Do women have equal opportunities in academia?

This might come as a surprise, but it seems there are more women who are full professors or academic managers at universities in Africa than at German universities.


This observation by University of Potsdam academics who collaborate with African universities was one of the main motivations behind a conference about equal opportunities for women in academic environments.

Attending the conference held at the University of Potsdam are from left Kave Bulambo (founder of the company, My Career), Prof Jemimam Akosua Anderson (University of Ghana, Legon), Grace Dawson-Ahmoah (University of Ghana, Legon), Prof Susan Coetzee-Van Rooy (NWU), Dr Lillian Brise (an independent researcher from Nigeria), Chantelle Kruger (NWU) and Pheladi Fakude (NWU).



Let’s share our stories


Susan says they were surprised at how uplifting it was to discuss their personal narratives with other female academics from Africa and Germany.


“We would like to recommend that a similar session be held at the NWU as part of its advancement plans for gender equality. People from more diverse genders should be invited to tell their narratives,” she adds.



eish! asked three NWU academics who attended the conference, “Learning from Africa: Equal opportunities for women in academia”, to tell us more about their experiences and challenges as female academics.

Prof Susan Coetzee-Van Rooy, Pheladi Fakude and Chantelle Kruger were three of the delegates from the NWU who attended the conference, held at the University of Potsdam from 28 to 30 October 2019.

They, like delegates from Ghana, Nigeria and other South African universities, talked about the circumstances in their countries when it comes to equal opportunities for women in academia.

Impact of the home

Susan, a research professor at Understanding and Processing Language in Complex Settings (UPSET) in the Faculty of Humanities, says while preparing for the conference they realised how profoundly their home backgrounds have influenced their prospects in the academic world.

“As a result, we structured our presentations to focus on the nature of our households and how these either inspired or hindered our progress towards an academic career.”

Besides focusing on gender equality legislation in South Africa, Susan’s presentation included a narrative about the many privileges that enabled her to become an academic and academic manager.

These included privileged state schooling for white children during the apartheid era. She also had a wise mother and less authoritarian father by Afrikaans standards.

Stereotypes and money

Academic literacy lecturer Pheladi says girls should have toys such as cars and see their fathers cook.

“This would be the only way in which the traditional roles of female and male children can change,” she says. “Girls in my community had household chores after school, something that boys did not have.”

She says funding makes all the difference when increasing the representation of poor female students in education.

Pheladi was raised in an extended family with poverty an ever-present memory. “Moving to high school was a struggle because it required me to get a new uniform and this particular high school didn’t have a feeding scheme,” she recalls.

Crossing thresholds

Chantelle, a temporary lecturer teaching academic literacy and language in the legal context, raises the issue of “threshold experiences” in childhood, including her missed opportunity to enter university after matric.

She recalls being on the cusp of becoming an academic holding an MA and then struggling to find funds to complete her PhD.

“My presentation reminded the audience that even in South Africa, poverty cuts across race and limits the opportunities of all people, including poor white female students.”