Every August, South Africa celebrates Women’s Month, with Women’s Day being commemorated on 9 August as it marks the anniversary of the 1956 march undertaken by some 20 000 women to protest the apartheid’s regime’s pass laws.
These women embodied what it means to question the status quo, and this Women’s Month, we’re shining a light on the University of Pretoria’s (UP) dynamic women.
Dr Carolyn Chisadza, award-winning development economist and senior lecturer, is one of many trailblazing women at UP. Dr Chisadza began her career as a stockbroker.
“At the time, stockbroking was a very male-dominated industry, so I worked in a male-dominated environment,” she recalls. “I didn’t feel comfortable there. I had to put up with conversations and comments that did not sit well with me, and it was difficult to engage.”
In the early 2000s, Zimbabwe experienced an economic collapse and during that time her husband was completing his master’s degree at UP. “The economic collapse was incredibly stressful for me because I worked in the financial sector and on top of that, I fell pregnant with twins. That’s when my husband and I decided to move to South Africa.”
Following her relocation to South Africa, the Zimbabwean-born Dr Chisadza decided to further her studies; she now holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics. Her research looks at economic growth and development, focusing on the quality of institutions and conflict within Africa. Her research papers have appeared in top academic journals such as Economics Letters, Tourism Economics and the South African Journal of Economics. She has also contributed chapters to books, including Women and Sustainable Human Development – Empowering Women in Africa and Handbook of Quality of life in African Societies.
Dr Chisadza is currently a commissioner with The Lancet-SIGHT Commission on Peaceful Societies through Health Equity and Gender Equality. She is a recipient of the Stella Nkomo Award for Best Doctoral Thesis and the 2020 JJI Middleton Medal Award for the best first article published in the South African Journal of Economics.
“My biggest challenge is finding the time to balance all the roles I play,” she says. “As women, we play many different roles: we’re mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, friends, siblings and career women. Often, we can become consumed by being everything to everyone, and forget to prioritise ourselves.”
For her, there are numerous ways that society can better embrace women in different roles.
“Society needs to stop having a narrowed view of gender roles. We need to understand that the environment around us is changing. Laws need to accommodate women as caregivers. Having a childcare area at work is just one example of how we can be progressive and more accommodating to women in the workplace.”
Speaking to the importance of representation and what should be done to place more women in leadership positions, she says: “The achievements of my dean [Professor Margaret Chitiga-Mabugu] – considering the odds and obstacles that she must have faced as a woman trying to progress in her career – inspires me and makes me feel like my dreams are attainable. Women often lack the self-confidence to see themselves in leadership positions. They don’t believe it’s possible, but as women, we need to have high hopes for ourselves and believe it’s possible.”