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Education

 

Affirmative Action: Key to Rise in Women Leadership

The affirmative action policy is a deliberate attempt at reforming or eradicating discrimination on the basis of colour, gender, creed and geographical location. The intention is to provide equal opportunities to all competing groups in society, including women. This concept has also been referred to as positive discrimination or preferential policies.

While it has been hailed as a milestone in eradicating discrimination and reforming the education sector, its results remain a contested terrain. The percentage of African women in school administration for example, has barely risen. Women continue to work in unchanged work environments. Some people attribute  the policy's failure to the fact that it is a quota filling but not a development-oriented exercise. Furthermore, some African governments are not committed to the cause of women. Whereas some women regard the policies as token gestures from an unappreciative patriarchal society- a manifestation of deep seated neo-conservative perceptions and backlash, others interpret this development as sex discrimination- a practice dating back to colonialism. There is need for deliberate political will by African governments to implement conventions and protocols that address gender issues. The starting point is increasing the percentage of cabinet-appointable women parliamentarians. Strategic goal number 1 of the Beijing platform implored governments “to commit themselves to establishing the goal of gender balance in government bodies and committees…public administrative entities, judiciary…and measures to substantially increase the number of women …to achieve equal representation of men and women …through positive action, in all governmental and public administration positions.”

The platform  urged governments to take appropriate electoral reforms as well as keep a data bank on women that could be used in decision making forums.Given that women constitute 50 % of national populations, it may be necessary to implement proportional representation for respective electoral systems. Research by Sidzumo-Mazibuko in A Gender Perspective Critique of the White Paper on Local Government Journal of Development Economics for Southern Africa shows that a proportional representation system is most likely to result in increased proportion of women.

Women have great potential to reach the top
African Governments lack political will to implement regional and international fora conventions. Some self enforcement mechanism could be established. Zimbabwe, for instance has a ministry of policy implementation which oversees policy implementation issues. Such a ministry could oversee the implementation of protocols signed by government and regional and international fora. The United Nations or African Union do not have mechanisms to enforce adopted policies and procedures. The onus thus rests with  respective national governments.

In countries like the United States of America where this policy has long been in existence, its fruits haven't been as good as expected.In spite of the affirmative action policy efforts, the percentage of female school administrators had barely risen. Marshall, C. in The New Politics of Gender and Race (1994) believes such policies fail due to the neo-conservative backlash and the belief amongst women that the policies are token gestures that do not reach into the depths and subtleties of micro-politics, especially in schools. Given this development, it may be necessary to mount school based programmes that are aimed at the woman and girl child. Due to cultural influences, the typical African woman lacks self esteem.  School based progranmmes and curricula should offer an education that mentally liberates the woman.

 In apartheid South Africa, very few South African women held the post of school principal and above. The scenario has not changed thirteen years later. South Africa has more female primary school heads than those in the secondary school sector. Consequently, men continue to dominate the top positions in the educational hierarchy.  Little is known about the participation rates of women in school administration in most African countries. Such data is vital if governments were to justify and sustain current and consequential promotional practices and policies.

School administration has always been regarded as a preserve for the male gender but classroom teaching the unofficial feminine domain. For instance, women constitute over 60% of the teaching staff in primary schools in most African states (and over 50% of national populations). They nevertheless represent less than 20% of administrative/managerial personnel. It is in this context that Governments have seen it necessary to initiate programmes and policies, legal and structural, to bring about educational and professional inclusion, equity and parity. The extent to which these reforms have positively contributed to the emancipation of women have not been fully investigated though a sizable number of women are visible in educational leadership positions. Even in those positions, women managers continue to face various problems such as being looked down upon by men and fellow women being unwilling to support them.

While the constitutions of most African states abhor discrimination on the basis of gender, evidence on the ground shows otherwise. There is need for policy to guarantee women protection from inherent discrimination and ensure realistic participation of women in school administration. All this begins with revisiting the education system. If it was colonial education that set in motion social disparities and practices, then it should be post colonial education, which should reverse negative perceptions. It is by reviewing the education system that the needs of the African woman may be realized. 

The affirmative action policy is a deliberate attempt at reforming or eradicating discrimination on the basis of colour, gender, creed and geographical location. The intention is to provide equal opportunities to all competing groups in society, including women. This concept has also been referred to as positive discrimination or preferential policies.

While it has been hailed as a milestone in eradicating discrimination and reforming the education sector, its results remain a contested terrain. The percentage of African women in school administration for example, has barely risen. Women continue to work in unchanged work environments. Some people attribute  the policy's failure to the fact that it is a quota filling but not a development-oriented exercise. Furthermore, some African governments are not committed to the cause of women. Whereas some women regard the policies as token gestures from an unappreciative patriarchal society- a manifestation of deep seated neo-conservative perceptions and backlash, others interpret this development as sex discrimination- a practice dating back to colonialism. There is need for deliberate political will by African governments to implement conventions and protocols that address gender issues. The starting point is increasing the percentage of cabinet-appointable women parliamentarians. Strategic goal number 1 of the Beijing platform implored governments “to commit themselves to establishing the goal of gender balance in government bodies and committees…public administrative entities, judiciary…and measures to substantially increase the number of women …to achieve equal representation of men and women …through positive action, in all governmental and public administration positions.”

The platform  urged governments to take appropriate electoral reforms as well as keep a data bank on women that could be used in decision making forums.Given that women constitute 50 % of national populations, it may be necessary to implement proportional representation for respective electoral systems. Research by Sidzumo-Mazibuko in A Gender Perspective Critique of the White Paper on Local Government Journal of Development Economics for Southern Africa shows that a proportional representation system is most likely to result in increased proportion of women.

African Governments lack political will to implement regional and international fora conventions. Some self enforcement mechanism could be established. Zimbabwe, for instance has a ministry of policy implementation which oversees policy implementation issues. Such a ministry could oversee the implementation of protocols signed by government and regional and international fora. The United Nations or African Union do not have mechanisms to enforce adopted policies and procedures. The onus thus rests with  respective national governments.

In countries like the United States of America where this policy has long been in existence, its fruits haven't been as good as expected.In spite of the affirmative action policy efforts, the percentage of female school administrators had barely risen. Marshall, C. in The New Politics of Gender and Race (1994) believes such policies fail due to the neo-conservative backlash and the belief amongst women that the policies are token gestures that do not reach into the depths and subtleties of micro-politics, especially in schools. Given this development, it may be necessary to mount school based programmes that are aimed at the woman and girl child. Due to cultural influences, the typical African woman lacks self esteem.  School based progranmmes and curricula should offer an education that mentally liberates the woman.

 In apartheid South Africa, very few South African women held the post of school principal and above. The scenario has not changed thirteen years later. South Africa has more female primary school heads than those in the secondary school sector. Consequently, men continue to dominate the top positions in the educational hierarchy.  Little is known about the participation rates of women in school administration in most African countries. Such data is vital if governments were to justify and sustain current and consequential promotional practices and policies.

School administration has always been regarded as a preserve for the male gender but classroom teaching the unofficial feminine domain. For instance, women constitute over 60% of the teaching staff in primary schools in most African states (and over 50% of national populations). They nevertheless represent less than 20% of administrative/managerial personnel. It is in this context that Governments have seen it necessary to initiate programmes and policies, legal and structural, to bring about educational and professional inclusion, equity and parity. The extent to which these reforms have positively contributed to the emancipation of women have not been fully investigated though a sizable number of women are visible in educational leadership positions. Even in those positions, women managers continue to face various problems such as being looked down upon by men and fellow women being unwilling to support them.

While the constitutions of most African states abhor discrimination on the basis of gender, evidence on the ground shows otherwise. There is need for policy to guarantee women protection from inherent discrimination and ensure realistic participation of women in school administration. All this begins with revisiting the education system. If it was colonial education that set in motion social disparities and practices, then it should be post colonial education, which should reverse negative perceptions. It is by reviewing the education system that the needs of the African woman may be realized.
 

 



By Alfred Makura
School of Post Graduate Studies, University of Fort Hare, South Africa.


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