation than we do. We give a cursory glance at the information in front of us and are quick to act. Very few of us look deeply into situations with the idea of identifying smart action and associated risks that can lead us to development and progress. We look at matters on the surface. Awareness of our leadership edge can enhance our ability to analyse situations and probe data to take the necessary risks that lead to progress.’
Kgari-Masondo’s presentation was titled, Women in the academy are the Hope for social cohesion and development beyond COVID-19: Ubuntu as a lens for Social progress. ‘COVID-19 has highlighted many issues in the academy which are linked to the communities we come from. These include poverty, underdeveloped rural ecologies, and a lack of infrastructure like electricity and Internet connectivity to help in teaching and learning because of online learning.’
She argued community engagement is key for women in academia. ‘Ubuntu promulgates that we must love, care, respect, participate, be hospitable and promote social justice. These values are key in humanising a person. Women in academia have to use their skills, expertise, experiences, resources and so forth to engage in their life’s purpose, “helping others”’.