Building Africa by Balancing Gender – the Role of Higher Education

Women Leadership by Honoris Staff Writer

In solidarity with International Women’s Day on 8 March, Mohamed Goga, Managing Director of MANCOSA, South Africa, gives insights into the effects of gender inequality and how educational institutions can address the imbalance to help build a brighter Africa.

How does gender inequality impact society?

Inequality in any aspect of society or the economy leads to disparity, unfairness and discrimination. Gender inequality has many negative impacts and denies us many benefits: research studies show that countries that have achieved high levels of gender parity experience higher levels of peace and less gender-based violence; have boosted economic growth and enjoy higher levels of economic prosperity; and have happier and healthier populations.

Are there any Africa-specific issues to highlight?

Certainly! Africa has some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and the median age on the African continent is just 20 years old, but lack of gender equality is hampering development efforts.

In Africa, women account for more than half of the continent’s population, yet contribute no more than 33% to the collective GDP. The majority of women’s participation in economic activity happens in the informal economy, with opportunities in the formal largely reserved for men.

Education levels in Africa are relatively low but the issue is more pronounced along gender lines. Approximately 39% of women working formally have a secondary education, while 30% have a tertiary education. These levels are much lower when compared with African men, as well as men and women from other continents.

In Africa, women undertake the highest proportion of unpaid work, when compared with their sisters from other continents. It is estimated that women in rural parts of Africa spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water! These unpaid forms of work undermine women’s empowerment efforts.

How can men in higher education address the challenges of gender inequality?

All stakeholders in the education ecosystem need to work collaboratively to address gender equality challenges. Men, together with women, need to reaffirm their commitment to reaching UN sustainable development goals, in particular, goal 4: “to eliminate gender disparities and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations,” starting at the primary level.

The first step in higher education is to acknowledge that gender equality requires attention and that women hit a glass ceiling when attempting to progress. Beyond this, we need to create greater awareness.

Are gender challenges addressed throughout the academic programme at MANCOSA, and what steps have been adopted to support MANCOSA’s female students?

Higher education can promote gender equality in many ways. Certainly, through the curricula, such as those offered by MANCOSA. However, an academic programme can only influence those who have access to a higher education institution. MANCOSA, therefore, focuses on promoting access to higher education.

We are proud to report that we have close to perfect gender parity, not just within our student population, but also among our staff complement. This ensures that all spaces within MANCOSA, from physical and online classrooms to our administrative offices and boardrooms, have a balanced ratio of men and women.

While we have created the environment for gender equality to prevail, there is also an urgent need to empower women. So MANCOSA established the Centre for Women Leadership, which serves as a rostrum for promoting, advocating and supporting women. The centre engages in activities ranging from seminars and guest lectures, to networking and other empowerment activities, and has hosted notable female leaders over the years.

Furthermore, through our Executive Education directorate, MANCOSA offers the annual Women in Leadership training programme – a high-impact short course aimed at rapidly advancing delegates’ transition into junior, middle and senior management roles.

What would a more gender-balanced future for Africa look like?

Achieving gender equality in the near future would probably mean that we would see greater political stability on the continent. This stability would be succeeded by economic growth and inclusive prosperity. An Africa that is driving gender parity would also likely see significant contributions to infrastructure development as well as involvement in the digital economy. An Africa that achieves gender parity looks bright!

What is your personal pledge to support women?

Women in Africa require the necessary policy interventions, education, social support and empowerment initiatives if we are to achieve gender equality. I am resolute on furthering the strides that MANCOSA has already achieved in empowering women. Education has a significant role to play in addressing the ongoing challenges associated with gender inequality and I firmly commit to expanding the influence of our initiatives, not only in Southern Africa, but across the African continent.