31 August 2021


In an effort to nurture this value, the UMP Gender Forum has initiated ongoing Gender and LGBTQIA+ awareness campaigns, debates, discussions, and dialogues. In doing so, the Forum strives to create safer spaces for the diverse student and staff population, in light of the ongoing scourge of gender-based violence in our country, including universities.

The Gender Forum embodies all ideals and aspirations for an all-inclusive, non-racial, non-sexist, transformed and democratic society. Through these strides, the university provides an opportunity for self-actualisation and fosters the holistic development of students.

This month the university and the Gender Forum hosted the 4th annual creating safe space symposium with the purpose to educate and raise awareness around gender and mostly the stigma and other issues around LGBTQIA+.

Speakers included Abi Muleya, a PhD candidate from the University of Venda, who pointed to the persistence of sticky floors and invisible glass ceilings experienced by women in higher education institutions (HEIs).

"Indeed there is serious under-representation of especially black female academics in HEIs. This indicates that there is currently an overwhelming body of evidence that shows and suggests that women are still struggling to climb the academic ladder, particularly when it comes to meeting the criteria for promotion. Younger black academics lack role models to look up to and motivate them," she said.

Muleya also mentioned that female lecturers are faced with heavy teaching loads and have other demands, such as family that compete with work demands, which hold them back from achieving their potential.

"The main consideration for promotion in academia is research and publication and that women seem to struggle to engage in these based on lack of networks and mentorship, over and above child and family responsibilities and heavy teaching loads. There is thus a great need for institutional support, mentoring and academic networks to assist black female academics to achieve their potential."

Another speaker, Smakaleng Mothapo, a transgender woman, entrepreneur, sociopreneur and LGBTQIA+ activist highlighted her experience as a transgendered woman, alluding to the multiple/multifaceted challenges faced by gender non-conforming persons in communities as well as in HEIs, based on their sexuality and/or sexual orientation. She related her experience of being forced by her family and community to conform to the heteronormative and heterosexual ideals, which led to her two attempted suicides.

She thereafter related her challenges pertaining to her transitioning from male to a female. Sma’s presentation was a very important and courageous one, especially during a time when communities all over are experiencing horrendous homophobic attacks and even murders.

Prof Mzikazi Nduna, an esteemed South African academic with extensive experience as an educator, trainer and advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights echoed both Muleya’s and Mothapo’s messages. She suggested that issues of transformation, particularly gender and transgender, tend to be taken as ‘soft issues’ and shows lack of commitment in the way they are handled. 

Prof Nduna specified that women are not asking for special treatment but for their needs to be considered in HEIs. She pointed out that HEIs were developed to meet the needs of men, therefore, there is a need to re-orient them to consider women’s needs as well. She emphasized that women have reproductive roles to fulfil within the realm of the family and these need to be taken into consideration by the workplace and HEIs.

She also mentioned the stereotype that LGBTQIA+ is unAfrican as violent and homophobic. She recommended the need for HEIs to challenge heteropatriarchy and heteropatriarchal structures.

"We can, however, be proud to say that UMP does not fit the stereotypical mould. We are fortunate in that women enjoy top levels of employment and that we have a Gender Forum expressly committed to advancing the needs and interests of the under-represented and marginalised. We do have black females who have managed to successfully navigate the sticky floors to smash through the glass ceilings." 

"UMP is one of the very few universities that has challenged patriarchal and masculine oriented work culture. It has managed to defy the prevailing ‘think leadership think male’ belief and, as such, employs formidable women in top positions. From a black female Vice-Chancellor, to the first black female Deputy Vice-Chancellor, a female dean, the first female director in HR, a female HOS, a black female library director, a female housing director and of course now also a female chancellor. There is certainly no shortage of black female leaders to whom we can look up to, learn and draw inspiration from."

@ Coordinated by UMP Gender Forum Chairperson, Dr Nonzwakazi Maqubela. Picture Supplied.