‘Students’ biggest issues at the moment are finances and access to education’ – UP SRC President at Motsepe Foundation summit

Posted on March 15, 2021

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Student Representative Council President Lerato Ndlovu recently formed part of the speaker panel at the fifth annual Gender Equality, Wellness and Leadership Summit, hosted virtually by the Motsepe Foundation.

Set against the backdrop of the ravages of COVID-19, the summit’s theme was 'Harnessing the Role of Women in Pandemic Recovery', with Motsepe Foundation Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Lerato Moloi describing the summit as a unique opportunity to build more inclusion, equitable and sustainable global economies and communities. “Gender equality is an important moral and business imperative; gender equality is not only a human rights issue but also a pragmatic matter of attaining better economic performance. An economy that is exclusionary on the basis of race, gender and other attributes cannot perform well since it is not harnessing its full potential.”

In line with this, during the panel discussion on Youth Leadership, Ndlovu said the big issues facing students at the moment are finances and access to education, taking into consideration that the majority of people in the country live in poverty or near poverty. “As youth, there is a brewing anger regarding this state of poverty. Last year’s budgets cuts on education are concerning, as it shows that government is not prioritising students.”

She said that education has become an expense rather than an investment for the South African government, hence the reluctance seen with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) with regards to assisting students. Students are angry at how these issues are being addressed. “We need to also ask ourselves how to solve this,” she added.

'Women and girls most affected by COVID-19'  

Echoing Ndlovu’s words, Miss South Africa 2020 and UP alumna Shudufhadzo Musida said that students are dealing with the anxiety of not being able to go to school or return to school due to financial problems, and other people are nervous of losing their jobs, contracting COVID-19, or dealing with the loss of a loved one.

The First Lady of Rwanda, Ms Jeannette Kagame, highlighted the challenges faced by women globally, and noted that women and girls have been affected the most by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, given their roles as caregivers; not only in their families but also as frontline healthcare workers. “Challenges faced by various sectors, especially in education, have had a different impact on women than on their male counterparts.”

“In comparison to men, women are economically strained as many have had to limit their work and economic opportunities to respond to increased household responsibilities. We must ask ourselves, what is the next step towards gender evolution in our private spheres, and how must we engage men and boys in instilling gender equality principles?”

Minister for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa is faced with another pandemic, one of gender-based violence and femicide. The department’s focus this year is gender equality and more focus on economic empowerment for women so that women do not remain in toxic families and, instead, learn to be independent. “COVID-19 opened more gates to see the oppression that women are still battling with; even so, women are still on the frontline.”

Other guests included Minister of International Relations and Co-operations Dr Naledi Pandor; Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) Professor Salim Abdool Karim; Resident Coordinator for United Nations and Representative of the Secretary General in South Africa Nardos Bekele Thomas, and many more. The summit was facilitated by eNCA’s Tumelo Mothotoane and the CEO of The Conversation Strategists, Nozipho Tshabalala.

Dr Moloi said the summit was a watershed moment, as she called on policymakers to urgently address the gap on gender equality.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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