This year, the South African government has called on all of us to celebrate Women’s Month under the theme ‘Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights for an Equal Future’. The concept of “generation equality” is a global campaign and links South Africa to global efforts to achieving gender equality by 2030, but at the University of Pretoria (UP) we aim to achieve gender equity by 2026.
We remember the sacrifices of the more than 20 000 women of all races and ages who marched against the extension of pass laws in South Africa on 9 August 1956, and those of all other women who have fought injustice before and after that silent march; and, as enshrined in our Constitution, we are committed to including women in all positions of power within UP in order to create a balanced, inclusive and non-discriminatory workplace for all.
Earlier this year we launched the [email protected] microsite as part of the University’s Trans Protocol, which was adopted in 2021. It is a guideline to respond to the needs of trans, intersex, gender non-conforming and non-binary staff and students. Several stakeholders were involved in drafting and championing the document, including the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender (CSA&G), UP’s Transformation Office, UP and Out, trans students and staff, the Department of Residence Affairs, the Student Counselling Unit, the SRC, and the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) ) Unit of the Centre for Human Rights.
We continue to make progress in terms of gender equity in the workplace with the recent appointments of UP Chancellor Justice Sisi Khampepe; Professor Ntebogeng Sharon Mokgalaka-Fleischmann as the Director: Mamelodi Campus; and Professor Loretta Feris as the Vice-Principal: Academic, to name a few.
These recent appointments demonstrate that we are intentional about correcting the wrongs of the past and we will try wherever possible to ensure that women are treated fairly and without prejudice.
Another achievement is the 56,92% total number of female academics and researchers at UP. This is a great stride and is testament to all our efforts towards creating an equitable workforce, but we need to focus our attention on improving our statistics on black female professors, who currently make up 4,82% of the total. This is very important if we are to attain our goal of becoming a global university, especially as we embark on the last cycle of our five-year strategic plan that will lead us to 2025 and beyond.
We are charting a new future for UP. The scale and scope of the economic crisis, COVID-19 and other disruptive trends demand that we reimagine the university system, and pursue bold responses to enhance our sustainability, relevance and contribution to the country’s socio-economic advancement.
UP is an institution committed to meaningful transformative social engagement. One way UP is changing education is its focus on conducting transdisciplinary research. Social problems do not come packaged in disciplines. We need to co-create knowledge across disciplinary boundaries and borders – and not pursue knowledge without regard to societal challenges. This is the only way to address the multiple crises of the present and the future.
During the month of August, we will host our fourth Women in Science event, aligned to the theme for the UN’s 7th International Day of Women and Girls in Science: ‘Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Water Unites Us’. The event aims to recognise the role of women and girls in science, not only as beneficiaries, but also as agents of change.
At UP we treat transformation as a national and institutional imperative and are committed to ensuring that women thrive within a supportive and enabling space as embodied in our Anti-Discrimination Policy:
The University of Pretoria rejects and condemns racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ethnic chauvinism, religious intolerance, unfair discrimination, hate speech, sexual harassment and other harassment, femicide and gender-based violence, in all its forms, and commits itself to the eradication of these practices.
It is the priority of our Transformation Office to create a conducive working and learning environment for both students and staff but they cannot do it on their own, we need to unite the same way the women of 1956 did.
The overarching goal of transformation at UP, as stated in our Transformation Plan, is to foster and sustain a transformed, inclusive, and equitable university community where diversity – of race, gender, religion, sexuality, culture, socio-economic status, disability and academic background – is welcomed; different perspectives are respectfully heard; and every individual feels a sense of belonging and inclusion.
We recognise that building an inclusive, affirming and transformed university cannot be achieved merely through adopting measures such as new policies and the establishment of institutions. However, realising the vision of a transformed university will ultimately depend on the persistent, day-to-day individual and collaborative efforts of all of us who work and study at the University. As we observe this significant day in our annual calendar I urge you to commit to eradicating all obstacles that prohibit an equitable future for all women.