Catalysing health R&D, innovation and access

South African Health Technologies Advocacy Coalition

SAHTAC Gender & Diversity Workshop Report

On the 22nd of August 2022, SAHTAC held the Gender, Diversity and Inclusion workshop spearheaded by its Positioning & Capacity Building Task Team. This was done in the month of August in celebration of women and the theme was mainly to raise awareness of gender and diversity issues for coalition members. We are called to action by these words all the time. We seek diversity that really does exist in the gender space so that we can act in ways that are inclusive for everyone, and that generally as a society, we are an inclusive society.

The keynote speaker was Professor Mzikazi Nduna, a gender expert. She is an esteemed community engaged scholar with experience as an educator, trainer, researcher and advocate of sexual reproductive health & rights. She is currently Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Fort Hare. Her social justice consciousness was cultivated in her early twenties and she continues to champion human rights for all, in particular the youth and women. The summary of her presentation is outlined below:

Traditional Roles of Men & Women in Modern SA and the Impact of Health Research

  • The 9th of August celebrates women. This is the day women marched to the Union Building to claim their public presence. Women were refusing to be relegated only to the domestic sphere. They were rejecting the carrying of permission to travel to the villages or urban areas or passes to work from their spouses. We still to date celebrate the strength and resilience of these women and the contribution they made to society. However, while this has been done, there is still so much more work awaiting women in society as there is still culture and traditions that will not change. For instance, there seems to be something ‘protective’ about CIS heteronormativity as an aspect of culture and tradition. Heteronormative sexuality gets a lot of respect in the workspace and in society generally. This then reinforces that a normal human is one with a husband or wife or alternatively if you are living a lifestyle that supports what it means to be a man or a woman. Polices also support this as there is a gendered disclosure when it comes to policies. The policies are not gender neutral but men and women are not the same. Absence of, or failure to maintain, a CIS heteronormative lifestyle is seen as a deficit e.g no husband, children or family. This is a social discourse which is informed by prevailing social norms around gender, and which provides ‘role modeling’ for young women scientists. Lastly women face acts of sexism almost daily in society. There are people who would generally use a language to put women down in our societies, it is in the way that they will refer to you. These are the same people whose capacity we want to build. We want them to be scientists, we want them to be part of knowledge production and to be part of new technologies but there are people who want to use a language that makes them forget how brilliant they are. It is making them forget how awesome they are and about the big contribution that they are making in society. We urge men to be mindful of how they refer to women as these acts make it difficult for them to achieve the things they want to achieve.
  • Gender perspectives on scientific research

We are all too familiar with gender inequalities in training and these start from basic education. Mathematics and science performance at basic education are the backdrop to a science career and is gendered. After high school more women register for undergraduate studies. Access to graduate school is skewed and in the first-year favors women, however when we look at Post Graduate studies, tables turn, in the favor of men. It will appear as if NQF Level 8 & 9 is a ceiling for women as they are unable to achieve the Masters and PHDs. Once you hold your PHD, you can also do you Post Doc but it has been very difficult to enroll women for all these. The reason being lot happens in the life of women between first and final year. They get into romantic relationships, they get pregnant, some abort, some need to arrange for child care and some get married. This reduces their chances to further or to finish their studies. Above that policies in institutions do not support these acts. They simply do not know what to do with women once they fall pregnant. No provisions have been put in place in case of these occurrences and yet it is normal to be in relationships. Women are punished for being women. Ill-health and loss of parents/caregivers/sponsors are also contributing factors together with black tax and women’s role in the society. This is the knock off effect to women as humans. They are constructed as natural carers and they would drop everything to take responsibilities back home unlike their male counterparts.

  • Violence against women as it pertains to diversity and sexuality

There is sexual hassling and sexual harassment. It is normal to be a sexual human being and this may result in sexual hassling. This is the opposite of sexual harassment where young students see the opportunity and take advantage of it. For instance, they will throw themselves at misbehaving tutors or lecturers for marks. There are some instances though where lecturers demand for sex to give favourable grades, this then becomes sexual harassment. There are also other things like intimate partner violence, sexual violence and gender-based violence and these are highly prevalent in higher institutions of learning. Safety is a serious issue. Putting security at the hostel, gate and outside in the precedes of the university are all security measures institutions can take, however women are normal human beings and they are sometimes not attracted to students within campus. They might want a man outside who can spoil them but if they find themselves at risk and vulnerable out there, then that’s another form of violence against women but to which the institutions have no control over.

These are some of the reasons there are few PHD holders among women and hence fewer women doing health research. After all the awkward experiences women go through, they simply are not willing to go back and study senior degrees. Between 2005 and 2020, the representation of women academics in the HE sectors increased from 44% to 49%.  In 2016, the Department of Higher Education and Training revealed that women only constituted 27.5% in South African higher education leadership. Women participation in the annual production of doctoral graduates has remained unchanged at around 44% over the period between 2005 and 2020. The few women in academia are often not adequately supported, marginalized, excluded, under attack, frustrated and they remain in lower positions. We need to have women role models in higher education.  There is an absence of women research Directors and award-winning scientists. Mentoring is a key component for women pursuing leadership positions, this contributes to successful leadership experiences

  • Recommendations
  • Explore successful models and reproduce them
  • Take participant-driven interventions serious and fund out-of-the ordinary initiates
  • Maximize networks and collaborations
  • Replace biased, prejudicial, and exclusive systems and behaviors with inclusive alternatives
  • Use inclusive language – it starts with ‘small’ matters such as pronouns

As SAHTAC, we need a diverse pool of women scientists that will be involved in designing health research projects and also in decision making for access to these products once research is done. If we cannot get girls through Tertiary Science Programs, we will be left behind on Diverse & Inclusive Health Research. Women know the realities of their day-to-day lives and can make pro women decisions on health technologies and policies around access.

Professor’s presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session led by our own SAHTAC member, Sibulele Sibaca. She really helped create an amazing atmosphere and kept the audience engaged and interactive. The session was a huge success and the audience enjoyed the presentation.




Related Posts

Leave a Reply