Curriculum Shift: Key to Women Empowerment

Published on 11th February 2008

In the 1999 Government commissioned Nziramasanga report, Zimbabwe recognized the need to address gender equity and equality. Zimbabwe has a distinct cultural set up and historical condition characterized by a low participation of women in school administration. This is markedly different from Europe.  

Some Zimbabweans, being patriarchal, have not readily welcomed female leadership, as it has been perceived to be the domain of male gender. These perceptions are propagated by literature and the media. It is in this context that Watson and Newby, (2005) criticized contemporary management theory for being based on masculine values, constructs and concepts. As such, women have had to struggle to assert themselves.

Some progressive governments have promulgated policies specifically meant to improve the welfare and image of women. One such policy is the affirmative action. Affirmative action is a deliberate attempt at reforming or eradicating discrimination on the basis of colour, gender, creed and geographical location. It is the devising and issuing of directives (rules and regulations) to forbid discrimination when appointments and promotions are made and remuneration levels are determined. The intention is to provide equal opportunities to all competing groups in society, including women. 

While the affirmative action policy in Zimbabwe 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 has barely risen since women continue to work in fundamentally unchanged work environments.  

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. The first strategic goal 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 went on to suggest that governments take appropriate electoral reforms and 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 shows that a proportional representation system is most likely to result in increased proportion of women as Sidzumo-Mazibuko reveals in A Gender Perspective Critique of the White Paper on Local Government, published in the Journal of Development Economics for Southern Africa.  

African Governments lack political will to implement conventions of regional and international fora. 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, in their present set-up do not have mechanisms of enforcing adopted policies and procedures. The onus thus rests with respective national governments. 

Fruits of affirmative action haven't been as good as expected in the US. Marshall C. in The Stigmatized Woman: The Professional Woman in a Male Sex-typed Career believes such policies fail due neo-conservative backlash against this policy. She argues that women believe that affirmative action policies are token gestures that do not reach into the depths and subtleties of micro-politics, especially in schools. It may be necessary to mount school based programmes that are aimed at the woman and girl child. Due to cultural influences, the African woman lacks self esteem.  School based programmes and curricula should offer an education that mentally liberates the woman.  

In South Africa’s case, white men were favoured by the Apartheid regime. Very few South African women held the post of Principal and above shortly before South Africa’s independence. The scenario has not changed thirteen years later. South Africa has more female primary school heads than those in the secondary school sector. More men than women continue to occupy the top positions in the educational hierarchy. Available data shows that women are making gains, but persistent disparities exist between women and men ( UN (Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistics Division).  

School administration has always been regarded as a preserve for the male gender and 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 programs 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.  

While the constitutions of most African states abhor discrimination on the basis of gender, evidence on the ground shows otherwise. Attitudinal and perceptual changes of progressive governments and society should ensure realistic participation of women in school administration. 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.

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